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Summer Scheming ‘23: Clemson Tigers

Clemson hasn’t batted an eye at Miami since Randy Shannon walked the Miami sidelines in 2010. Since then, Golden, Richt, Diaz and Cristobal have all been embarrassed by Dabo’s Tigers.

NCAA Football: Clemson Tigers Spring Game The Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

The Miami Hurricanes and the Clemson Tigers will face off on Saturday, October 21st at Hard Rock Stadium. The ‘Canes will be coming off of a road trip to Chapel Hill, while Clemson has an off week before heading south to Miami Gardens. Clemson holds the series lead at 7-6, including four straight wins over the ‘Canes.

Dabo Swinney finally went outside of the family. Swinney has long been averse to the transfer portal and hiring from outside of his staff. His biggest hires at Clemson from ‘outside’ were former DC Brent Venables (Oklahoma) and now new OC Garrett Riley.

Swinney has a head coaching record of 161-39, including 89-18 in the ACC. The two-time National Champion head coach has been on the Clemson coaching staff in one capacity or another since the 2003 season, and has served as the full-time head coach since 2009.

Per Bill Connelly’s SP+, the Tigers are the 12th overall team in FBS heading into the 2023 season. CU is ranked 21st on offense and 11th on defense.

Summer Scheming SWOT Analysis

This year’s Summer Scheming will look different than in years past by featuring a SWOT Analysis on each opponent the Hurricanes will face in the 2023 season. SWOT in this iteration will stand for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Traditions* (not Threats). We’ll discuss one cool tradition from each of the football programs on the ‘23 schedule.

Strengths: Blue Chip Ratio; RB, DL, LB

First and foremost- Bud Elliott’s Blue Chip Ratio. Two teams have more talent on the roster, per recruiting rankings, than Miami. Those two teams are Texas A&M and the Clemson Tigers. The ‘Canes are at 61%, while Clemson is at 72%.

Even with an average offensive line and little downfield passing threat, Will Shipley managed 5.6 yards per carry and 15 TD’s on the ground. The Clemson running back sat out of the spring game with knee tendonitis, but is expected to be full go this fall.

In two seasons at Clemson, Shipley has 26 rushing TD’s, has thrown a TD, and averages 26.1 yards per kick return. The five-foot-eleven, 200 pound runner is a dangerous weapon for new OC Garrett Riley’s offense.

Swinney has made sure to have dominating D-Lines for the better of the last decade. Three DL were selected in the ‘23 NFL Draft alone, including two first round picks. CU had three first round DL taken in the 2019 NFL Draft. yes, three 1st rounders from one meeting room in the same draft. If you want to win a National Championship, it’s through the defensive line.

Clemson’s ‘23 DL is made up of four guys that have waited their turn to shine. Tyler Davis leads the bunch having recorded 9.5 TFL’S and 5.5 sacks in ‘22.

Linebacker is a true strength for Clemson in ‘23. Their 4-2-5 looks so damn good because of Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Barrett Carter. The duo combined for 24 TFL’s and 12 sacks with 13 PBU’s, four picks and three forced fumbles last year.

Weaknesses: S&C, Swinney gone stale?

Joey Batson and Larry Greenlee have been a dynamic duo for almost 30 years together at Clemson. Batson overseeing the entire department and Greenlee Associate Head Football Strength & Conditioning Coach.

While I think both are very good coaches, Clemson is one of those squads where far too many players are seen in shoulder harnesses every season. What gives? Between that and soft tissue injuries, something has to be re-tooled in Death Valley for 2023.

The Tigers are going to have to figure out if it’s Development or Deployment that’s caused them to backslide a little the last two seasons. They’ve replaced their OC, will the S&C staff be next?

NCAA Football: Clemson Tigers Spring Game The Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

Which begs the question- has Dabo’s culture and program gone stale in Death Valley? Is his singing cheesy songs and ‘by golly’ nature still capable of producing a winner? Or do you have to be more cutthroat like Nick Saban and Kirby Smart to win during NIL and the transfer portal era?

Opportunities: New OC + QB combo

Last season, Cade Klubnik threw two touchdowns and three interceptions as DJ Uiagalelei’s backup QB. Klubnik slightly edged DJU in yards per attempt (7.0 to 6.8), and both completed 61% of their passes. DJU is now in the PNW and Klubnik is the starting QB for Riley’s offense.

NCAA Football: Clemson Tigers Spring Game The Independent Mail-USA TODAY NETWORK

Riley’s TCU offense was 5th best in the country per the SP+ final rankings for 2022. How much of that was TCU head coach Sonny Dykes and how much was Riley? That’s what we’re going to find out when the Tigers head to Durham on September 4th to face the improved Duke Blue Devils.

Klubnik has a hell of a security blanket in Shipley, and deep threat Beaux Collins (17ypc and two TD’s). Tight end Davis Allen has moved on to the NFL. Riley is going to have them moving fast and with misdirection in order to keep the linebackers frozen and the offense ahead of the defense at all times.

Traditions: Howard’s Rock

Howard’s Rock has been a Clemson tradition dating back to 1966:

When the Clemson team gathers to run down The Hill, the players rub Howard’s Rock because of the mystical powers it is supposed to give Clemson players. The rock is mounted on a pedestal at the top of The Hill and was given to Coach Frank Howard by a friend (S.C. Jones ’19) who picked it up in Death Valley, Calif. The Rock was first placed on the pedestal at the top of The Hill on Sept. 24, 1966, a game Clemson won 40-35 over Virginia. The team started rubbing the Rock for the first game of 1967, a 23-6 win over Wake Forest on Sept. 23, 1967.

