Ed. Note: ESPN’s David Hale does a great job of doing position group breakdowns with advanced stats that I don’t have access to, so I’m also going to include some information from those throughout.
Well after what should be hopefully an easier beginning stretch, Georgia Tech will face likely its toughest opponent on the schedule: Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers.
Now, I know it’s no secret that Clemson has been good the last X number of years and will be good again this year, but let’s take a deeper dive into what this team is going to look like this season.
I won’t spend a lot of time on this, but last season, Clemson went 10-2, winning the ACC and getting knocked out in the College Football Playoff in the first round against Ohio State. The only other team to beat Clemson last season was Notre Dame in a double-overtime thriller, in which Trevor Lawrence did not play. The Tigers later got their revenge in the ACC Championship.
Coming into this season, Clemson lost at least five players to the draft and had several more also transfer out or graduate.
|QB Trevor Lawrence||Drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars|
|RB Travis Etienne||Drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars|
|OT Jackson Carman||Drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals|
|WR Amari Rodgers||Drafted by the Green Bay Packers|
|WR Cornell Powell||Drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs|
|CB Deion Kendrick||Transferred to UGA|
|RB Demarkcus Bowman||Transferred to Florida|
|LB Mike Jones, Jr.||Transferred to LSU|
|CB LeAnthony Williams, Jr.||Transferred to Marshall|
|RB Chez Mellusi||Transferred to Wisconsin|
|DT Nyles Pinckney||Transferred to Minnesota|
|DT Jordan Williams||Transferred to Virginia Tech|
|TE JC Chalk||Graduated|
|WR Josh Jackson||Graduated|
|S Elijah Turner||Graduated|
|LS Tyler Brown||Graduated|
|OL Cade Stewart||Graduated|
Looking at this list of departures, the most glaring loss is quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who was drafted first overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who also drafted Travis Etienne. Lawrence showed incredible efficiency last season, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 3,153 yards and 24 touchdowns. Etienne added 956 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground and another 588 yards and two touchdowns through the air.
In addition to those two guys, Clemson also loses their top two receiving options in Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell. They combined for nearly 2,000 yards and 14 touchdowns.
On defense, well, um....Clemson’s biggest (and pretty much only major) loss is defensive tackle Nyles Pinckney, who transferred to Minnesota as a graduate transfer. Pinckney had a solid season last year, finishing with 27 tackles, three TFL and a sack while appearing in every game and starting two.
So with all these guys leaving, who’s going to replace them?
At quarterback, the answer is clear: DJ Uiagelelei. In limited playing time (including one start against Notre Dame), Uiagelelei, a former five-star recruit, did an admirable job filling in for Trevor Lawrence or playing in garbage time. In that first match against Notre Dame, he completed 29 of his 44 passes (65.9 percent) for 439 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Lyn-J Dixon should be the guy at running back this season. Chez Mellusi would have been in contention too, had he not transferred. Dixon has been there for a few seasons while sitting behind Etienne, but this should be Dixon’s year. Serving as the a reserve running back the last few seasons, Dixon contributed 1,372 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground and 183 yards in the air.
I’m not betting on a repeat performance by the Tigers, and they certainly have talent in the backfield. But the entire play calling was impacted by the run game struggles in 2020 and that’s worrisome w/o Trevor & Travis now. Rebound likely, but far from guaranteed.— ️♈️ (@ADavidHaleJoint) July 13, 2021
I tend to agree with David here. In terms of talent at running back and up front, I’m not at all concerned about that. It will come down to play calling. Former Clemson standout CJ Spiller is joining the staff as the running backs coach, so I’m curious to see just how well Dixon does this season.
Wide receiver will receive a boost with the return of Justyn Ross, who missed last season after having surgery following the spring. With two seasons to play, Ross has already left his mark on Clemson after an impressive first couple seasons. Honestly, had he not been injured, I think there’s a decent chance that Clemson would be trying to replace him this season too.
With so much coming back on defense, they will be more than formidable this season. In each of the advanced stats that Football Outsiders tracks, Clemson’s defense finished in the top 25 and all but two of those were top 12 finishes.
