I’m going to skip the normal intro this week, because I’ve got something other than NC State on my mind at the moment....
Folks, it’s time for some good ol’ fashioned introspection. We’re three games into the season and things haven’t been great thus far, at least on offense. I’m annoyed but not overly concerned. I was forged in the Tommy West (high school) and Tommy Bowden (college) fires. It’s going to take more than a 7-point loss to Georgia and a 6-point win over Georgia Tech to shake me. I know what it’s like to look on in abject horror as Duke hits a 53-yard field goal with no time remaining for the win. I know what it’s like to watch Clemson give up 31 points to Wake Forest in a loss. I’ve stood on the hill and witnessed North Carolina beat the Tigers so soundly that the entire upper deck spent the 3rd quarter cheering on a fire truck attempting to make its way to a burning vehicle in the parking lot. I’ve seen things I care not to remember, and some of you have seen much worse.
We’re grizzled, hard hearted veterans of Clemson football futility. We’ve lived through an incredible stretch of Tiger prosperity over the last decade, but are always wary of the backslide back into the bad old days. For those of you that fall into this category, the following paragraphs aren’t aimed at you.
Some of y’all reading this are soft and entitled. Maybe you became a Clemson fan during the Golden Age of Clemson football. Maybe you didn’t but have erased all memory of going 3-8 in 1998. Either way, please pull it together. It’s not a personal attack on Tony Elliot to question a game plan that looks like it was drawn up in Rob Spence’s laboratory, and struggles to reach 14 points against a pathetic Georgia Tech team. It’s not sacrilege to wonder why Dabo hasn’t gone “you know, maybe D.J. should figure out how to take a snap under center” at some point in the last two seasons. When someone points out that the offensive line has spent the same amount of time in our backfield over the last two seasons as our quarterbacks, it’s not an attack, it’s a fact.
At the same time, some of y’all screaming for Tony Elliot's job are equally soft and entitled. It’s been three games, he’s working with a new quarterback, running back, left tackle, and three receivers who spent the majority of last year standing around on the sidelines in street clothes. I’m not making excuses for Tony, he’s got to do better, but maybe the transition away from two generational type talents doesn’t always go smoothly. Some of you need to learn how to criticize without making it personal or demanding immediate and sweeping changes at the first hint of turbulence. I’m concerned as well, but I’m willing to wait and see how this plays out before I start wailing and gnashing my teeth.
You think you’ve got it tough? I’ve watched Tommy Bowden walk up to a podium in his high water, pleated khakis, and an extra large collard shirt and face down the media after losing to Duke, and Tommy, for all faults, didn’t get into his feelings with the media. If Tony thinks twitter is tough, he’s not cut out to be a head coach, because the Clemson media is hand picked to serve up nothing but soft ball questions and empty platitudes. If a tweet from Clemsonfan1383189 regarding a garbage game plan or a tweet from Clemsonnnluver383493 about your struggling quarterback is emotionally damaging, I’m begging you, Tony, please don’t consider coaching at a program that cares about football. If you show up a presser for an SEC program and claim you had no idea how to attack a defense your own defensive coordinator utilizes on a regular basis, you might get the hook mid-presser, and you may have to leave the state UT/Lane Kiffin style, out the back door via helicopter with an angry mob burning mattresses in the street. Maybe someplace like Duke, that is only vaguely aware they have a football program, is a better spot for someone with tender emotions.
I’m still a fan. I still think Tony has the potential to unlock this offense, but heavy is the head of an offensive coordinator with a two million dollar contract crown. He needs to be better and he needs to do better soon.
Dabo doesn’t get a pass either! He knows what it’s like to coach a bad Clemson team. This isn’t a bad Clemson team, but it looks like an unprepared Clemson team on offense. Maybe spending the last two seasons figuring out how to expend the minimum effort possible to win football games isn’t paying dividends? Maybe these young guys have watched the coaching staff blow off game plans over the past two seasons and think they can do the same thing? The competition in the ACC hasn’t forced the Clemson offense to innovate, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be innovative. If there is no source of external motivation, it’s Dabo’s job to provide internal motivation. It’s his job to keep Clemson on the cutting edge of college football, even if the other programs in the ACC aren’t pushing him to that edge. I haven’t seen Clemson on that edge since Trevor, Travis, Tee, Justyn, Jackson, and Amari hit town and town and he figured out that the offense didn’t have to try and could still win 99% of their games.
I mentioned this in a Trevor draft article, and some of you got all emotional, but Clemson’s offense hasn’t been good since the last Alabama game. It hasn’t mattered, because the talent level was off the charts, and Clemson going through the motions with a vanilla game plan was good enough to beat down the rest of the lowly ACC, but it still hasn’t been good.
The offensive line, in particular, has been putrid. Imagine a line being so incredibly overmatched in the run game that Travis Etienne, in his senior season, couldn’t break 1,000 yards running against ACC defenses, and then deciding the only change necessary on the interior of the line is plugging in a freshman at left guard and moving the former left guard to center. That’s either complacency, terrible recruiting, dreadful player development, or a combination of the three. Without Trevor and Travis to bail out the offensive line and turn chicken *&$# into chicken salad, the deficiency in the trenches has been laid bare for all to see.
This is Dabo’s show. He loves the spotlight. Put a microphone within a 50-yard radius and he will find a way to give you a soundbite. That’s worked over the last two years. He’s done his media thing, and the football stuff has fallen into place. This year, he’s still doing the media thing, but the football stuff looks to be falling apart. I’m trying to imagine a scenario where Nick Saban allows his freshman running back to take a handoff out of the shotgun, behind a swiss cheese offensive line, in his own end zone, with the game seemingly in-hand. What we saw at the end of last weeks game against Georgia Tech was coaching negligence, or worse, arrogance, and that falls on Dabo’s shoulders. If you’re paid over eight million dollars a year to coach football, you damn well better look like you know how to coach football. If you told me a high school J.V. coach took over the last 30 seconds of the Georgia Tech game, I wouldn’t believe you, because I have too much respect for high school J.V. coaches.
Robbie Caldwell...I don’t know bruh...maybe it’s time, because you’ve got 12 scholarship offensive linemen at your disposal, and this is the best you can put on the field...nothing wrong with sailing off into the sunset with a fist full of rings and a fat bank account.
Hey, maybe this football thing is harder than it seems without Trevor and Travis. Turns out if you don’t do your job, no one is going to bail you out this year. The offense line is straight boonky, the boonkiest of boonky, boonky all the way down. We’ve got one guy in particular that wants to talk about it, but doesn’t want to be about it. I’m not going to name names, but y’all know who I’m talking about, and feel free to check out the Deep Dive Film Study article before criticizing, because the boonkiness is there for the entire world to see. You don’t need to be Bill Belichick to understand it’s bad when your running back has to dodge offensive linemen within one step of taking the handoff because the defensive tackle is treating him like a small child. You don’t have to be Vince Lombardi to notice offensive linemen wandering aimlessly down field while linebackers dog pile the running back in the backfield. I’m glad the offensive line is mad, I’m glad they feel disrespected, because they have earned every word of criticism. Talk less, do more, until you start performing above terrible.
Let’s not forget about the wide receivers. Lot of 4* and 5* talent on the field only for DJ to have to throw into tiny windows. I’m not sure I’ve seen an open receiver in the two actual games Clemson has played this year. We could help out our struggling quarterback by making his life easy, but instead he has to “throw them open” on every attempt, otherwise, they’re not open. It’s a shame Cornell left after last season because he could get open. None of the guys we have lined up have come close to Powell’s level down the field. I’m going to give Justyn a break because he’s coming back from a legit injury, but the other guys? Y’all want to claim WRU while standing next to a defensive back? Want to claim “best is the standard” when you haven’t blocked a soul on a screen pass this season? Standing on the sideline must have warped your brain. It’s time to get over the constant ouchie boo-boos. It’s time to stop missing practice. It’s time to stop claiming WRU until you put together a few games in a row, because the young guys are ready to roll, and I don’t see any downside in throwing them on the field at this point.
Finally, it’s time to talk about the quarterback. It’s impossible not to call him out by name, but I don’t have any hate for DJ. I feel bad for the dude. He’s suffering from not being Trevor, Kelly, or Deshaun. The hype cart got out in front of the player. He came into the year with sky-high expectations, a pocket full of NIL money, and some of the biggest shoes in college football history to fill. I don’t doubt his talent. I’ve seen his rocket of an arm. I’ve seen him rumble rumble down the field and truck defenders. Talent isn’t everything though.
He was playing quarterback on the easy level last year. Every defense was laser-focused on stopping Travis. When you’re seeing nothing but man coverage and 1 deep safety (if that), you can pick your receiver and cut it loose. Georgia swarmed him with pressure and dared him to stand in the pocket and deliver. Georgia Tech dropped 8 and dared him to stand in the pocket and pick them apart. He couldn’t do either. That doesn’t mean he won’t get it figured out, but maybe this is a good lesson for everyone. One game doesn’t make you a superstar. It’s hard enough to play quarterback at Clemson without piling on outside expectations. He seems like a good dude. I hope for his (and Clemson’s sake) that he gets it figured out. I’ll be cheering for him.
A solid performance against NC State would help right the ship.
Speaking of NC State
I was planning on getting the puppies today, but Clemson has forced me to expend 2,000 words on whatever it is I’ve witnessed (surely not football?) on offense over the first three weeks and I’ve got other articles to write today. That means....bonus hate article tomorrow.
You’re welcome in advance
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