It is no surprise that a loss to an in-state rival brings out a lot of criticism. And to some it may seem silly. Clemson is 10-2, heading to the ACC Championship, and slightly improved from last year. But the truth is for anyone following this team there are cracks in the foundation, especially on offense. Hopefully they are minor cracks, but it is going to require some soul searching by this coaching staff.
The simple fact is coaching mistakes were the primary reason for the streak-snapping Palmetto Bowl loss. You often hear coaches say, “This loss starts and stops with me” or “I am responsible for this loss.” The problem is these same issues have plagued Clemson throughout the entire year, and really even into last year if we’re being honest.
This year we’ve seen a lot of issues on offense. Yes, things are better than 2021, but despite changing offensive coordinators, the same problems still plague the Clemson offense. That tells us it is a deeper systemic issue.
While some may talk about issue X or problem Y, they all come back to coaching. Let’s pick a simple issue; the players are not executing on offense and as a result Clemson isn’t dominating games. Well there are a number of reasons for that, but at a basic level the offense isn’t executing because they aren’t motivated, have an inferior talent level compared to their opponent, or the players aren’t being put in a position to succeed.
So when we break down motivation, yes there is a responsibility by the players, but expectations start at the top. Part of coaching is understanding how players think, what motivates them, and what as a coaching staff they need to do to get players prepared to play. From what I’ve seen on offense this team doesn’t have that. Too often this team “just hangs on” or whatever other platitude you want to place here. This staff isn’t connecting with the players.
If we move onto talent, we can all agree this is a very talented roster based on the recruiting rankings. Yes, there are some holes, but on paper this should be a team that wins easily, especially in the ACC, but they aren’t. They’re squeaking out ACC wins and losing to every non-conference opponent with a pulse. That means one of two things, either the talent being brought in isn’t that good, or the talent isn’t developing properly. Funny enough both of those are coaching issues. The staff has to do a good job of not only identifying talented players, but also the right type of talent. It isn’t enough to bring in a 4-star or 5-star guy, they have to be the right guy. We tend to blast Dabo for some of his 3-star or “5-heart” guys, but that level of analysis in recruiting has to happen for the 4 and 5-star guys too.
Even more concerning is when they get on campus we aren’t seeing these guys develop. This WR room has been bad for two years with players making only minimal improvement. It is pretty telling when younger guys are easily earning opportunities over upperclassmen, especially at a position that Clemson made a hashtag for (#WRU). It is hard to imagine Nuk or Sammy or Mike Williams giving up their snaps.
Even after all of that there is an opportunity for coaches to maximize talent, by putting players in a position to succeed. Either by running a scheme that takes advantage of the strengths of the players on the roster, or by putting players in their best position. Well I think it is safe to say the Clemson offense doesn’t fit that bill. How many times do we hear, “Well the defense showed X so we went Y” And every time X and Y are the same thing. With the exception of late in the game against Syracuse, they almost never dictate to the defense. It’s great to be flexible and take what is there, but sometimes an offense must attack regardless of the defensive scheme presented.
At this point the logical next step is finding some new ideas. Clemson has an orange rot that is based on the lack of fresh ideas. Below is a list of the entire offensive coaching staff listed on the Clemson football site. This only includes analysts with titles related to the offense.
Brandon Streeter (Offensive Coordinator, QB Coach): Former Clemson player, 6 years OC experience at Richmond and Liberty, 5 years QB coach experience prior to that
CJ Spiller (RB Coach): Former Clemson player, no other college coaching experience
Tyler Grisham (WR Coach) Former Clemson Player, no other college coaching experience
Kyle Richardson (Passing game coordinator, TE Coach): HS coach in South Carolina, no other college coaching experience, 6 years Clemson support staff
Thomas Austin (OL Coach): Former Clemson player, 2 years coaching experience at Georgia State
Andrew Zow (Senior offensive Analyst): Former Alabama QB while Dabo was the WR Coach, 13 years high school coaching experience, no other college coaching/analyst experience
Cole Stoudt (Offensive Player Development): Former Clemson player, 3 years college coaching experience at Morehead State, 3 years at Jacksonville State as a GA
Kaleb Nobles (Offensive Player Development): 3 years coaching at D-II West Florida
Tajh Boy (Offensive Player Development): Former Clemson player, no other college coaching experience
Tyrone Crowder (Offensive Player Development): Former Clemson player, no other college coaching experience
Out of everyone involved on the offense only Kyle Richardson and Kaleb Nobles do not have previous ties to Dabo, and Dabo was well acquainted with Richardson because of his many recruiting trips to the Rock Hill area. And only Cole Stoudt, Brandon Streeter and Thomas Austin have previous college coaching experience, but on Austin’s came at the FBS level. That gives Clemson 2 years of coaching experience at the FBS level, excluding coaching time at Clemson. Granted it isn’t like the defense is much better, but at least Mike Reed and Nick Eason bring some good experience to the table.
Here’s the thing, gaining experience doesn’t have to mean new coaches. The current coaching staff could study and learn these new ideas, but they have to be willing and devote not only the time, but the effort to understand these ideas. Think of how Clemson embraced the Chad Morris playbook. Yes, Morris had to advocate for some changes to a number of things, including Clemson’s S&C program, but that willingness to adapt to his requests helped make Clemson what it is now. This staff shouldn’t be so stubborn as to forget that lesson. An ability to learn is crucial to Clemson’s future success.