It’s often said that getting to the top is difficult, but staying there is even harder. Becoming the hunted instead of the hunter means you constantly have to keep finding more ways to improve and win, or you will end up back at the bottom.
Clemson football might find themselves in that critical point of the Dabo Swinney era after a disheartening 28-7 loss to Duke in Week 1 where the offense somehow out-gained the Blue Devils 422-374 but turned the ball over three times and had few aspects of competency.
This year was supposed to be different for Clemson coming off a three-loss season. They added former TCU offensive coordinator Garrett Riley to spice up an offense that became stale after years of internal hires and uber talented QBs covering up the stench below. Cade Klubnik was the new five-star starting QB, usurping the former five-star starting QB who looked pretty good at Oregon State on Sunday. The times were supposed to change, and yet much looked the same (stats via gameonpaper.com)
So if the problem stretches over multiple coordinators and QBs, it seems like there’s only one person left to take the brunt of the blame, and that’s Swinney himself. By all accounts, Swinney is good to his assistants. As a former walk-on who himself was promoted to the Clemson head coaching job, Swinney has always promoted within the program. Before Riley, the last outside hire he made was Brent Venables in 2012. What this creates is a funnel of the same offensive ideas, keeping a team stuck in the same loop of what was cool in 2015, but now the offense hasn’t developed.
Speaking of development, the talent at the skill positions has significantly dropped for the Tigers, and it’s not for a lack of recruiting. Since 2019, the Tigers have never finished below 11th in 24/7 Sports’ composite recruiting rankings, and reached as high as third. According to The Athletic’s Grace Raynor, there are 56 blue-chip recruits on this current Clemson roster, yet nothing has really changed. The defense remains very good, but the offense is still anemic. That’s where development comes in, and that’s on the coaches. You can get as many five star recruits in the door as you want, but when you’re Clemson you can’t just trot them out without development, because that’s how players stagnate and you get the offensive mess that they’ve put together recently.
A large problem that was evident last night against Duke was the lack of a true top receiving threat. WR Antonio Williams led the team in receiving yards with 56 last night on seven receptions. Behind him when it came to receptions? RB Will Shipley. The dearth of talent on the outside was evident, because Clemson somehow looked slower than Duke. That’s not supposed to happen at a school that recruits like Swinney and the Tigers do.
Swinney’s pride and inability to adapt to modern college football is keeping those blue chippers from reaching their potential. Before the season the Tigers took in one recruit from the transfer portal, and since 2022 when 24/7 Sports has tracked transfer portal recruit rankings, Clemson has only taken in … one player. Swinney has created a petri dish of poor development stemming from a lack of good offensive hires and an inability to even want to use the transfer portal, and that’s how we get to this critical point we’re at today.
Swinney created the powerhouse at Clemson through recruiting and nailing the QB position, but now he’s doing neither. If Clemson’s season-opening loss is a sign of things to come, it all should fall on Dabo as the leader of the program.