Clemson Football: Matt Luke's biggest challenge is building depth

Matt Luke wasn't able to implement a lot in bowl practices, but he will begin the full transition to his system this spring, and his biggest task will be to develop depth on the offensive line that has been nonexistent the past three seasons.
Clemson offensive line coach Matt Luke
Clemson offensive line coach Matt Luke / Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

Clemson Football got a big comeback win against Kentucky in the Gator Bowl in their first game with Matt Luke coaching the offensive line.

There was only so much Luke could possibly accomplish in bowl practices. He didn’t have time to implement his schemes or make a ton of evaluations.

He wasn’t even able to implement his own vocabulary or signals – he had to have a ‘translator’ by him while making calls.

That said, the line didn’t play well much of the game. They gave up eight sacks to the Wildcat defense.

Head coach Dabo Swinney did acknowledge that some of those were probably due to Klubnik’s decision-making.

“I’m sure not all of those sacks were on the OL. It’s easy, and that’s kind of the first thing everybody does, but we’ll watch the tape and assess it. There’s probably one or two that Cade might’ve taken. I don’t know, we’ll see when we watch the tape. There’s a lot of things that go into it, but I’m really excited about the group that’s coming back.”

I don’t blame Swinney for being excited. All the pieces are there for a successful transition from former OL coach Thomas Austin to Luke.

The Tigers return all the primary starters from 2023 minus center Will Putnam. Three of the four – Walker Parks, Marcus Tate, and Blake Miller – all have at least two seasons of starting experience. Tristan Leigh will have one season starting at left tackle.

Beyond that, there are three more players – Colin Sadler, Trent Howard, and Harris Sewell – who all started at least one game in 2023.

That’s an important point for Luke – he must have depth next year. While the returning starters are strong on experience, they have a bad history of injuries. Tate has been lost for the season due to injury two years in a row. Parks went down with an injury after only a few games in 2023.

Over the past three seasons, the Tigers have not had a deep rotation. The staff states in fall camp that there will be 8, 9, or 10 players who they can rely on, then seem to struggle to find anyone to rotate into the lineup with any frequency once the regular season begins

Matt Luke couldn't change much before the bowl game, but this spring he can rebuild the offensive line to fit his system

Luke didn’t show immediate confidence in anyone outside his starters. The five who started the Gator Bowl – Leigh, Sewell, Putnam, Miller, and Sadler – saw almost all the snaps. Howard, who played quite a bit in the final four games of the regular season, saw only five snaps.

Luke will have 15 practices during the spring to implement his system and play calls. During that time he should be able to get a feel for who his best players are and how deep his bench will be.

Some intangibles can’t be seen in foresight. All of these young men, save a couple of 2024 freshmen, were recruited by either Austin or Robbie Caldwell. We have no assurances that all of them will mesh with Luke’s coaching style.

I am a strong believer that sometimes you can see a jump in performance just when a team or group makes a coaching change, even when there isn’t a big turnover on the roster. I do think we will see that kind of boost when the offensive line takes the field in 2024.

Often after that initial boost, it takes teams/groups a little longer to take that next step because it takes time for a coach to bring more talent in. We should see improvement in this group next season, but it might take Luke a couple of seasons to develop the kind of depth that will make the offensive line a true strength of the offense.