Clemson Football is once again at a crossroads, much like they were in 2021 following their third loss of the season against eventual ACC champion Pittsburgh.
The Tigers have five games left on the schedule, and unlike 2021, they feature several tough opponents. Notre Dame and North Carolina visit Death Valley, but will likely be favorites over the Tigers. Rival South Carolina is only 2-5, but the Tigers must visit Columbia. Georgia Tech has pulled upsets this season.
In 2021, Clemson had little choice but to embrace a youth movement on offense. Marcus Tate had started as a freshman all season. They were relying on Will Shipley and Phil Mafah following the departure of more experienced backs who weren’t satisfied with their situations.
By late in the season, injuries forced them to start two freshmen wide receivers, including Beaux Collins, and a walk-on.
The Tigers are now in a place where they have a choice: continue to rely on the most experienced players, or begin incorporating more younger players to get them experience to build towards 2024.
Following the loss of Walker Parks, the Tigers first relied on Mitchell Mayes. In the Wake Forest game, freshman Harris Sewell played most of the game at right guard, but against Miami Mayes once again took most of the snaps.
Neither player graded out particularly well. Mayes has been in the program the longest, but Sewell was highly rated as a prospect. If the staff wants to build for the future, it makes sense to go with Sewell unless Mayes is clearly the better option.
At wide receiver, the Tigers will be without Antonio Williams for most of the rest of the season. Dabo Swinney indicated freshman Ronan Hanafin could see more reps at receiver, instead of special teams where has played thus far.
Multiple defensive freshmen can play for Clemson Football while preserving their redshirts
On defense, several players appear headed towards a redshirt who will be allowed to play in four regular season games total, as well as any postseason opportunities (conference championships and bowl games no longer count towards redshirt limits).
TJ Parker is now in the starting lineup by default, and barring injury, isn’t likely to take a step back even when Xavier Thomas and Justin Mascoll are both available. David Ojiegbe can play in two more games and still preserve a redshirt. AJ Hoffler has now appeared in four games, so the staff will need to decide if playing time or preserving a redshirt is the best thing for him.
The secondary is also dealing with injuries. Jaedyn Lukus did not play against Miami due to an issue, and RJ Mickens recently had an appendectomy, and will miss some time.
At corner, Shelton Lewis has played in several games but could see more time as the season progresses. Brandon Strozier is another possibility. He can play in two more regular season games and still redshirt.
At safety, Khalil Barnes will likely step into the starting lineup in Micken’s absence. The question is whether he will lineup at strong safety, where Mickens normally starts, or if he will step in at nickelback, and Andrew Mukuba slips back to the strong safety position.
Freshmen Kylen Webb and Rob Billings can both play two more regular season games while preserving their redshirts. There is also redshirt freshman Kylon Griffin, who has appeared in five games so far, including Wake Forest and Miami.