June 19, 2019

Tigers Tampa hopes begin and end with Deshaun Watson

Every team that plays for a championship and comes up short of the title believes they’ll be back.  They are almost always wrong.  A championship season takes an incredible confluence of coaching, talent, luck and karma to win the title.  Like almost every team before them the Clemson Tigers believe they’ll be back, though there is some skepticism, even among the Tiger faithful.

Of course, it’s impossible to know if the Tigers will, in fact, be in Tampa next January.  There’s more than 200 days between now and opening day of 2016 and, as last off-season showed, a lot can happen between now and then.

But there’s reason to believe that Clemson has a fair shot at returning in 2016 and here are a few:

Deshaun Watson
The day after the championship game was an eye opener for me and proved that a lot of the talking heads around the country don’t watch the games, not even the ones played by the team that hold the top ranking.  “Wow, Deshaun Watson is good!” was the consensus.  Clemson fans and those that actually watched the games knew Watson was special and it didn’t start in 2015. The second pass of his college career zipped by the ear hole of a Georgia LB for a touchdown.

My deep analysis for the championship game was, “Clemson has Deshaun Watson”.  That goes for 2016, too.

Dabo Swinney
Swinney is a lot of things to a lot of people, but one thing Swinney is not is complacent, even with his team placing ahead of 126 others.  He will not rest on his laurels.  He will not let his team rest on their laurels.  If it’s true that a team takes on the personality of the head coach, the Tigers will want it more in 2016 than they did in 2015.

Turnover Turnaround 
Each season Phil Steele opines on turnovers and how a major component of turnovers are luck and how generally, if you are bad at turnovers one season you’ll be better at them the next year.  It’s obviously not a scientific certainty, but the theory is that some of the bad luck of the previous season tends to shift to good luck the next season. That’s bad news for the rest of college football because the Tigers were bad at turnovers during their run to the title game coming in at -2 in 6 games.  In full disclosure Clemson wasn’t bad at turnovers in “big” games, but in games that were closer than expected the Tigers stunk at turnovers.

Expect fewer turnovers for Clemson and more blowouts in 2016.

Mike Williams
All year we heard about teams playing without their best wide receiver or other injured star, yet little was made by the national media of Mike Williams’ injury that cost him all but 12 plays of the 2015 season.  Deshaun Watson threw for 4,100 yards and 35 touchdowns without his best wide receiver and deep threat. Let that rattle around in your noggin for a while.

Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster
Wayne Gallman had a breakout season, breaking the Clemson single season rushing record and runs with a passion and violent streak rarely seen in college football.  Gallman and Watson shouldered almost all of the load on the ground.  2016 will see the return of Adam Choice and the debut of 5-Star back Tavien Feaster.  Maybe Watson will carry the ball less and Ed Cunningham will be at a loss for words.  I doubt it.  Either way the addition of these two will make the Clemson running game even more dangerous, which in turn makes Watson….even more dangerous.

Front 7 on D
Is it possible that the front 7 can be a strength when Clemson loses Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd D.J. Reader and B.J. Goodson? Christian Wilkins, Scott Pagano, Austin Bryant, Richard Yeargin, Albert Huggins and 2015 redshirt Clelin Ferrell, among others, say yes. Already on campus are three 5 star talents:  Rivals #2 overall recruit Dexter Lawrence (DT) and #6 recruit Rahshaun Smith (LB) and Tre Lamar Rivals #16 recruit (LB).  The Tigers will be younger, but an argument could be made that the overall talent level will be similar, if not better.

Losing the bookend defensive ends is a hit, but the interior will be solid and the talent and depth at linebacker will be solid.

Addition by Subtraction
There is no doubt the Tigers will miss the cover skills of Mackensie Alexander and also lose safeties T.J. Green and Jayron Kearse from the defensive backfield.  That’s 3/4ths of a group compiled a very stingy pass completion ratio.  The problem was when a pass was completed it often went for big yards. This group took chances, which worked out spectacularly for Clemson at times and horribly at other times.  This likely means that in 2016 the completion percentage may increase, but I expect fewer big plays against the defense.

None of this, of course, guarantees a return to the title game for Clemson.  Road trips to Auburn, Tallahassee and Atlanta await, as do home games with Louisville, Pittsburgh and N.C. State.

Plenty could change between now and and next January and even if it doesn’t, chemistry is a huge variable in the evolution of a team and college football is the greatest reality show on TV.  Just ask Ohio State.

The cupboard isn’t bare, not by a long shot.  This is closer to a reload, not a rebuild, but only 2 teams will make it to Tampa.

And the Tigers have Deshaun Watson.

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