If you take away team cultures or any off-the-field issue, one thing is clear in the ACC from top to bottom.
The most pervasive roster problem in the conference right now is a lack of consistent or high-quality offensive line play.
From top to bottom I can almost go one by one:
Clemson - Trevor Lawrence has only been sacked 4 times but it honestly feels like more. The run game seems predicated on Etienne getting breakaways on his own. Clemson ranks 15th in line yards, but 36th in stuff rate. Not bad compared to the conference, but not enough to outlast an elite defensive line.
Duke - ranks 94th in power success rate
FSU - they have 19 sacks allowed this year, and here’s a gif summary of the last few years of FSU OLs
Georgia Tech - They just switched from an old school triple option to a more typical offense, the OL needs time to learn that there’s more to life than run blocking. 14 sacks allowed.
Louisville - 70th in line yards, 13 sacks allowed.
Miami - 107 in line yards, an atrocious 25 sacks allowed
NC State - 53rd in line yards, 98th in passing down line yards, only 9 sacks allowed, not horrible.
North Carolina - 82nd in line yards, 20 sacks allowed
Pitt - 72nd in line yards, 89th in passing down line yards, 12 sacks allowed
Syracuse - 68th in line yards, 117th in sack rate with an NCAA-worst 26 sacks allowed
Virginia - 61st in line yards, 15 sacks allowed
Virginia Tech - 112th in line yards, 123rd in standard down line yards, 10 sacks allowed
(stats from Football Outsiders and the NCAA)
It’s an epidemic throughout the conference that only Boston College and Wake Forest seem to have avoided, but even their cases are borderline. And it’s holding everyone back.
By extension from that (admittedly mild) take above, comes the second take:
If Clemson doesn’t get pressure on FSU, it’ll be time to ask some questions about the DLine
I know it’s painful to read, but the defensive line just hasn’t been up to snuff to this point in the year. Yes, Clemson lost 4 long-time and legendary starters from last year to this year, but that’s just another reason why this take makes sense.
They’re all young, they’re all inexperienced, and there’s a lack of depth, especially in the middle. They may improve as the year goes on, in fact, they almost certainly will, but they will still be more of a liability as a unit than you’re used too.
But Clemson’s stats are good! You may say, and you’d mostly be right. But you have to consider the sheer dominance of the DLines of the past few years. Leading the nation in sacks and tackles for loss year-in and year-out, this year so far, Clemson’s 9th in team TFLs and 10th in team sacks. If the DL were playing a bit better, I think Clemson could easily jump up in both.
This take is not to say they’re bad, not by a long shot, more that they’re young and people should adjust their expectations accordingly. They can certainly have a positive impact, but they may not be able to be the anchor of the defense that Clemson fans have come to love. Drives will be longer, games will be somewhat closer (given that the offense doesn’t come out of its funk and compensate for the losses on the other side.)
This is one of those take that I’m sure will be moot in a year or two, as Clemson’s incoming recruiting class shores up the interior line better than anyone could’ve asked for, but in an already weak conference, it’s frustrating that Clemson can’t exploit the conference’s biggest weakness. And if Clemson can’t overcome ACC offensive lines, it won’t be ready come playoff time.
Only time will tell, I’m pretty hopeful given the team’s history of rising to the post-season occasion, but I firmly believe one must be prepared and ready to go off going into the playoff in order to actually do it.
A short set of takes this week as the week following a bye is usually pretty sparse, but don’t forget to send me takes! Send me hot, cold, or like icky mushy/warm takes to @STSouthland, @JuanFabulous, in the comments below, or to my email at email@example.com and try to keep them Clemson, or ACC, or CFB related.