ACC

Clemson’s offense is ahead of last year’s pace. So is the criticism justified?

There has been some criticism of the Clemson offense through the first three weeks of the season, particularly quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

The preseason Heisman favorite has five touchdowns and five interceptions thus far after throwing four picks in 15 games all of last year, and some national media outlets are asking if the Georgia native is in a sophomore slump.

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney has admitted that the offense is still a work in progress, but he was also quick to point out it is ahead of last year’s pace.

“It’s not even close after three games, to be honest with you,” Swinney said. “Offensively, I just didn’t think we quite had that killer instinct yet and we were still a work in progress. Justyn Ross was a true freshman. Trevor Lawrence was still coming along and we were trying to figure everything out. Just weren’t where we are right now as an offense. We are just way ahead.”

Statistically Clemson is ahead of its 2018 pace, but it’s not the gap Swinney portrayed it to be. The Tigers are averaging 39 points per game, 251 rushing yards and 293 passing yards in 2019.

Through three games last year, albeit against lesser competition, Clemson was averaging 38 points, 234 rushing yards and 289 passing yards. Pretty similar.

Swinney also stated that this year’s offense is scoring more points through three games than any in Clemson history, and while the 39 points is up there with the best, it’s also about the same as the past nine years.

The Tigers have averaged at least 36 points per game through Week 3 every year since 2011, with the high being 39.7 in 2012.

While the numbers in 2019 and 2018 are pretty similar, the expectations entering the seasons were not.

As Swinney pointed out, Clemson’s offense was still searching for an identity entering the 2018 season as the Tigers were using a two-quarterback system with Lawrence and Kelly Bryant. Tee Higgins had 17 career receptions and Justyn Ross had yet to play in a football game entering 2018.

Entering the 2019 season the expectation for the offense was simple — to dominate.

Clemson returned its starting quarterback, who was the Heisman favorite; its starting running back, who was also a Heisman candidate; and two of the top receivers in the country in Ross and Higgins. Clemson also has a senior-laden offensive line with plenty of experience.

The last time the Tigers played a game before this season, they scored 44 points against Alabama in the national title game. Most expected that productivity to carry over into 2019, including Lawrence.

“The sky’s the limit for our group,” Lawrence said during the preseason. “You saw last year kind of us start flourishing, start clicking. I think that’s one thing, we’re picking up kind of where we left off from last year. And having a lot of those guys back is really awesome, having that continuity.”

Only Clemson hasn’t picked up where it left off last year. The Tigers have been explosive but not as consistent. Clemson has 10 drives of three-and-out in 2019 after having four in two College Football Playoff games against Notre Dame and Alabama a year ago.

The Tigers also have six turnovers this season after having two in the final five games in 2019.

“Definitely I want to limit some turnovers. I’ve had more turnovers than I’d like so far so just kind of getting better at that for sure,” Lawrence said. “Just missing some throws. Not all of them have been bad decisions I don’t think but just clean that up for sure and not put our defense in bad situations.”

If the best is the standard, as Swinney always preaches, then the Tigers need to start playing better offensively, despite what the stats say.

Clemson is slightly ahead of where they were at this point in 2018, but they are nowhere near as crisp as they finished the 2018 season.

It’s not time to panic just because Clemson didn’t start the 2019 season where it ended last year’s, but it is fair to expect the Tigers to be further along than they currently are.

NEXT

Who: Charlotte (2-1, 0-0 C-USA) at No. 1 Clemson (3-0, 2-0 ACC)

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium (81,500), Clemson

TV: ACC Network

Line: Clemson by 41.5

Matt Connolly is the Clemson beat writer and covers recruiting and college sports for The State newspaper and The State.com
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