There was a lot of excitement in Clemson Nation when Dabo Swinney hired Garrett Riley to be the new offensive coordinator of Clemson Football.
Now six games into the 2023 season, the excitement has subsided and been replaced with equal parts frustration and confusion.
The frustration is easy to explain. The hope, and therefore belief, of many fans was that Riley could come in and quickly upgrade the Clemson offense the way he quickly upgraded TCU’s offense.
Some things have improved. Some things have not.
This has led to some questioning if Riley has installed “his” offense, or if it is different from what he ran before. The answer was there all along, we just didn’t see it.
When Riley came in, it was said the offense would run the ‘dirt raid’. That was a fun term, but here’s the thing: try and find examples of TCU running the dirt raid, or Sonny Dykes embracing the dirt raid at SMU or TCU, or anywhere else he coached before. Good luck.
You won’t find them because the dirt raid is a term that has been popularized at Clemson. Most of us assumed it was a term to describe the system that Riley ran, but now it certainly appears to be a variation on a theme.
"“I mean, every offense is different, you know what I mean? We’ve got different players. You’ve got different players and you’ve got a younger quarterback. And just all those things, right? But we’re attacking a lot of the same ways. I mean not a lot of difference there. I would say just kind of who we have and who we are right now and just trying to work through it, you know?”"
I don’t interpret that as throwing players under the bus to defend a system. Any good system (or coordinator) adapts to the resources available. I’ve been critical of Chad Morris for years as someone who couldn’t change what he did to fit his players, and instead tried to force square pegs through round holes.
Do you think an offensive coach like Sonny Dykes would simply tell Riley “Just throw out my playbook and do whatever you think will work”? Not likely. Riley might have applied his spin to it, but it isn’t like he made it up from scratch.
My perspective is primarily two-fold. First, some system transitions seem like they happen so easily in college football that when one doesn’t take hold right out of the gate, it feels like it’s a failure. Transitions often take time.
If you want an example, look up some of the wonderful things being expressed right now about Oklahoma coach Brent Venables following the Sooners’ big win over the Longhorns. I guarantee those things weren’t being said last year at this time when OU got curb-stomped 49-0 by Texas. It took time for Venables to make an impact.
A quick evolution at TCU led Clemson Football fans to believe the same would happen for the Tigers
The other thing I see is what many did say when Clemson turned over both offensive coordinator and quarterback: those might not be all the problems. I like Cade Klubnik, but he is a work in progress. Say whatever you want to say about DJ Uiagalelei, but he just did some things better than Klubnik.
The offensive line is a work in progress, and often suffers from the same inconsistency that seems to plague Klubnik. At receiver, Clemson can’t seem to exit a cycle of injuries that always results in freshmen having to step up to be contributors. I can’t name a single notable player whose development hasn’t been impacted to some extent by an injury or string of injuries.
Not even ready to discuss tight end, and you probably wouldn’t care to hear what I think about that.
Fans love to blame Swinney, but this isn’t due to “meddling”.
My point here is that it is obvious now that the offense Riley is running at Clemson isn’t the Sonny Dykes offense, the Clemson offense, the Dabo Swinney offense, or even the Garrett Riley offense.
The dirt raid is a variation on a theme, and it is a work in progress too.