Dabo Swinney

Claw Sharpening

By: Garrison Ryfun

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

At the end of the 2022 season, things seemed to be trending downward for the Clemson Tigers. After a 31-14 Orange Bowl loss to Tennessee, which never looked all that competitive, there were real questions about the future of the program.

The beginning of this perceived decline started with the 2020 season when Jeff Scott, one of Dabo’s Co-Offensive Coordinators, took the head coaching job at the University of South Florida.

This move helped Tony Elliot become the singular Offensive Coordinator for the 2020 and 2021 seasons.

Going into the 2022 season, Dabo lost both his stalwart defensive coordinator in Brent Venables and offensive coordinator, Tony Elliot to head coaching vacancies at Oklahoma and Virginia respectively.

Instead of going out and hiring big name coordinators, Dabo decided to try to keep continuity within the program and promoted from within for both positions; promoting Brandon Streeter from Passing Game Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach to the Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach role, and on the defensive side promoting Wes Goodwin to Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers and Mickey Conn to Co-Defensive Coordinator/Safeties.

In terms of total offense, Streeters coordinating would be seen as an improvement over Tony Elliot’s 2021 efforts, as Clemson went from the 99th total offense to the 48th in 2022.

Though Streeter did seem to help elevate the offense from season to season, 48th in the country is still well below the standard for a Clemson offense in the modern era.

The blame for their offensive struggles, perception wise, ultimately rested on Streeter’s scheme, which was similar to Elliot’s and Scott’s.

Firing Streeter was not an easy move for Dabo to make. He was a former player at the university and was a longtime assistant under Dabo, coaching at the school for six years before he became the offensive coordinator.

He also was a big part of the success Clemson had at quarterback, helping to develop Deshaun Watson and recruit and develop Trevor Lawrence. The two quarterbacks who led Clemson to national titles in 2016 and 2018.

The firing of Brandon Streeter meant that Clemson had to hit on a big-time candidate for the offensive coordinator position. Enter TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley and former Clemson offensive coordinator Jeff Scott.

In Garrett Riley’s three years of being an offensive coordinator, he has never been outside of the top 15 in points per game and has only been outside of the top 15 once for total offense.

Even in the context of an embarrassing 65-7 loss against Georgia, the problem for Riley’s offense was not the scheme.

Now entering Clemson, Riley has a better talent pool to work with that can match a more physical SEC team if they make the playoffs.

Riley will have a chance to not only coach better talent, but also recruit better talent at Clemson.

In a time when some were starting to perceive Dabo as losing his edge, he made an important move that changed the trajectory of the program before it was too late.

The move of bringing in Garrett Riley is an important one, but bringing in Jeff Scott to learn underneath him is the more underrated aspect of this whole deal.

This is Dabo positioning himself to not only revolutionize his offense, but be able to keep continuity on that front when Riley eventually takes a head coaching position elsewhere.

This kind of move is one that Clemson needed going into a divisonless 2023 in the ACC, with a rising Florida State team, and others, trying to knock them off their throne.

Clawing Back

By: Joe Delaney

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Well, it looks like these Tigers are going to have to rebound this year and we ain’t talkin’ basketball.

After a lackluster 2021 season that saw these Tigers slide out of the national picture and into ACC oblivion, these guys definitely have something to prove.

After an opening game loss to the eventual National Champion Georgia Bulldogs, the Tigers let two games slip away in the ACC and finished with 10-3 record.

While most programs would be happy with double digit wins. Most programs ain’t Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers.

Injuries and poor production at quarterback were the main reasons for the letdown. You can have 5 stars next to your name but if you throw more INTERCEPTIONS than TDs over the season with a schedule that includes South Carolina State and Connecticut then you’re not cutting it at Clemson.

DJ Uiagalelei came to Clemson as one of the most heralded QBs in the country. Last year his QB rating was in the toilet and he passed for an average of 172.8 yards per game with a 55.6% completion rate. Add in 9 touchdown passes for the whole year and well, you get the idea.

So, what do you do when your 5-star struggles? Well, Dabo just went and got another 5 star in Cade Klubnik out of Texas.

Klubnik is one of the top players in the country, Cade may be playing a little earlier than expected if DJ doesn’t cut the mustard starting against the Yellow Jackets in Atlanta in game one. Klubnik competed in the spring and may give DJ a run for his money. QB play will again determine how the Tigers finish nationally.

If the QB play can step up the offense could be very good. Running back Will Shipley leads a talented backfield that has speed and depth. Expect to see Shipley on Sundays in a couple of years.

The receivers are solid with Joseph Ngata and EJ Williams, although depth could be an issue there.

The offensive line should be much improved with four returning starters. Once again this should be a fine offensive team but the key is going to be the QB play.

