The Season of Lost Respect
For the last six seasons, the Clemson Tigers have been near the top of College Football. All World quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Deshaun Watson led a wide open Clemson offense and Brent Venables defenses were able to shut the door when called on.
Enter the 2021 season and suddenly, Clemson’s “dynasty” is over. Dabo Swinney can’t coach, he can’t recruit, and the Tigers are now suddenly an “average” football team. The pollsters have shown zero respect and seriously, they seemed to have had a case during the first seven weeks of the season.
The Tigers lost to current #1 team Georgia, 10-3, basically on a pick 6. The Clemson offense was anemic, getting only TWO yards rushing and 180 total yards. Not exactly an indictment of “Wide Receiver U” and any resemblance to the offense from the past six years. A double OT loss to NC State and a loss to Coastal Division Champ Pittsburgh, and Clemson was looking pretty much like an average team. 2014 was the last year the Tigers lost 3 games in a season.
Led by Cole Stoudt, the 9-3 Tigers went into the Russell Athletic Bowl against the Oklahoma Sooners and came out victorious for their 10th win of the season, 40-6. Stoudt threw for four touchdowns as starting quarterback Deshaun Watson was injured. This was the last Clemson team to lose 3 games. They finished ranked 16th in the country that year.
Getting back to lost respect, after the first 7 games of the 2021 season, Clemson was nowhere to be found. They were 4-3. QB DJ Uiagalelei was struggling. The offensive line was unsettled. Senior RB Lyn-J Dixon decided to transfer September 21st, leaving the running position in the hands of two freshmen and a sophomore. WRU took serious hits and by season’s end, the Top 5 WRs on the depth charts were listed out for the year. Safety Lannden Zanders went out in the 1st game against Georgia and top defensive tackle Bryan Bresee was lost for the season after game 4. The pollsters don’t care about any of this, but then why should they. Clemson was a shadow of the previous 6 years.
Some say Dabo Swinney did his best coaching job this year. He and his staff certainly turned it around the last five games of the season. The Tigers outscored their last five opponents by a combined score of 182-78, topped off by a 30-0 shallacking of instate rival South Carolina. It all started with a home game against Florida State in which the Tigers held off a determined Seminole team 30-20. Will Shipley had his 1st 100+ yard running game as a Tiger and suddenly, the Tigers started playing old time football, playing good defense and running the ball.
It took a whipping of Wake Forest to get Clemson some attention from the polls. Oddly enough, the Tigers went into this game a 4.5 favorite over a top 10 ranked team, even though Clemson was only 7-3. Dabo’s squad finally got a little recognition but only a little. The College Football Playoffs released their first poll of the season and Clemson made it back into the top 25.
At 9-3, Clemson has the opportunity to extend one of the streaks they had going coming into this season. The Tigers had won six straight ACC Championships. That streak was halted. They currently have a 34-game home winning streak and extended their winning streak against South Carolina, winning 7 straight games in the series. One last streak the Tigers will look to extend is having 10+ wins for the last 10 years. A win in the bowl game will extend that streak to 11 straight years.
This team as a whole looked like a different team the last five games. It overcame adversity, multiple injuries, transfers, questionable play calling, and a whole host of other issues right the ship. Will the media notice? Will the 9-3 ranked Clemson Tigers go to a bowl game worthy of their ranking and late season surge? There are many “projections” on the street ranging from Wisconsin to Iowa State to Maryland, NONE of which are ranked in the top 25.
We all understand respect is earned. This Clemson team is young, especially on offense. The entire offensive line returns intact, as well as several who were injured in the pre-season. This team will be hungry next year to prove they aren’t average or out of the elite teams in college football. Clemson is not going away.