- FEI: 1.02 (T-2nd)
- Drive Efficiency: 0.86 (6th)
- Points per Drive: 1.47 (10th)
- Available Yards per Drive: 0.363 (7th)
- Yards per Play: 5.32 (23rd)
- Touchdown Rate: 0.177 (11th)
- Value Drive Rate: 0.29 (23rd)
- First Down Rate: 0.589 (5th)
- Busted Drive Rate: 0.161 (12th)
- Turnover Rate: 0.177 (10th)
Clemson's secondary was very good overall last year, and they return a ton of talent. But the big red flag for me from 2020, when targeting WRs, opposing QBs averaged 8.39 yards/att. That's the worst avg since Venables took over and 37% worse than the 2014-19 avg.— ️♈️ (@ADavidHaleJoint) July 14, 2021
I was actually pretty surprised to see this number about Clemson’s secondary. The Tigers got burned by the deep ball last season, which is what cost them against Ohio State, as Justin Fields averaged 13.75 yards/attempt in that game. Clemson managed to get plenty of hands on passes throughout the season, breaking up nearly 50 passes. Safety Nolan Turner coming back will be very nice for them.
Interestingly on Clemson though: While the unit gets labeled as more physical/less athletic, Tigers LBs ranked 2nd in ACC in yds/target allowed on dig/drag/slant routes but 13th in ACC in missed tackle rate.— ️♈️ (@ADavidHaleJoint) July 15, 2021
Moving up to linebacker, Jones is the only guy that’s gone. He started seven games for the Tigers last season. With the amount of experience they have returning, even without Jones, they will still be pretty solid.
Interesting stat nugget on Clemson's DL: With BOTH Bresee & Murphy on the field last year, Tigers had just a 20.2% pressure rate (vs. 33.2% with either off the field) on non-blitz plays. BUT... Also surrendered just 5.81 yards/pass (vs 7.95 with either off).— ️♈️ (@ADavidHaleJoint) July 16, 2021
I’m going to keep this short. Clemson’s defensive line is really good. It was good last year, and it’ll be good this year and probably forever.
Clemson Recruiting Class
|Position||Name||Height||Weight||Rivals Rating||247 Sports Composite Rating|
|Position||Name||Height||Weight||Rivals Rating||247 Sports Composite Rating|
|RB||Phil Mafah||6-1||215||4-Star (5.9)||4-Star (0.9238)|
|WR||Dacari Collins||6-5||200||4-Star (5.8)||4-Star (0.9248)|
|LB||Jeremiah Trotter, Jr.||6-1||210||4-Star (5.9)||4-Star (0.9819)|
|OL||Ryan Linthicum||6-4||280||4-Star (5.9)||4-Star (0.9135)|
|OL||Marcus Tate||6-5||290||4-Star (5.9)||4-Star (0.9411)|
|WR||Beaux Collins||6-3||195||4-Star (6.0)||4-Star (0.9625)|
|TE||Jake Briningstool||6-6||215||4-Star (5.9)||4-Star (0.9715)|
|DE||Cade Denhoff||6-5||225||4-Star (5.8)||4-Star (0.9537)|
|RB||Will Shipley||5-11||200||4-Star (6.0)||5-Star (0.9840)|
|LB||Barrett Carter||6-1||220||5-Star (6.1)||5-Star (0.9836)|
|QB||Bubba Chandler||6-3||195||3-Star (5.6)||3-Star (0.8879)|
|DE||Zaire Patterson||6-6||225||4-Star (5.8)||4-Star (0.9237)|
|WR||Troy Stellato||6-1||175||4-Star (5.9)||4-Star (0.9254)|
|DT||Payton Page||6-4||315||4-Star (6.0)||4-Star (0.9587)|
|OL||Dietrick Pennington||6-5||310||3-Star (5.7)||4-Star (0.9175)|
|QB/WR||Will Taylor||5-10||175||3-Star (5.5)||3-Star (0.8452)|
|S||Andrew Mukuba||6-0||185||4-Star (5.8)||4-Star (0.9279)|
|CB||Nate Wiggins||6-2||175||4-Star (5.9)||4-Star (0.9453)|
|OL||Tristan Leigh||6-6||290||5-Star (6.1)||5-Star (0.9922)|
Speaking of Clemson probably being good forever, let’s talk recruiting! Surprisingly, Clemson’s recruiting class isn’t quite as strong as I was expecting. There are only at most three five-star recruits in Barrett Carter, Tristan Leigh and Will Shipley (who is not a five-star commit according to Rivals).
This season does have a chance to be a bit of a down year for Clemson, given the loss of Trevor Lawrence. However, I think with virtually the whole defense coming back and another great class (even if it isn’t the best class Clemson has ever had), Clemson will once again be representing the ACC in the College Football Playoff once again.
As far as their match-up with Tech in Week 3, well, I think I might have something going on that weekend.
How do you feel about Tech’s match-up with Clemson this season?