Clemson Football traveled to New York and took on the Syracuse Orange following their bitter defeat against Florida State. It was going to be a tough environment. While many fans hoped for a big victory, it was more realistic to expect a hard-fought battle that could down to the wire.
Clemson met those two expectations somewhere in between with a 31-14 victory. The defense stepped up and only allowed one solid drive by the Orange’s offense all day.
The Syracuse defense challenged Cade Klubnik to beat them with his arm, and he obliged. Klubnik had two touchdown passes, 263 yards passing, and no interceptions.
The trade-off was that Clemson found it challenging to get the rushing attack going on Saturday.
Coach Swinney did acknowledge that the Tigers didn’t get the best performance at right guard (discussed in the Clemson Tigers News today) but overall credited Syracuse’s defensive scheme for the challenges in the run game.
Understanding Swinney’s opinion that the line played well through the first four games, this wasn’t the first time Will Shipley and Phil Mafah haven’t found a lot of yards running behind this offensive line. Outside of a few big runs that have been broken by the running backs, there haven’t been a lot of yards in the run game this season.
This isn’t necessarily a surprise, and what Swinney alludes to is logical. If I were a defensive coordinator, and my opponent had one of the best running back duos in the nation and a first-year starting quarterback that had shown a tendency to make mistakes, I would load the box and dare the quarterback to beat me too.
This didn’t just start with Klubnik. This has been the way defenses scheme against Clemson since 2021.
Opponents will continue to scheme against the run game of Clemson Football until they respect the passing game
We need to credit Garrett Riley for sticking to the run game and not abandoning it, even when all the running back can do is run into a scrum and get one or two yards.
I would not disagree with anyone who said the offensive line does need to play better in the run game, but the real secret to fixing this problem lies with Klubnik. Until defenses become worried about what he can do through the air, they will continue to key on stopping Shipley and Mafah.
It also lies with the receivers. Tyler Brown and Troy Stellato have been pleasant surprises, but they also need Beaux Collins to contribute, Antonio Williams to get healthy and, perhaps most importantly, Jake Briningstool to become the threat we thought he could become.
When defenses stop seeing a one-dimensional Tiger offense, that’s when we will learn for certain if this offensive line has just been bottled up, or if there are bigger concerns.