How Clemson passing game can remain elite

Adam Luckettabout 2 months
Aritcle written by:Adam LuckettAdam Luckett
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CLEMSON — Clemson’s offense has big shoes to fill after Trevor Lawrence threw for 10,098 yards and 90 touchdowns over the last three seasons.

Outside of 2017 when Kelly Bryant ran the offense, Clemson has had a next-level talent behind center every season since 2014. Deshaun Watson led the program to two national championship games in 2015 and 2016. Trevor Lawrence did the same in 2018 and 2019.

No pressure, D.J. Uiagalelei.

The Tigers have the pieces to remain one of the sport’s most dynamic passing offenses in 2021. This is how Tony Elliott’s unit will accomplish the mission.

Sophomore QB plays to his standard

Coming in as a five-star prospect creates a very high bar. That bar is raised even higher when a young player is a quarterback. After throwing for 781 yards and four touchdowns in his first two starts, now the expectations are sky high for Uiagalelei.

The 6-foot-4 quarterback out of Metro Los Angeles has to be a star for the Clemson offense. There is no getting around that. Trevor Lawrence averaged 8.3 yards per attempt as a true freshman and saw that number grow each year, while peaking at 9.4 in 2020. Deshaun Watson put up 8.4 yards per attempt in Clemson’s undefeated regular season in 2015, before turning it on late in 2016 as Dabo Swinney collected his first national title.

Clemson will need Uiagalelei to post similar numbers this fall. This yards per attempt metric proves if both accuracy and explosiveness are in the passing game. The Tigers will need both to contend nationally.

Perimeter playmakers

Cornell Powell and Amari Rodgers are both gone to the NFL. Travis Etienne is no longer in the lineup for the quarterback and offensive coordinator to use as a safety blanket. Clemson needs some new stars to emerge at receiver.

Redshirt junior Justyn Ross appears to be one. However, the Tigers could be asking the 6-foot-4 matchup nightmare to operate out of the slot. Therefore, outside playmakers must step up. Clemson has options.

Joseph Ngata is poised for a big season. Ajou Ajou has tons of potential. Frank Ladson Jr. has the speed to be a legit vertical threat. E.J. Williams could be a jack of all trades.

Frank Ladson Jr. - Clemson - WR

Frank Ladson Jr. could be a breakthrough candidate. (Photo by John Byrum/Getty Images)

The Tigers have the star power, but these unproven players must step up to the table. If Ross and another bonafide playmaker can emerge, this can be an explosive attack that can match up with anyone in college football.

Protection

An offense cannot be good at the passing game if the quarterback does not have time to throw. That is the most important part of building an offense, and Robbie Caldwell’s unit must rise to the challenge this season with three new starters.

Per Football Outsiders, Clemson finished 11th in the country last year in sack rate allowed (3.4%). That means the offensive line and quarterback were getting the ball out in time. In 2019, this group ranked 15th nationally (3.6%). The Tigers have consistently protected the passer.

Clemson’s offensive line is working on improving physicality and building depth, but protecting the merchandise still needs to be the top priority. Uiagalelei could be more of a pocket thrower than Lawrence which can put more pressure on the five games upfront.

If Clemson can continue to protect at a high level, this passing offense has a legit chance to be special this fall.