On the defensive side of the ball then Tigers will be flat loaded again. Wanna know who Clemson’s defensive line reminds me of this year? Georgia’s from last year!

The trio of Myles Murphy, Bryan Bresee, and Xavier Thomas are all studs and will be playing on Sunday.

KJ Henry and Tyler Davis aren’t far behind. This is one of the top front fours in all of college football.

The LB’s will be young and very talented with Trenton Simpson leading the way.

The DB’s will be steady at FS and SS while both corners will have to be replaced. This defense could be one of Clemson’s best and that’s saying a lot.

The defensive front should give the new LB’s and Corners some time to grow and by the time the Tigers roll into Touchdown Jesus territory in early November, these guys could be scary.

On special teams BT Potter returns at PK and should also handle kickoffs and punts. He will be a busy man.

The Tigers and Dabo Swinney have built a juggernaut and just aren’t used to losing three games in a season.

Now, the defensive and offensive coordinators have to be replaced and there are some questions about how that will affect the team.  Still this team is loaded with talent.

The schedule is tough with the usual ACC teams and a trip to Notre Dame and a resurgent South Carolina in Death Valley.

If the tigers can roll into South Bend undefeated, we will know that the QB issue is A-OK and these big bad cats have clawed their way back.

Should be a very entertaining year for the Tigers, one way or the other!

Clemson Spring

By: Kenneth Harrison

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

Dabo Swinney has elevated Clemson into one of the most elite programs in the nation.

The Tigers seemed to make the College Football Playoff every season. After quarterback Trevor Lawrence was drafted #1 in the 2021 NFL Draft, we still thought they would be a top-5 team.

He was replaced by five-star QB D.J. Uiagalelei. The Tigers recruit so well they just reload rather than rebuild. Unfortunately, that was not the case last year. They were 10 – 3 but that’s not good enough for Clemson.

Uiagalelei is coming off a sophomore season that saw him rank at or near the bottom of most statistical categories in the ACC, throwing more interceptions (10) than touchdown passes (9). It was a season that saw the quarterback have his share of struggles, most notably with accuracy, as Uiagalelei completed just 56% of his passes.

D.J. has lost weight since last season and hopefully that will help him move quicker. The Spring Game was April 9th so we did see some improvement on his footwork, decision making and releasing the ball quicker.

He still had issues with his accuracy, throwing several off-target passes. He completed 17-of-36 passes for 175 yards and an interception. To be fair, there were multiple dropped passes.

The five-star freshman from Texas, Cade Klubnik completed 15-of-23 passes for 106 yards and a touchdown. Klubnik was ranked the number one quarterback in the country in the last recruiting cycle.

“DJ is definitely our starter,” Swinney said. “He has had a great spring. He has not done anything to not be the starter.”

It might be unfair to believe D.J. would drastically improve after 15 practices. He also played behind an offensive line that was missing several starters in the Spring Game. Clemson has a talented defensive line, so they had a tough time.

This does look like a possible quarterback controversy brewing once the season starts. Swinney does feel like he can win with both quarterbacks.

“It is not often you can say that, but I have seen enough from both of those guys to know that,” Swinney said. “So, it is a good situation.”

Running back Will Shipley was really the only bright spot on offense last season. He rushed for 739 yards, 11 touchdowns and averaged 5 yards per carry. He also had 16 catches for 116 yards. Shipley and the number 2 back Kobe Pace had offseason procedures, so they did not play in the Spring Game.

The only other scholarship running back on the roster was Phil Mafah from Grayson (GA).

“I thought it would allow me to just show that I could be the guy out there,” Mafah said. “I could do it just like they could, and they just allowed me to show off what I could do and help bring up the others.”

Position coach C.J. Spiller and offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said Mafah has earned more carries for the 2022 season. Now it looks like the Tigers will have three reliable backs next season.

The final score of the Spring Game was White beat Orange 15 – 7.

Clemson Tigers Preview

By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

In the 36 years that have passed between Clemson’s first National Title in 1981 and their second this past season, only two teams- ‘95 Nebraska Cornhuskers and ‘12 Alabama Crimson Tide- have been able to repeat as National Champions.

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Dabo A Difference Maker?

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By: JJ Lanier

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

As sports fans we spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with reasons why an opposing player or team is overrated- why they are not worthy of the accolades they receive.

I was never a big fan of Shaquille O’Neal and would argue how he wasn’t really all that talented, just big. My go to argument, besides his free throws, was how he never really hit a shot outside of 5 feet.

Of course, I completely ignored the fact that if you’re that big and dominant in the paint, who cares if you can hit a 15 footer. It’s like knocking someone for constantly getting to the rim for a lay up because it’s easier than hitting a jump shot.

Just like I finally came around to acknowledge Shaq’s skills, it’s time I do the same with Dabo Swinney and where he ranks among current college football coaches.

