Despite a slow start that resulted in a 6-0 deficit after the first quarter, Clemson rebounded before eventually pulling away from the Blue Devils 35-6. Duke came into the contest nursing numerous injuries at a multitude of positions, yet managed to hang in the game until the 2nd half. Ultimately, however, Clemson just had too much defense before its Offense put the game away for good. Here are 3 takeaways from last night’s win:
Is Clemson becoming too reliant on Trevor Lawrence?
It is perhaps, ironic that this question is posed during the same season in which Clemson fans called for a Quarterback change to the stronger passer. At the same time, one can recognize that the Tigers can do a better job of taking some of the offensive burden off of Trevor Lawrence’s shoulders. Two plays in particular stuck out in the first quarter of Saturday night’s game, where Clemson had a 3rd and 1 yet elected to throw the football both times. It seems almost elementary to run the ball on a 3rd and 1 when you have one of the best Running backs in the country, let alone when you also have a true freshman QB.
Whether these throws were RPOs or not, the coaches should still be telling Lawrence that 3rd down at the distance should almost always be the run option. On one of these throws Lawrence didn’t exhibit much touch and threw an uncatchable bullet to Hunter Renfrow. It was not the only throw of the sort during last night’s game, and Trevor will need to turn the velocity on some of his throws down going forward. With that said, Lawrence dropped 2 dimes to Derion Kendrick over the top and was generally very accurate.
But the reliance on Lawrence to throw the ball as often as he does is also a component of another problem. Travis Etienne carried the ball 9 times on Saturday for 81 yards and 2 TDs. It’s inexcusable for him to be receiving so few touches in one of the bigger games of the season to date. Putting a bigger emphasis on Travis Etienne and the run game will not only bear fruit on that front, but will also help Trevor Lawrence to be more efficient. There’s no denying the ridiculous talent of Lawrence, but just because the Tigers have the ability to throw whenever they want does not mean that they necessarily should.
Travis Etienne moved into a tie for 1️⃣st in Clemson history with his 17th rushing TD of the season.— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) November 18, 2018
For the year: 136 carries, 1,157 yards, 8.5 ypc, 17 TDs pic.twitter.com/nS457NTgiN
That’s a Touchdown every 8 carries.
Tanner Muse and Trayvon Mullen show out
Muse and the other Safeties did little to cover themselves in glory early in the season against Texas A&M, however, since then Tanner Muse has been one of the best players on this Clemson defense. It seems that the light has finally come on for the now under-appreciated Defensive back. Muse has looked very effective in man coverage despite his bigger size, and has been even more effective when playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Muse seemed like he might be a liability late in the season against more elite teams, but he has proven people including myself wrong. It is not fetched to say Muse could leave early after this year based on what he’s put on tape this season combined with how he will likely test.
As for Trayvon Mullen, the Floridian Defensive Back looked terrific last night. Mullen’s strong Junior season has continued, and it’s looking like a certainty that he will not return for next season. Locking down every pass that came his way, and being incredibly solid in run support, Trayvon Mullen continues to show how well-rounded of a cornerback he has become. With his length and cover skills, Mullen could end up going in the first or second round of the upcoming draft. The starters in the secondary have benefitted from the terrifying Defensive Line play, but have also made huge strides themselves over the last 2 months.
This Senior class has the most wins in ACC history
Clemson won its 51st game in the last four years, giving the 2018 senior class the most wins in school and ACC history. This surpassed the mark set by the 2017 Tiger team. There’s no other way to put it, this Senior class is exceptional in multiple facets, and will be undoubtedly missed next season. Players such as Mitch Hyatt, Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, Hunter Renfrow and many others have had a profound impact on the program, and have been on board during every single playoff run Clemson has experienced thus far. Mitch Hyatt made his 53rd Clemson start, while Christian Wilkins made his 41st start, breaking the previous school record for career starts by a Defensive Tackle.
Replacing these Senior will be no easy task and it is something we might take for granted considering how well Clemson has re-tooled over the past few seasons. But one can already see the impact these Senior leaders are leaving behind. Freshman like Xavier Thomas, or Jackson Carman are merely 2 that have worked directly under Seniors, and both have flashed in the snaps they’ve been given. So while Clemson Football will look much different next season, this year’s veterans will do everything they can to help ensure the future of Clemson Football.