The Clemson Tigers made two huge decisions on campus this week. Coach Dabo Swinney has decided to go with freshman Trevor Lawrence at quarterback, while the former starter Kelly Bryant, has decided to transfer out of the program. The youngster has better arm talent than his predecessor, and the Tigers are hoping the move will open things up for the guys at the skill positions. There may be some growing pains with a young quarterback, but the Tigers have a dominant defense to lean on if the offense isn’t in high gear. Clemson’s playmakers at receiver and tailback will now need to step up to help their young signal-caller. Clemson has an abundance of talent, and as the season moves along, who steps up to take a starring role could determine how good this team can be.
Clemson’s Playmakers Emerge
Spreading the Ball Around
Before the season, the thought was that the Tigers would once again use the running back by committee strategy. Instead, it is the receiver group that is spreading the ball around to showcase its depth. Clemson has 12 players with at least three receptions through the first four games. Seven different Tigers have caught a touchdown pass.
Amari Rodgers leads the team with 16 receptions, and the ever-reliable Hunter Renfrow is behind him with 12. These two provide the underneath safety net for whoever has been at quarterback. Rodgers is dynamic with the ball in his hands. The Tigers look to get him the ball on the perimeter so he can attack opposing defenders one on one. He gets most of his touches on shovel passes, jet sweeps, and screens. Renfrow has been Mr. Clutch ever since he arrived in Clemson. He is often the go-to on critical third downs or inside the red zone.
Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross have been Clemson’s playmakers when the downfield pass is needed. Higgins is first on the squad with 199 yards on his nine catches, averaging 22.1 yards per with two scores. The true freshman Ross has only six catches but is averaging an insane 28.7 yards per grab. Half of his receptions have been for touchdowns. Lawrence has shown his ability when it comes to pushing the ball downfield, so Higgins and Ross could see their targets increase. Both have shown they can make a play when the ball is in the air, and those opportunities will be more prevalent moving forward. In terms of Clemson’s playmakers on the perimeter, they now have two legit deep threats and two reliable possession receivers to utilize. Tight ends Milan Richard and Braden Galloway also provide solid targets for the freshman Lawrence to go to.
Carrying the Load
As stated before, it was the crowded Tiger backfield that was thought to have the production by committee approach in 2018. Through four games, sophomore Travis Etienne has established himself as the lead tailback for this offense. He has 392 yards, five touchdowns, and is averaging 8.5 yards per carry. After being known as the home-run hitter in this tailback group as a freshman, he is showing he can be the workhorse as well. Etienne has 27 carries for 284 yards in the last two contests. His speed and vision make him a threat to break any run for a big play. He will need to carry even more of the load now with Bryant gone. Lawrence is mobile, but will not provide the same running threat as his predecessor. Those quarterback runs will now be spread out among the tailbacks.
The sophomore from Louisiana is not the only one of Clemson’s playmakers in the backfield. Tavien Feaster and Adam Choice could also see their carries increase without the quarterback run being as heavily involved in the game plan. Both backs provide a more physical presence to the position. Feaster has 130 yards on 23 carries, while Choice has rushed 17 times for 97 yards. Each back has proven their reliability and will be leaned on even more moving forward. The threat of a more expansive passing game should open up running lanes for all of the Tigers’ ball carriers. Freshman Lyn-J Dixon has also impressed in limited duties. He is averaging 7.9 yards per carry with 135 yards on the season.
Trevor Lawrence will get his first career start this Saturday at home versus Syracuse. The Orangemen upset the Tigers last season, so payback may be on the menu. Clemson’s playmakers at receiver and tailback will need to shine as their young quarterback gains a feel for being the lead man on a championship level team. The goals are still the same, win the ACC and compete in the College Football Playoff. Clemson has eight consecutive ACC contests ahead of them, before ending the season with the rival, South Carolina Gamecocks. The hope in Tiger Town is that switching to a better passing quarterback will allow the skill positions to better showcase their game-changing abilities. The talent and depth are there, now we will see who will emerge to lead this team moving forward.
Main Photo Credit: