CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson has not looked like Clemson at all so far this season.
The fifth-ranked Tigers have been an up-tempo, points-a-plenty marvel in college football since 2011, averaging at least 410 yards and 31 points a game. Through two contests this year, Clemson has barely broken that level and instead look like the most mistake-prone 2-0 team in the country.
The latest example came Saturday in Clemson’s 30-24 victory over Troy. It was the second win of less than a touchdown for a team that, led by All-America quarterback Deshaun Watson, was supposed to obliterate most opponents.
On Sunday, Clemson slid three spots in the latest rankings.
“The biggest disappointment was offense,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We had 414 yards of offense and I don’t know that we could play worse.”
Clemson’s supposedly sure-handed receivers like Mike Williams, Hunter Renfrow and Artavis Scott all had uncharacteristic drops against the Trojans. Watson passed for three touchdowns and 292 yards, but had two interceptions and completed barely half of his passes (27 of 53).
Wayne Gallman, last year’s 1,500-yard rusher, ended with just 34 against Troy and was far from the punishing runner who carried the Tigers at times a season ago.
And, of course, there’s was Ray-Ray McCloud’s embarrassing gaffe where he flipped away the ball on the 1 in his eagerness to celebrate a scintillating, 75-yard punt return.
Clemson’s offensive leaders contend the early season sloppiness is just that, easily correctible that all will chuckle about once the Tigers start rolling.
“We know what we have in that room and for whatever reason, we’re just not on the right page right now,” said Jeff Scott, who shares Clemson’s offensive coordinator title with Tony Elliott.
It’s hard to place a finger on the reason since most everyone who was part of Clemson’s Atlantic Coast Conference championship season remain on the team.
So what’s wrong with Clemson’s offense?
Perhaps, those who are not back in receiver Charone Peake, left guard Eric Mac Lain and right tackle Joe Gore were more important to Clemson’s bedrock than anyone expected. Clemson’s offensive line has been bolstered with highly regarded prospects, now starters, in Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen. But Hyatt is a quiet sort and Fruhmorgen has not played enough to have a significant leadership role yet. Peake was a fifth-year player and steadying influence on the Tigers young skill players.
TOO MANY COOKS?
Back in 2011 when Clemson’s offensive stats — and profile — took off, offensive coordinator Chad Morris was a one-man band in charge of the attack. He called plays, coached quarterbacks and designed schemes that helped the Tigers knock such college football powers as Auburn, Florida State, LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma for four seasons. Now, the offensive room is filled with many more voices with Scott and Elliott as co-coordinators and Brandon Streeter as quarterbacks coach. Scott and Elliott are former teammates whose partnership has been productive since it started after Morris left to be SMU’s head coach after the 2014 regular season. Streeter, the former Clemson quarterback, is the newest member of the group who signed on after Morris’ departure.
Watson had a sublime sophomore season in 2015, leading the Tigers to a 14-1 mark, the No. 1 ranking, the ACC championship and a trip to the College Football Playoff. He also gained a level of attention and interest uncommon for college students, considered the consensus No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft. Watson says the pros are in his future as long as he graduates — he’s on track for his degree in December — and fulfills his goals with the Tigers. As level-headed as Watson appears, such expectations can certainly rattle 20-year-olds — even those who make it look effortless.
Watson echoed the party line Saturday, saying Clemson’s errors are and get fixed.
“It happens sometimes. It’s football,” Watson said. “Nobody’s perfect.”