Will the Clemson Tigers return to being a dominant team again in 2022? The defense was on point again last season, but offensive struggles prevented Clemson from winning the ACC for the first time since 2014.
The defensive talent is elite, especially along the trenches. There are still multiple offensive issues to figure out before anointing Clemson the best team in the ACC once again.
This is definitely a team that the Miami Hurricanes could see in the ACC Championship game, as well as the definite meeting between the two teams when Miami travels to Death Valley on Nov. 19.
Key Question: Will quarterback DJ Uiagalelei reach expectations or be passed by elite incoming freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik?
Head Coach Dabo Swinney
Became Clemson’s head coach in 2009, compiling a 150-36 record during that span. He’s a three-time Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award winner, and two-time national champion head coach.
Swinney’s path to stardom is rare. He was never even a coordinator. Instead, he made his mark as a graduate assistant at Alabama (1993-95), then as the wide receiver and tight ends coach (1996), tight ends (1997), and finally wide receivers once again (1998-2000).
Before coming to Clemson in 2003, Swinney worked in commercial real estate for two years, but then his climb to stardom truly took off.
As the wide receivers coach (2003-2006), Swinney began to make his mark. He was known as a top recruiter in addition to being a respected position coach. He added assistant head coaching responsibilities (2007-2008) before becoming Clemson’s head coach.
Swinney Promotes from Within
A coach that believes in player development and a team mentality over all else, Swinney has yet another talented roster to command this fall. However, he now must do that without his key assistant, defensive coordinator Brent Venables, as he took the Oklahoma head coaching job.
Additionally, Swinney lost offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Tony Elliott, as he became Virginia’s new head coach. That’s quite a bit of turnover for one season, especially with a program that rarely loses coordinators.
It will be interesting to see how Swinney manages new offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter and defensive coordinator Wes Goodwin. Neither of them has been a coordinator at the Power Five level prior to their internal promotions at Clemson.
Will the “Clemson Way” work for Swinney and the Tigers? That answer will begin to unravel during the 2022 college football regular season.
2021 record: 10-3
Last 10 years: 121-17, 87.7%
Postseason record: 10-4; 2016 and 2018 National Champions
Clemson is one of the power brokers of college football; the Tigers made the College Football Playoffs from 2015-2020. Additionally, the Tigers finished in the top four of the polls during that same stretch and won the ACC championship every year during that run. The Tigers only came up short of making the College Football Playoffs during the inaugural year in 2014, and during Clemson’s off season of 10-3 in 2021.
With a seemingly endless supply of future NFL defensive linemen (four drafted in 2019 alone), plus elite signal callers like Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, Clemson is a talent-producing program few others have matched since Watson took over as the starting quarterback in September of 2014.
That talent has helped to propel Clemson’s final record, year after year. The Tigers have won 10 or more games in 11 consecutive seasons.
Top Offensive Players and Statistics
After passing for 2,246 yards, nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in 2021, the heat is on Uiagalelei to be more accurate and provide more clutch throws. He only completed 55.6% of his passes last season, and Clemson was 87th in the country at converting third downs at a clip of 37.7%.
Part of the issue with the passing attack was actually getting the running game going, helping to compile issues for Uiagalelei as he faced too many third down and long situations.
Up front, the offensive line has seen its issues during the past couple of seasons, especially against quality opponents. Last season alone, Clemson’s rushing average was below four yards per in six different games. That stated, there are still talented runners in Clemson’s backfield.
The rushing attack has talented runners with Will Shipley and Kobe Pace returning to the rotation. They combined for 1,380 yards and 17 touchdowns last season. If the offensive line gets going, those two can create more manageable situations for Uiagalelei or Klubnik, as well as opportunities for the receivers.
There’s plenty of talent returning out wide, but there needs more yards after the catch. Brannon Spector and Troy Stellato will both be prime candidates to help out the bigger-bodied receivers like E.J. Williams, Beaux Collins, and Joseph Ngata. Both Spector and Stellato have the shake-and-bake to be impactful in the screen game, and help the offense create down-the-field big plays with their speed.
The overall efforts of Williams, Collins and Ngata combined for 63 receptions, 910 yards and four touchdowns last season. They can go deep once in a while as well, but each of them uses size to create advantages over defensive backs more than using sheer speed.
Tight end Davis Allen returns after 28 catches, 208 yards receiving and three touchdowns in 2021. He will see a lot of one-on-one situations this fall and he could be an x-factor for the Clemson offense.
Top Defensive Players and Statistics
Defensively, this is a team that is loaded up front. As many as seven Clemson defensive lineman could be a part of the 2023 NFL Draft. Yes, seven. Defensive end Myles Murphy is the headliner, as he recorded seven sacks last season.
Overall, Clemson chased down quarterbacks to the tune of 42 total sacks. That’s a number that could be surpassed this season, as star defensive tackle Bryan Bresee returns from a knee injury. Adding in Tyler Davis, Xavier Thomas and KJ Henry, among others, makes this the nation’s best overall defensive line group.
The linebackers are led by Trenton Simpson, a candidate for All-America honors. There are at least five linebackers that are expected to start and/or play significant minutes. Watch out for Barrett Carter, a rising sophomore from just outside Atlanta.
In the secondary, the Tigers replace three starters from last fall. Cornerback, in particular, is the biggest concern outside of quarterback heading into the 2022 season. At least one of Sheridan Jones, Nate Wiggins, Fred Davis or true freshman Toriano Pride needs to become a top performer to help the defensive front or sack opportunities will not be maximized.
Safety Andrew Mukuba is the lone returning starter. He produced 48 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, and seven pass breakups during his true freshman season.
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