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Clemson Tigers 2023 Season Preview

It seems so long ago, the days of Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson. The National Championship games against Alabama. The battles in the semifinals with Ohio State.

The past few seasons, that seemed to have changed. D.J. Uiagalelei left a gaping hole in the offense that even Dabo Swinney couldn't account for. Since DJU took over, the Tigers have sputtered to seasons of 11-3 and 10-3. That doesn't seem too horrible. After all, doesn't every program want a 10-win season?

For Clemson, that's disappointing. The Tigers expect to make the Playoff. Anything else is a disappointment.

Tiger fans got a glimpse into the future last season as five-star freshman quarterback Cade Klubnik stepped into the spotlight. Klubnik had limited action throughout the entire season in relief of DJU. Then, in the ACC Championship, Swinney turned to the future. With Uiagalelei and the Tiger offense stifled by the North Carolina defense on their first two drives, Swinney made the switch and put in his blue-chip quarterback. Klubnik answered the call, lighting up the Tar Heels to the tune of 20-24 passing, 279 yards, and a touchdown. He also made plays with his legs, scampering for 30 yards and another score on seven carries.

Swinney rode the hot hand in the Orange Bowl against Tennessee and rolled the dice on giving Klubnik his first career start. Tiger fans then saw the other side of Klubnik's play: 30-54, 320 yards, and two interceptions in a 31-14 loss to the Hendon Hooker-less Volunteers.

Righting the Ship

Swinney took matters into his own hands this offseason. He started by canning offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter after only one season. Streeter was a long-time assistant at Clemson, joining the program in 2014. When offensive coordinator Tony Elliot left to take the Virginia Head Coaching job, Streeter got the call.

Then, Swinney went for the kill. He pulled off one of the best coordinator hires this offseason by bringing in Garrett Riley from TCU as the Tigers' offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. When many pundits had Riley pegged as a head coaching candidate, Swinney and Clemson swooped in and secured the Broyles Award-winning coach.

With the Riley coup complete, Swinney turned to the portal and did...nothing. Not that he needed to, with the Tigers returning seven offensive starters and eight defensive starters from their ACC Champion squad a year ago. But that doesn't mean the portal didn't come to Clemson.

Players Lost

LB T.J. Dudley (Ole Miss)

S Malcolm Greene (Virginia)

DL Etinosa Reuben (Georgia Tech)

RB Kobe Pace (Virginia)

CB Fred Davis II (UCF)

LB Vonta Bentley (Colorado)

QB D.J. Uiagalelei (Oregon State)

WR E.J. Williams (Indiana)

EDGE Kevin Swint (Georgia State)

WR Dacari Collins (NC State)

QB Billy Wiles (Southern Miss)

LB Sergio Allen (Cal)

Don't fret, though. The Tigers did add one transfer: a three-star quarterback from Arizona State, Paul Tyson.

Spring Camp Offensive Breakdown

Already this offseason, the offense is drawing rave reviews. While the defense is talking about how tough it is to stop the Riley scheme, others have focused on what Clemson is building from.

I didn't think we [clemson] did very much. I thought it [the scheme] was very basic. It didn't help me out as a quarterback and play to my strengths. I wanted to go somewhere that would play to my strengths and go somewhere that would develop me for the NFL. Play-action, work under center, throw the ball deep.

That could certainly explain why his play at Clemson was so up-and-down. It also explains why Swinney moved on from Streeter. Now, the Tigers are a lean, mean, point-scoring machine. Or, so they hope.

Lost in the Garrett Riley and Cade Klubnik talk is star tailback Will Shipley, who made the All-ACC team three times in 2022. Last season, the junior tailback topped the 1,000-yard mark with 1,182 on 210 carries and scored 15 touchdowns. Shipley returns with two more years of eligibility and should make the most of it in this wide-open new Clemson scheme.

The Tigers also return their leading receiver in sophomore Antonio Williams, who hauled in 56 catches for 604 yards and four touchdowns. Junior Beaux Collins, who had 22 catches for 373 yards and five touchdowns a year ago, also returns.

Clemson also brings back four members of a strong offensive line in sophomore left guard Marcus Tate, senior center Will Putnam, junior right guard Walker Parks, and freshman Blake Miller.

spring camp defensive breakdown

The story of camp hasn't been Riley's offense dominating, though. In fact, it's been the complete opposite. Clemson's defense is going to town on the Tiger offense.

They return starters across every level, with eight coming back in 2023. The defense is headlined by linebacker Barrett Carter, who should be a Butkus Award front-runner this season. Tackles leader from 2022, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, is also back manning the middle.

Up front, defensive tackles Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro are back and ready to wreak havoc on opposing offenses. Last season, the two combined for 9.5 sacks

With that much returning firepower, you'd assume there isn't a lot of room for newcomers. Think again. Five-star freshman defensive tackle Peter Woods is lighting up camp.

Coupling Woods with Davis, Orhorhoro, and the rest of the Tiger front seven potentially gives Clemson one of the best units in the nation.

Joining that elite front seven is a strong secondary. They have impact freshmen in Aveion Terrell, Shelton Lewis, and Khalil Barnes that have shined alongside Woods at camp. All-ACC candidate Nate Wiggins is back as the Tigers' top corner alongside starting safeties Jalyn Phillips and R.J. Mickens.

The 2023 Clemson Tiger Bottom Line

Bottom line, Clemson is good. Really good. The defense is going to be one of the nation's best, both in yardage and scoring. The only question is how fast the Riley and Klubnik-led offense comes along. Spoiler Alert: that shouldn't take long.



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