Clemson football: Tony Elliott has to stop holding Trevor Lawrence back

Has Clemson football offensive coordinator Tony Elliott been hamstringing quarterback Trevor Lawrence?

A couple of times this week, either the ACC Network or ESPN have rebroadcast the 2016 and 2018 Clemson football national title wins. Watching those games and it became very apparent that Elliott and former co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott don’t give Lawrence the same opportunities that they gave to Deshaun Watson and statistics seemingly agree.

Earlier this week, we posted an article on whether or not Trevor Lawrence could surpass Deshaun’s 2016 numbers when he threw for more than 4500 yards and the overwhelming response was that Lawrence won’t get the opportunities to do so.

We understand that a lot of what Clemson football runs offensively are RPO’s – run/pass options, so on the outside it looks like Lawrence has the ultimate decision whether to run or pass dependent upon what his defensive keys do on that play.

But let’s look at the offense overall.

The productivity of Clemson football

The 2016 offense under Deshaun Watson averaged 81 plays per game while the 2019 offense under Trevor Lawrence averaged 71 plays.

Deshaun Watson attempted 579 passes and had 165 rushing attempts during 2016. Running back Wayne Gallman also added in 232 rushing attempts in 2016. Backup running backs C.J. Fuller, Adam Choice, Tavien Feaster, and Tyshon Dye collectively had just 150 rushing attempts.

Trevor Lawrence in 2019 attempted just 407 passes and added 103 rushing attempts and not only did Lawrence average more yards per attempt and completion, but he also averaged almost two more yards rushing per carry than Deshaun in 2016.

Starting running back Travis Etienne added 207 carries while backup running backs Lyn-J Dixon, Chez Mellusi, Michel Dukes, and Darien Rencher had a combined 205 rushing attempts.

Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney talks about getting his best players the ball, so why are the Tigers not doing that when the offensive talent is far better now than it was just three years ago?

Some may point to the defense as a reason, however, that would not be correct either. The defense in 2019 gave fewer points per game than the 2016 defense did and were on the field three fewer plays than in 2016.

Change in the philosophy of Clemson football

There has clearly been a major change in philosophy that the coaching staff does not want to acknowledge. As Clemson has improved the offensive talent, the staff seems more hell-bent on getting reps to their backups than they were just a couple of years ago.

We all understand that talent development has what set Clemson apart from their counterparts in and out of the ACC, but they are clearly throttling back the talent that they have recruited. Imagine what type of production and rhythm the Clemson football starting offense could get into if Etienne was given 230 or more carries a year like Wayne Gallman or if Trevor Lawrence was able to throw the ball as many times as Deshaun was.

I get it, no one wants to question Dabo Swinney, but there are certain times where that is okay and this is one of them. When Trevor Lawrence committed to Clemson, there were many that thought the fit from a philosophy standpoint was not a match, and Coach Swinney and Coach Elliott were adamant that the offense they ran would not change, but clearly something has over the last three seasons.

In all the years that I have been around college football, I don’t recall a time where I saw such a productive offense look so discombobulated like they did in 2019 and yet they put up almost 530 yards per game, which is more than they did in 2016.

Watching the replays this week, many of us forgot how fluid that the offense in 2015 and 2016 was. The chemistry on that offense was a beautiful sight to behold. If Clemson is indeed going to make their fifth College Football Playoff National Championship in 2020, Tony Elliott has to go back to whatever he was doing differently in 2016.