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Putting the 2021 Offense into Perspective

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Here is some food for thought ahead of the Palmetto Bowl.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Clemson Josh Morgan-USA TODAY Sports

Ok folks, I’m going to throw some quarterback numbers at you and then I’m going to tell you what numbers go with what player and year.

  • Player 1: 13 Games; 183/364; 60/2% 2353 yards; 7.7 yards/attempt; 16 TD/11 INT
  • Player 2: 14 Games; 191/302; 63.2% 1892 yards; 6.3 yards/attempt; 9 TD/10 INT
  • Player 3: 11 Games; 177/349; 50.7% 2067 yards; 5.9 yards/attempt; 7 TD/17 INT
  • Player 4: 13 Games; 196/341; 57.5% 2213 yards; 6.5 yards/attempt; 12 TD/11 INT
  • Player 5: 11 Games; 178/323; 55.1% 1960 yards; 6.1 yards/attempt; 9 TD/8 INT

Player 5 is DJU this season so far. Player 1 is Will Proctor in 2006, player 2 is Cole Stoudt in 2014, player 3 is Charlie Whitehurst in 2004, and player 4 is Kyle Parker in 2010.

  • Will Proctor (‘06): 13 Games; 183/364; 60/2% 2353 yards; 7.7 yards/attempt; 16 TD/11 INT
  • Cole Stoudt (‘14): 14 Games; 191/302; 63.2% 1892 yards; 6.3 yards/attempt; 9 TD/10 INT
  • Charlie Whitehurst (‘04): 11 Games; 177/349; 50.7% 2067 yards; 5.9 yards/attempt; 7 TD/17 INT
  • Kyle Parker (‘10): 13 Games; 196/341; 57.5% 2213 yards; 6.5 yards/attempt; 12 TD/11 INT
  • DJ Uiagalelei (‘21): 11 Games; 178/323; 55.1% 1960 yards; 6.1 yards/attempt; 9 TD/8 INT

Those teams went 8-5, 10-3, 6-5, and 6-7, respectively. Obviously, Whitehurst is one of the top five quarterbacks in Clemson history and had a multi-year career in the NFL. My point? There are a lot of things to consider when you evaluate the quarterback and the offense as a whole. My other point is it is kind of crazy this team has won 8 games and should get to 9 before the bowl/title game season.

Another thing I looked at was the four top wide receivers in terms of receptions for each of those teams listed above. I’ll start with what happened to Whitehurst in 2004 to produce such a poor season considering how good a player he was.

The 2004 team was led by All-ACC and future NFL draft pick Airese Currie, but the other three guys? Converted QB Chansi Stuckey playing WR for the first time, two-star Curtis Baham, and major disappointment Kelvin Grant. All four guys stayed healthy for the entire season, but clearly Whitehurst was lacking adequate experienced talent around him that season. The 2005 season saw Stuckey emerge as he learned his position and an influx of young talent with Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham (and a guy named James Davis at RB). Whitehurst had a much better season in his last run.

The 2014 team has been referenced a lot by this staff. I certainly looked at it for comparison in the preseason in respect to the running back position. Obviously Deshaun Watson came on and was the unicorn guy when he was healthy and could play, but Cole Stoudt took the majority of the snaps and played in every game that season. Stoudt, despite a lot of ridicule that year, particularly in contrast to what Watson was able to do, still put up a better season at this point than DJ has in 2021. Let’s look at the skill on that team:

Artavis Scott, Mike Williams, Adam Humphries, and Germone Hopper. Now, all of those guys were freshmen or sophomores on that team but obviously all four made NFL rosters with Williams and Humphries still playing and starting. They also stayed healthy that entire season.

The 2010 team has also been referenced during this season’s offensive struggles. That team is perhaps the most comparable to this one if you factor key injuries and youth. Kyle Parker had a true freshman DeAndre Hopkins as the top WR, but the other four were Jaron Brown, Marquan Jones, and Bryce McNeal. Brown was a future NFL role player, but was a project at WR coming in and needed two years before he really knew how to play the position. Jones and McNeal were two disappointments as former four-star recruits. Still, the unit stayed relatively healthy the entire season though Andre Ellington and Kyle Parker dealt with injuries which knocked Ellington out of four games and limited Parker the entire season.

The 2010 team had a strong defense but limped to a 6-7 season. Obviously, that team struggled on the perimeter with its best player being a true freshman. They relied on RBs and TEs in the passing game very heavily as a result. The 2009 team was actually WORSE off at WR considering it had Jacoby Ford as the #1, but the other three top pass catching WR on that team were Xavier Dye, Terrence Ashe, and Marquan Jones. Thankfully that team had CJ Spiller and two great tight ends in Michael Palmer and Dwayne Allen to help offset perimeter woes.

The disappointing 2006 team was led by the embattled Will Proctor. Proctor still put up better completion percentage, yards per attempt, and TD/Int than DJU at this point, however, not only did Proctor have Spiller, Davis, and Reggie Merriweather behind the best run blocking OL in a decade or more, he had a senior Chansi Stuckey and veterans Aaron Kelly and Tyler Grisham to go with true freshman speed demon Jacoby Ford. That team lost Roman Fry at guard to a knee injury but the other top four plus top backup Cedric Johnson started and played every meaningful snap on the OL. In 2006 Clemson collapsed to lose five games and Wake Forest won the ACC.

Some of the writers on the Clemson beat have gotten on the “this is Dabo’s best coaching job” train, and surprisingly there is some evidence to support the assertion. DJU is indeed a five-star recruit, but his WR corps, offensive line, and even running back corps have been largely in shambles all season long. His leading receivers this season have been Justyn Ross, who is now out for the year, true freshman Beaux Collins, Joseph Ngata who has only played 8 games (and only really healthy for half that number), and true freshman Dacari Collins.

He has had six different starting OL combinations and four different guys start at RB. He has also been banged up himself and is playing through injury. If you put this season in the midst of the Bowden years vs. now, I think everyone would view things a lot more favorably. The ACC, in my opinion, is comparable in strength with the 2006 or even 2010 ACC, yet this year’s team could still perhaps win the division and remained undefeated at home.

Clemson is very talented thanks to very good recruiting and boasts a top defense, but we’ve seen a lot of talented teams fall apart with just a portion of what this team has endured via attrition. There have been more “break glass in case of emergency” scenarios for this team than I can remember. Not quite as dire as Maryland having to play a LB at QB in 2012, but pretty close. You really wonder what things would look like with the current top 4-5 teams if they had comparable injuries to the 2021 Tigers. Now the team is playing its best football heading into the Palmetto Bowl.