A few weeks back, before the Tigers neutered the Wofford Terriers, I said that we might not really know what we have with this year’s team until after Louisville, three games into the season. Well, we’re here. And with Clemson facing No. 6 Notre Dame on Saturday, it seems like a good time to look at what we’ve figured out.
Offense: Young, fast, and (potentially) deadly
Quarterback DeShaun Watson’s health is no longer in question, and he’s proving any doubters wrong. After three games, his completion percentage is just under 75 percent, with a QB rating of 165.3, good enough for 14th in the nation. Running back Wayne Gallman is an absolute wrecking ball when it comes to the rush; he’s averaging 5.8 yards a carry, he’s ground up 310 yards of turf in three games, and anyone who saw him reduce App. State’s Alex Gray to shrapnel in the end zone a couple of weeks back knows that the dude can hit when necessary; “The Train” has certainly earned his nickname.
In terms of finesse and firepower, wide receivers Artavis Scott and Ray-Ray McCloud have been stout, with Scott emerging once again as a reliable target and delicious freshman McCloud the most promising rookie on a team stacked to the gills with fresh meat. Scott has racked up 188 yards receiving, and McCloud has 113. And there are some seriously talented folks just waiting for their shot behind these two, particularly Hunter Renfrow and Jordan Leggett, whose Madden 2015-style trickeration touchdown against Louisville was great to watch.
If Watson and company can get past their disturbing tendency to sputter early, they’ll be golden.
Defense: Beast Mode
These guys cannot possibly be this new at their jobs and be this good. This is a quarterback-smothering, third-down destroying, morale-snapping collection of players. Sophomore linebacker Ben Boulware can seemingly be seven or eight places at once, and defensive end Shaq Lawson and defensive tackles Carlos Watkins and Scott Pagano are brick walls when it comes time to stop a drive.
Special Teams: Oy
I would imagine that no aspect of Clemson’s team has been worked on more this week than the porous, shaky, Special Victims…sorry, Special Teams Unit. Louisville’s 100-yard, touchdown-scoring punt return against the Tigers is just the ugliest of several examples of Clemson’s current Achille’s Heel.
The next two weeks are the meat of Clemson’s season. Georgia Tech is always a pesky opponent, but right now, Notre Dame is more dangerous. The Fighting Irish lost star quarterback Malik Zaire early in the season, and his replacement, DeShone Kizer, got off to a slow start against UMass. The Tiger defense is fully capable of taking advantage of any hesitance on Kizer’s part. The key to winning this game, however, rests with stopping running back C.J. Prosise and wide-receiver Will Fuller. Prosise is a monster on the ground; he’s racked up 600 yards rushing in four games. And Fuller’s no slouch, having scored six touchdowns and racked up 454 receiving yards. The secondary for Clemson hasn’t been as strong as the D-line, so it’s going to come down to the ground game, defensively. If the offense catches fire early and special teams shows improvement, this could be a huge win for the Tigers.