For some reason I’ve never been a fan of Swinney’s. I’m not sure if it’s his demeanor and the fact he sometimes comes across as being aloof? Or maybe Clemson always seems to underachieve, to the point where the term “Clemsoning” has become a legitimate thing. I’m sure it’s mixture of both of those, along with others I’m not cognizant of, but either way Swinney deserves more credit than I’ve given him.

If you had asked me last season why Clemson made the championship game, Swinney’s name would’ve probably been down on that list. This year is different. Maybe I’m being a little gullible here, but to be able to make it back to the title game for the second year in a row, when those are actually the expectations, is extremely impressive.

On the surface their return trip may not seem all that difficult. Clemson had a lot of returning talent from last year’s team- especially on the offensive side of the ball- and they play in the ACC, which isn’t exactly a who’s who of football royalty. To believe that though would diminish what the Tigers have accomplished.

For one, just because you’re returning that level of talent doesn’t automatically guarantee success. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone outside of Tuscaloosa that didn’t think Ohio State wasn’t the most talented team last year. Yet, where were they when playoff time arrived?

Plus, Clemson lost some big name players on the defensive side of ball, much like the year before, that they’ve been able to overcome. I once heard someone say “I don’t care how knowledgeable a maintenance man is, I just want to make sure he knows who to call when he can’t figure something out.”

It’s a weird comparison, I know, but a head coach is very much in that same vein. I don’t necessarily care how they are when it comes to X’s and O’s, just so long as they bring people with them who do. Swinney checks that box.

As for the ACC part, you could argue that it was the second or third strongest conference in football this season, which just adds to the difficulty in Clemson making it back to tonight’s game.

Swinney doesn’t bring in top 5 recruiting classes every year and he’s not looked at in the same way as a lot of the big time coaches in the country are. Getting that elusive championship ring, with a victory over this year’s Alabama team, would go a long way in helping Swinney get the recognition he probably deserves.

Even I would have a hard time arguing against that.

Who Will Win ACC Title?

By: Kenneth Harrison Jr.

TheSouthernSportsEdition.com news services

By this time next week we’ll know the conference champions for each Power 5 conference and the four-playoff teams. I’m going to preview the ACC championship game.

The Dr. Pepper ACC Football Championship Game is this Saturday night in Orlando, FL. It’s a matchup between No. 3 Clemson and No. 19 Virginia Tech. Clemson (11-1, 7-1 ACC) is trying to win its second consecutive conference championship and College Football Playoff appearance.

The Tigers have been very inconsistent this year. Some of that is because they are replacing several talented players that are now in the NFL. Coach Dabo Swinney has to get them to play more disciplined and consistent.

“This is the best team I’ve had since I’ve been (at Clemson),” said Swinney. “It’s a little frustrating at times, because I think sometimes these guys are held to a little bit different standard than some of these other teams out there. I don’t know what some people are looking at, but these guys have played well all year.”

That starts with the play of super star quarterback Deshaun Watson. He had a breakout season last year passing for over 4,000 yards and rushing for over 1,100. He only had 13 interceptions in 2015 and he already has 14 this season. His rushing total has also drastically dropped to under 500 yards.

In the loss to Pittsburgh Watson threw for 580 yards completing 74% of his passes but he also tossed 3 picks. The Tigers have played better the last two games so it looks like they might have finally found their niche.

The running game is what helped get them back on track. Junior Wayne Gallman has battled injuries but he’s finally getting healthy. Gallman averages over 5 yards per carry and he helps to take pressure off of Watson.

The Tigers are a balanced team that can also play defense. They rank 9th in the nation in total defense allowing 308 yards per game and 17 points per game.

Va Tech (9-3, 6-2) is doing well under first year head coach Justin Fuente. Fuente is tied for the most wins by a first-year Tech coach with C.P. Miles (went 9-1 in 1905). This is Virginia Tech’s first ACC Championship game appearance since 2011.

“Life has been pretty good, to be honest with you,” said Fuente. “We all have things that we’re trying to overcome, program wise. Change has been incredibly smooth (at Tech), but there hasn’t been anything to me that’s stuck out that’s been a huge thorn in our side.”

Junior QB Jerod Evans leads the Hokies with over 3,000 yards, 26 touchdowns and 5 picks. He also completes 64% of his passes. His top three targets have over 600 yards and four touchdowns each.

Tech is coming off of a two game winning streak so they have momentum going for them. They play well on defense as well coming in at 20th in the country in total defense.

If Clemson wins their guaranteed to make the College Football Playoffs again. The Tigers have a lot at stake so I expect them to feel the pressure. The game will be very competitive in the first half. I expect the superior talent of Clemson to take over in the second half and they’ll put the game out of reach.