In a dream-world scenario, the Clemson Tigers sit at 3-0. They’re defense is one of the best in college football (which pertains true in the real world too) and their offense is on par compared to last year with a Heisman contender at the helm of operations. The run game, while not as effective, still holds up towards the top with its fair share of contributors.
That was then, this is now. Clemson at one point owned all that and MORE. The best NFL prospect. The best running back. One of the best defenses.
Is that time period over? Somewhat, somewhat not. But the hard truth is that this football team is basically just the defense and one FRESHMAN running back doing all the work on offense.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with Will Shipley getting all the reps in the world, but that dude under center who was supposed to be frontrunner to win college football’s most prestigious player award ought to be to create some more production for himself.
Where’s all those glimpses of hope from last year in South Bend? Or that comeback performance against a sturdy Boston College team? There’s no doubt that he possesses talent and that he should be the right guy for the starting job, but the fact of the matter is the man Tiger haters are now referring to as “Ukelele” has regressed big time in his first few games of the 2021 college football season, and it’s starting to show on the gridiron.
In such a scenario where the leader and heart and soul of a team is somewhat dormant, a program must rely on some of its playmakers to step up. Here’s my thoughts on who did this past weekend.
Clemson Offense: RB Will Shipley
For the second straight week in a row, Clemson’s star-studded running back held the highest honors on the offensive side of the football, and by far. Will Shipley tallied 21 carries for 88 yards and two scores in his third game as a Tiger. The freshman halfback has already registered a combined four touchdowns this season and is well on track to qualifying as the most effective piece at the position over Lyn-J Dixon.
(Edit: Neverminded about Dixon, looks like he’s gone to the transfer portal. Guess on the bright side for Shipley less competition exists at the position now!)
There’s still inevitably going to be a likely drop-off in the backfield compared to last year — you can’t get much better than Travis Etienne, after all — but things are looking up for the Tigers.
As for the other guys, I’ll give some props to Justyn Ross. The receiver core still isn’t where it needs to be but the vet returning from last year’s injury put up a strong showing with seven catches for 61 yards. It’s by far his best performance of the season thus far.
Honorable Mention: Justyn Ross
Clemso Defense: LaVonta Bentley
Listen: James Skalski deserves all the praise in the world for his game saving stuff against Georgia Tech in the waning stages of an upset-bidded affair. Without that, the Yellow Jackets hold the opportunity to even it up at 14 a piece and force a much unwanted overtime.
But, as great as it was, his performance didn’t come close to that of LaVonta Bentley.
A third-year sophomore linebacker, Bentley led his team on the day 13 tackles including nine solo stops. He also recorded a single sack on Georgia Tech QB Jordan Yates. The performance qualified as the strongest yet of his college career, as he only recorded 18 tackles in the 2019 and 2020 seasons combined
Again, can’t ever go wrong with Skalski, especially when he produced nine stops himself, but he loses out this time.
Clemson Special Teams: P Will Spiers
Sigh. Another week, another award that goes to the punter.
Before everyone comes out swinging at me, I don’t have anything against punters. They’re great people. They really are. I’m sure Tigers P Will Shipley would be a fun guy to hang out with.
BUT, no one wants wants to see a guy from that position win an award because A: it deals with a move that is associated with defeat by the offense and B: it means the rest of the special teams couldn't get anything going productivity-wise.
Both, and I definitely mean both, were on full display in this week’s edition of players of the week. The offense — as common knowledge understands — was absolutely abysmal on nearly all fronts.
The notable moments on special teams? Well, I guess B.T. Potter did hit a whopping two extra points. And Will Taylor, who was really getting it going on Saturday with one recorded play, returned a punt for ten yards.
Spiers earns this award because he’s likely the only guy on the unit who managed to exhaust more than ten calories. He booted it off four times for 158 yards combines and nailed it inside the 20 on three of those occasions.
Georgia Tech Player(s) of the Week: The Whole Entire Defense
In an effort to digress, I’m going to hold a positive outlook of Saturday's events. I mean yeah, Georgia Tech did lose to Northern Illinois at home and yea, the Yellow Jackets have been the laughing stock of the ACC for quite some time now, but maybe they just decided to exhibit the most energy during any one of their games in the last ten years on Saturday.
Maybe, just maybe, Georgia Tech is a sleeper team in the ACC Coastal.
(Although it sounds ridiculous, it’s not actually incredibly challenging just because of how weak the rest of yes division is).
Maybe Geoff Collins will return GT to its former glory days in the third year of his short tenure. And maybe, they are for once worthy of qualifying as a ranked team.
Now leaving Fantasyland, some credit still ought to be given to Tech’s defense. The Yellow Jackets produced a big day in stopping D.J. through the likes of Tariq Carpenter, Charlie Thomas, and Ayinde Eley. Carpenter led his team with 13 tackles on the day while Thomas recorded 12 and Eley seven. The rest of the defense, while not as flashy, provided in most moments and held the Tigers to a minimal 14 points.
Overall, I’m kind of in that boat of Clemson fans who possess a ridiculous amount of hope but simultaneously feel concerned about what’s transpiring on the gridiron.
There’s just soooo many questions to be asked in regard to the Tigers future this year, like who will step up in the College Football Playoff (if Clemson makes it)?
That’s perhaps the most imperative question to ask. After all, a one interception/zero touchdown performance isn’t going to cut it against the other big boys. The Tigers need to have that “pep in their step” if they want to avoid being a shell of their old selves, and it’s not going to come if things move along in a similar manner to this.