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New Clemson OC Garrett Riley - Digging Deeper with Frogs O’ War

We connected with Frogs O’ War to learn more about Garrett Riley’s offense.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 Big 12 Championship - TCU vs Kansas State Photo by Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On January 12th, almost two weeks after the Orange Bowl but only three days after the National Championship game, Clemson dismissed Offensive coordinator/QB coach Brandon Streeter. Almost immediately after that news dropped, Garrett Riley from TCU was announced as Clemson’s hire to fill the vacancy.

Coach Riley won the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in all of college football. He was in his first year at TCU after coming over from SMU with head coach Sonny Dykes. In their first year in Ft. Worth, they averaged 38.8 points per game.

The news energized a pessimistic and lugubrious Clemson fan base that was sensing the program beginning to slip. Now, things appear to be headed back in the right direction. Joining us to tell us more about Garrett Riley is Anthony North. He is the Editor-in-Chief of Frogs O’ War, SB Nation’s TCU site and was kind enough to join us despite Clemson hiring away their assistant coach. Be sure to follow him and his site on social media.

Ryan Kantor: Let’s start with TCU. The timing and lack of rumors made this move surprising for everyone, but did you expect Riley to leave this or next offseason or did this catch TCU fans completely off guard?

Anthony North: Given the success of this first season at TCU - winning the Broyles Award; flipping a 5-7 team into the National Championship; turning Max Duggan from a back-up to the Heisman runner-up - it was inevitable that Riley was going to get calls and his remaining time in Fort Worth would be short. Once the coaching carousel began, his best head coaching opportunities were lower-level G5s as the big openings weren’t ready to take the chance with his limited sample size. Once Riley reportedly turned down the massive barrel of cash from Texas A&M to take the OC role under Jimbo Fisher, TCU fans breathed a sigh of relief, as it seemed he was ready to run it back with the Horned Frogs, where another year of success could put him further up the pecking order for top head coaching jobs. So when the Clemson news dropped, it was a surprise. Frog fans don’t have any ill-will towards Riley and never expected him to be a TCU lifer, but thought maybe he’d be around one more year

Ryan: Sonny Dykes was an offensive coordinator at Arizona earlier in his career. Was TCU’s offense more his, Riley’s, or a mix of both? Are the Horned Frogs in a decent position to fill the void without Garrett Riley?

Anthony: At the macro level this was still a Sonny Dykes offense, but he’s taken a much more “CEO-style” approach at TCU, bringing in people he trusts and letting them do their thing: game day play calling, personnel packages, etc. were more Riley’s handiwork than Dykes’. Riley was also the QB coach at TCU where he did an excellent job of improving Duggan and tailoring the offense to maximize his skillset. As for what TCU will do with the vacant OC position, this is a question that is currently tearing the TCU fanbase apart. The rumored frontrunner is a certain current OC at Arkansas (Kendal Briles) who happened to be an assistant at a certain program in Waco, TX during its horrific sexual assault scandal; this frontrunner also happens to be the son of the head coach who presided over said scandal and is one of football’s worst villains. TCU fans seem to be caught between groups of “trust Sonny no matter what” vs. “never Briles.” Frog fans have more-or-less moved on from the pure hatred of Baylor that was present through 2015, gaining a level of respect for the regimes of Rhule and Aranda (while certainly still passionately wanting to beat them at every opportunity), but the animosity towards those in leadership roles during the Briles era lives on; for a large portion of the fan base, putting a Briles on the TCU sideline would be a bridge far too far. For some, literally anyone else would be a preferred option.

Ryan: Turning our attention to Clemson, one thing that was frustrating to Tiger fans was the extent to which they allowed defenses to dictate the plays to them. Of course, there is always an element of “taking what the defense gives you,” but it seemed Clemson frequently played to their weaknesses (i.e., abandon the run and pass to a struggling WR corps). Riley’s offense has plenty of reads/options in it as well, but was this ever a feeling you got watching the TCU offense?

Anthony: If there was a weakness to Riley’s calling of the offense in 2022 it’d be a tendency to go away from what works in short yardage or goal-to-go spots, as if he’s outsmarting himself while attempting to beat the defense. The multiple goal line stops in the Big 12 Championship where Riley took the ball out of Max Duggan’s hands; the frequent occasions of jet sweeps or long-developing horizontal line-of-scrimmage passes, but for the most part it was hard to quibble with the plan. The reads from the TCU offense were less “taking what the defense gives you” and more “force the defense into impossible dilemmas where whatever choice they make will be exploited” the scheme was taking from the defense rather than the defense dictating the scheme. Having a longtime veteran at QB helps with that, as Duggan rarely made the wrong choice or missed those opportunities. I’d say the best examples to watch would be TCU’s game against Oklahoma and your old pal Brent Venables, everything worked for TCU’s offense and the Sooners looked completely lost, particularly this play where the Safety is cooked before the snap, no matter what he does.

Ryan: Another area where Clemson has really struggled the past two seasons is hitting explosive plays. TCU was excellent at this. Could you tell us a bit how they made this work so well?

Anthony: Much of that is the scheme mentioned above, forcing defenders to make choices then punishing whichever choice is made. It also helps to have elite talents at WR & RB; Quentin Johnston and Kendre Miller are both now off to the NFL and were top-tier performers for TCU in 2022, plus crazy speed like Derius Davis and Taye Barber to turn a short crosser or drag screen into a long TD. But even guys that aren’t considered at that elite level were able to make massive plays all season. I’d expect Riley to be able to deploy the wealth of talent at Clemson to similar explosive effect.

Ryan: For all the negatives about Clemson’s offense, one thing they did relatively well was run the QB. DJ Uiagalelei isn’t the fleetest of foot, but he is surprisingly shifty and Coach Streeter wasn’t afraid to use him in the run game. With Cade Klubnik, he was even more eager to use the QB run. How big of a role does the QB run play in Riley’s offense?

Anthony: Max Duggan was always a strong runner, but he became a monster under Riley. Having a strong base run game with Kendre Miller allowed the read option and designed QB run plays to flourish. These QB runs became the reliable go-to plays when TCU needed to get ahead of the chains on early downs or pick up a 3rd-and-5 or score from a few yards out (yes I had to link the one highlight from the National Championship game). I’d expect if Klubnik is up for the punishment that can often come with those plays, the QB run will be foundational to the offense and prove to be very successful for Clemson in 2023.

Vrbo Fiesta Bowl - Michigan v TCU Photo by Chris Coduto/Getty Images

Ryan: Garrett Riley has never been at the same college job for more than three seasons. He was with East Carolina for three seasons (2013-15) and Kansas for three years (2016-18). Then he spent one year at Appalachian State, two years at SMU, and most recently one year TCU. What is your prediction for his career path at Clemson and beyond?

Anthony: I see Riley as an ambitious guy with eyes at big time head coaching opportunities. I can’t see Riley remaining in this role at Clemson longer than three seasons. If those seasons include ACC Titles and a Playoff win or two, he’ll have every high major P5 job knocking down his door and backing up the Brinks truck. I also don’t see Clemson settling for “just fine,” so if Riley’s offense doesn’t produce and Clemson disappoints (with a season as ACC Champion and an Orange Bowl loss being the bar that gets an assistant let go, it’s certainly possible), Dabo will dump him, but the work done in this one season for TCU should give him a soft landing spot, likely as another P5 OC.