Clemson completed the 2022 season with an 11-3 record and an ACC title, but only one victory over a team that finished in the top 25. I was very bullish on the running back room and Clemson’s potential rushing attack in my position preview. Time to look at how I did and how the season shook out.
THE GOOD: Will Shipley followed up a promising freshman campaign with a very good sophomore performance that garnered first team All-ACC recognition. Shipley finished with career highs in carries (210), yards (1,182), yards per carry (5.6), rushing TDs (15), receptions (38), and receiving yards (242). Perhaps the only real gripe with his season was beyond his control: getting enough touches.
He still hasn’t produced the homerun touchdown runs this offense desperately needs and that remains my biggest area of improvement for him going forward. For a guy who reputedly can top 21 MPH, he hasn’t popped as many long TD runs as you might expect. Still, Shipley has been a warrior and the offense’s best player.
Phil Mafah supplanted Kobe Pace really after the GT game as RB2 and, like Shipley, posted career highs in nearly every category except receptions and receiving yards. The only real gripe I had with Mafah was his very untimely fumble on a trick kick return against the Gamecocks. Otherwise he produced very well for the opportunities he was given and actually graded the highest on the team per PFF. Having these two guys back for 2023 should be a tremendous boon for next season’s prospects. Both Mafah and Shipley were over 5 yards a carry which you will take every time. They also only lost a combined 25 yards on 308 combined carries.
THE BAD: Kobe Pace had a year to forget. He had a poor first game vs. GT that got him behind Mafah on the depth chart, then battled injuries the majority of the season. His numbers fell well below 2021’s solid campaign as he finished with only 30 carries for 84 yards and a paltry 2.6 yards per carry number. To be honest, it is tough to expect three guys who have shown starter capability to stick with running back by committee in the transfer portal era. It isn’t shocking that Pace entered the portal and has since committed to Tony Elliott and UVA.
I said this offense should top 200 yards a game rushing but it fell short of that number, finishing at 177.9 per game. This was with DJU’s much improved running ability. Clemson really only fully leaned on its rushing attack against Syracuse when DJU was banged up and playing terribly before giving way to Cade Klubnik. It is hard to know just what this rushing attack could have done had the offensive staff leaned on it more. Guys like freshman RT Blake Miller graded much higher in run blocking over the course of the season and the running backs were the highest graded position on the team. It seemed teams were successful in baiting the Tigers to throw it a lot more than they should have in 2022.
LOOKING AHEAD: Many Clemson fans, including myself, are wondering what Dabo Swinney is actually going to do about the offense moving forward. There was improvement from 2021, but considering the relative health of this unit was much better than 2021, particularly across the offensive line and at WR, things didn’t jump like they should have for the team to be a playoff caliber unit. The program has turned to Cade Klubnik who showed tremendous promise at the end of 2022, but the strength of this roster still lies in the running back room and the staff has to be more effective in exploiting it unless the WR play can get back to 2011-2020 levels.