Clemson's offense is not operating anywhere close to its typical championship-caliber levels.
The Tigers' offense was anything but impressive in a 14-8 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday. The game was delayed by lightning for nearly two hours late in the second quarter with the Tigers leading 7-3. And that score stayed like that until midway through the fourth quarter when Will Shipley made it a two-score lead for Clemson before Georgia Tech made a late push.
The Tigers stopped Georgia Tech two yards from the end zone with 15 seconds left. The Yellow Jackets tired a shovel pass up the middle after some misdirection to the left and Clemson LB James Skalski snuffed it out and made the game-saving tackle.
The game somehow wasn't over from there, however. Clemson decided to go in the shotgun for a run play to end the game and Shipley ran it up the middle. He fumbled just as he got out of the end zone and the ball bounced backward.
Shipley was able to recover the ball — had Georgia Tech recovered it would have been a touchdown. But it was the perfect encapsulation in back-to-back plays of the contrast that is this Clemson team.
Offense gets less than 300 yards
The Tigers’ main offensive problem is the passing game. D.J. Uiagalelei was 18-of-25 passing but those passes went for just 126 yards. That’s an average of just five yards an attempt and no completion went for over 20 yards.
The downfield pass simply isn’t available to Clemson right now — and that’s a shock to the system after three years of Trevor Lawrence’s magnificence. Uiagelelei was competent in Lawrence’s absence in 2020. But the differences between the two players is clear now that Lawrence is in the NFL.
There are other differences too. Travis Etienne is no longer at Clemson and the absence of Amari Rodgers as a safety valve is glaring too. Justyn Ross is back in 2021 after missing the 2020 season with a neck injury and had seven catches on Saturday. But no other Tigers player had more than two catches or 25 yards.
The pass game is also hurting the rushing attack. Will Shipley looks like he’s the next great Clemson running back and scored both of the Tigers’ TDs. But he had 21 carries for 88 yards — that’s far lower than what Etienne averaged during his Clemson career.
With a weak-looking ACC schedule ahead, Clemson has a chance to figure things out on offense and still get by over the next few weeks. But if the Tigers want any hope of making the playoff, the offense has to improve significantly.
Clemson defense stellar once again
The offense has time to get things straightened out because of how good the defense is. Clemson’s has given up just 12 points all season as the touchdown Georgia scored in Week 1 came off of a pick six. The Tigers are the stingiest defense in the country. No other defense hasn’t given up a TD through three weeks.
That stinginess was on display on Saturday. Georgia Tech got the ball with 8:12 left after Shipley scored his second TD. And it took the Yellow Jackets 16 plays and 6:53 to go 70 yards to get a field goal to cut the deficit to eight.
That’s why it felt so improbable that Georgia Tech was going to get a TD when it recovered an onside kick with 1:19 to go and had all three timeouts. How were the Yellow Jackets going to score so quickly when it was such a struggle moments earlier?
It wasn't a struggle on the second drive. At least until GT got close to the end zone. Once they did, the Clemson defense buckled down.