Now that the Hoos finally have a game under their belt, they get a rematch of last season’s ACC Championship game by visiting #1 Clemson for their second game of the season. For some insight into the Tigers and how things may have changed since December, we ran some questions over to Ryan Kantor at Shakin the Southland for the inside scoop. Make sure to check out Shakin the Southland for more details on the Tigers and hit him up on twitter at @Ryan_Kantor.
Clemson has started the 2020 season with its usual dominance in big wins over Wake Forest and The Citadel - what were the biggest questions for the team heading into the early season and did those games provide any answers so far?
Ryan: The two most pressing concerns coming into the season were at wide receiver and along the offensive line. At WR, Clemson is replacing the production of both Tee Higgins (NFL draft) and Justyn Ross (injury). Clemson was overly reliant on beating teams with their superior talent on the outside last season (which became a problem against elite cornerbacks in the playoff). Without Higgins and Ross, we didn’t know how the passing game would look in 2020.
So far, it’s looked better! The Tigers passing attack is far more diverse. Lawrence is using all parts of the field. Tight ends have become a much bigger part of the offense. Sophomore WR Frank Ladson showed off his speed last week and seems poised to step into the void on the outside and give the Tigers a potent deep threat. Obviously, we’re only two games in so we don’t know how consistent all that will be, but it’s been promising.
The offensive line is replacing four starters. Fortunately, the backups saw a lot of action last season so we felt pretty good about them starting this season. So far, they’ve met expectations. The second-string offensive line has been shaky though. Clemson didn’t score in the second half against The Citadel in part due to their struggles. Clemson will need to build depth as the season progresses to be ready in case of injuries or positive COVID-19 tests/protocol keeps an offensive lineman or two out for a game.
Obviously UVA fans remember Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne among others from December’s ACC Championship game, but who are some new names that we’ll see plenty from on Saturday night?
On offense, I’ve been singing the praises of WR Frank Ladson and TE Braden Galloway all offseason. Ladson scored a 54-yard TD against The Citadel. His combination of height (6’3”) and speed gives him a huge upside. I’m hoping he can be a consistent threat down the field. Braden Galloway is the tight end who missed the 2019 regular season due to a positive test for ostarine before the playoff the year before. All indications are that it was accidentally ingested so it was upsetting that he had to sit out an entire year over what genuinely appeared to be an accident. Fortunately, it seems he used the year off well as he is giving Clemson a nice pass catching threat over the middle. He was great in game one against Wake Forest, but quiet against The Citadel. I’m hoping we see another big game from him.
On defense, I didn’t realize quite how big of an impact the freshmen defensive linemen would make. The defensive line was fine last season, but that’s where Clemson has often dominated opponents during this great run they’re on. They didn’t dominate last season. So far this year they have and freshmen DT Bryan Bresee and DE Myles Murphy are a huge reason why. Keep an eye out for them to disrupt the Hoos’ offense.
With the success Dabo has had building a championship-caliber program with depth and talent across every position group, it seems sort of silly to ask - but what do you see as Clemson’s biggest weakness in personnel? If not players, then maybe in a specific strategy? Is there a “good way” to attack Clemson and be successful?
As I alluded to, last year the defensive line was a relative weakness, but this year teams may be better off attacking on the outside. Clemson hasn’t got all their cornerbacks healthy at the same time and while they went untested against The Citadel’s triple-option offense, they made a few mistakes against Wake Forest. This is a bit of nit picking, but I think that’s the best option for opposing offenses.
Along those lines, UVA’s biggest strength is its linebacking corp - particularly in how much pressure they can create on opposing quarterbacks and the disruption that can lead to turnovers. We know it’s not easy to rattle Trevor Lawrence, but do you see any cracks in Clemson’s offensive line or inexperience elsewhere that might help the Hoos create a little chaos Saturday?
Although the four new starters on the offensive line looked good against Wake Forest and The Citadel, that’s Wake Forest and The Citadel. It may be wise to test them and to force Clemson’s new outside receivers to win one-on-one matchups.
It seems like in any season for a team competing for a national title, there’s at least one sort of trap game that finishes a lot closer than it probably should have. For Clemson last season, that was the 21-20 win over UNC - now that we’re a few weeks into this year and you’ve seen some of each ACC team, which remaining game might give the Tigers the biggest challenge (surprisingly so or not)?
Notre Dame is sort of the stock answer here, but I think they’re somewhat limited from an upside perspective because of their QB/WR combination. They’re certainly a top 10 team, but I don’t know if they are a big threat to beat a team like Clemson, Alabama, or Ohio State. Miami is really interesting. They’re likely volatile. I certainly don’t trust them to post as many total wins as the Fighting Irish, but if they play a great game they may be more dangerous to elite opponents.
Going slightly off the wall, I was impressed by what Virginia Tech was able to do against NC State despite holding out a handful of players due to COVID-19/protocol. Clemson plays in the mountains of Blacksburg in December which feels really strange. Weather could be a factor.