Having been to Clemson for coaching clinics and to visit my cousin, I have to admit- the stadium being sunken into the campus and seeing Howard’s Rock was pretty cool. While a small little campus strip compared to say Athens, GA (UGA), it was a fun place to hang out for the day and experience that college life for a few more hours.

Tigers Offense Scheme

If the spring game is any indication of the new offense- you’ll see a lot of counter, RPO’s, screens, four verts, and crossing routes from Riley’s offense. And that was just the ‘vanilla’ looks and without Shipley at RB.

Above- Riley is going to maximize the entire 53 13 of the field width. The WR will dropout because that keeps him away from safety help. It’s an offense built around space and not clogging the lane.

Above- Who needs Shipley? Domonique Thomas with great patience, vision and cut ability turning 3rd and 1 into an explosive run.

Above- It’s not like CU was out there looking perfect. Missed blocks, bad throws, etc. were a thing for the Tigers, too. Here the screen is blown up because of a missed block on the perimeter.

Above- Throughout a handful of Summer Scheming’s, we’ve seen the TE up the goal post or seam on 3rd and long for a 1st down from Miami, UNC, and now Clemson. It’s tough to defend with how long and athletic TE’s are in the 2020’s.

Above- Clemson DB is burned but makes it up on the under-thrown ball. 1- he doesn’t give up on the play and 2- he doesn’t go for the ball, he plays the WR’s hands for the PBU. Smart football- you hope Kam Kinchens plays that the same way.

Above- love the pop pass off play-action or RPO looks. Slot WR’s finding space behind LB’s and in front of S’s for quick throws. Has to be fearless and put his chest back to the ball. Secures the catch turns and makes up another 7-8 yards after the catch.

Above- Phil Mafah in the battle for the back up RB job with Thomas. They’re different types of backs that I think can both be used to spell Shipley or put Mafah in the backfield with Shipley in a split back look from the gun. Imagine having to defend Shipley and a guy that can break tackles and re-accelerate like this.

Above- And then no tricks or gimmicks- just downhill football. Clemson runs zone with the TE picking up the backside DE and Mafah uses one cut and his legs to drive into the end zone.

Tigers Defense Scheme

Clemson’s defense shouldn’t look much different in ‘23. That side of the ball had their stuff together and will return experienced defensive linemen, two of the best linebackers in the ACC, and solid defensive backs.

Above- More of a WTF was former Miami OC Josh Gattis (Maryland) doing moment than a Clemson defense moment. You’re getting a six man rush look and five come. This is 2.8s after the ball is snapped and not a single WR is really into a route yet / looking for the ball. If Shannon Dawson finds this- buddy- have two routes that open quickly. Preferably by 1.8 seconds.

Above- There’s the full clip. By the time Brown tries to buy time via space it’s too late.

Above- Above-above we had Clemson breaking up their own screen. Now they’re tipping Miami’s and intercepting one. I think CU might just be really good at ID’ing plays and fast to react. Their studs are from GA, SC, and NJ (Trotter). Three states where high school coaching stipends are large and coaches mainly focus on coaching, not teaching.

Above- What did work? This nice little QB counter worked. The guard almost misses his seal but picks it up last second. The TE sets a beautiful kickout block.

Above- Look at 18 with the KO block. Head inside to cut off the defender. 50 with the seal. 88 up field looking for contact. Imagine an improved guard on this play in ‘23. Would be nice but the TE hit the portal.

Above- 1st and 10 down 24 with 1.5 quarters to go. Brown should be looking to take the easy completion and let his guys work. The TE is WIDE OPEN in the flat. His head is turned around immediately. Gattis does Brown a favor and he denies the easy look for a deep ball.

Above- This one is on Gattis. It’s 3rd and 15 but a 4-down situation. At 3 seconds and Jake Garcia has no one to throw to yet. No one is even close to being into their route. Clemson’s defensive line is their strength, why play into their hand?

New OC Shannon Dawson should be smarter than Gattis when it comes to getting the ball out quickly and protecting your offensive line.

Above- 1st and 10 again later and I dunno what these guys are looking for. Hitch is open, just throw a good ball to his outside shoulder and the LB can’t get there, CB is boxed out. Instead he looks deep and takes a sack.

Canyonero Keys to Victory

Fans mocked Manny Diaz for saying he needed ‘more time’ to build a champion in Coral Gables, however, Mario Cristobal is doubling down on “trust the process” right now. The best way to gauge improvement is on how your team performs against the best competition it plays, and that’s Clemson in ‘23.

1- Play to win. Do the opposite of what TCU did against UGA in the CFPNCG. Pull out all the stops, including: onside kicks, fake punts, trick plays, send pressure and go for it on 4th and reasonable. Punting the ball away to Klubnik and Shipley 10 times is a recipe for disaster.

2- Hit on explosives. I’ve been argued with by anyone with even a slight pulse that Miami isn’t slow. Aaron Feld does a great job, he’s a legend on Boomer Sooner’s S&C coach lists, etc. But this is two coaching staffs in a row that have failed to produce fast players on the game field for Miami. How is a place known for speed producing so few fast players?

3- Don’t quit. Under Cristobal in ‘22, the team quit on him. He even walked the sidelines looking beaten down and possibly regretting leaving Eugene for ‘home’ in Coral Gables. If anything has to change in ‘23 it has to be the culture of the program during tough games. It’s easy to be Mr. Hype when it’s sunny and you’re up by 10. What about when you’re down by 17 in a rain storm?

Prediction: Clemson by 14.