Post-spring breakdown of Clemson, FSU's Game 7 opponent in 2022
With spring football having wrapped up on campuses across the country, the Warchant staff is checking in on Florida State’s upcoming 2022 opponents to see how they fared during spring.
We'll look at each team's question marks, key departures, new arrivals and more.
In this edition, we'll break down Clemson, the seventh game on the schedule for the Seminoles. At home on Oct. 15, FSU is seeking the program's first win over Clemson since 2014.
In case you missed them, here are our earlier post-spring check-ins:
* N.C. State (Oct. 8)
* Wake Forest (Oct. 1)
* Boston College (Sept. 24)
* Louisville Cardinals (Sept. 16)
* LSU Tigers (Sept. 4).
Clemson post-spring question marks
Even though the Tigers were again very talented across the board in 2021, the 10-3 squad was extremely unbalanced. Clemson ranked No. 2 in the nation in scoring defense behind only Georgia, but the Tigers were No. 82 in scoring offense ... and all the way down at No. 100 in total offense.
Thanks primarily to those issues on offense, Clemson missed out on playing for the ACC championship for the first time since 2014. The Tigers lacked explosive plays and often moved lethargically -- even against middling ACC teams.
Most of those issues started at the quarterback position, as former five-star signee D.J. Uiagalelei struggled as a sophomore starter. He threw for more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (9), and even though he was sometimes used as a designed runner, he averaged less than three yards per carry.
Uiagalelei's lackluster showing was surprising given how well he played against Notre Dame in 2020, and there is no denying his raw ability. So there is always a chance he turns the corner and becomes a productive quarterback. But that’s far from a guarantee.
On the other side of the ball, Clemson’s defense lost a few key pieces to graduation and a cornerback to the NFL, but there's a great deal of talent back, especially on the defensive line.
Coaching staff comings, goings
While Clemson has top-line continuity with head coach Dabo Swinney, there has been a major shakeup on the coaching staff.
In one of the biggest moves in college football this offseason, Oklahoma finally pulled Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables away from Swinney’s staff and hired him as head coach of the Sooners. For years, Venables has been considered among the elite coordinators in all of college football.
Swinney promoted from within to replace Venables, hiring former senior defensive assistant Wes Goodwin to be the DC and linebackers coach in 2022. Clemson safeties coach Mickey Conn, who played and coached with Swinney at Alabama in the 1990s, was promoted to co-defensive coordinator to help out Goodwin.
There is some new blood on the defensive staff in former Auburn defensive line coach Nick Eason, who was a Clemson standout as a player is now the defensive tackles coach. He replaces Todd Bates, who went with Venables to Oklahoma.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Tigers lost their coordinator there as well, as Tony Elliott was hired away to be head coach at Virginia. And Swinney looked to his bench to fill that spot too, promoting Brandon Streeter to OC. Streeter has been Clemson’s quarterbacks coach since 2015 and was a starting quarterback for the Tigers in the late ‘90s.
Kyle Richardson, formerly the director of player development for Clemson, is now the tight ends coach (Elliott coached that position in the past). And another former Clemson player, All-ACC guard/center Thomas Austin, was promoted to offensive line coach. He was an offensive analyst last season and moved up when veteran assistant Robbie Caldwell retired.
Key roster returnees and additions
Clemson brings back a solid number of starters, with more total names back offensively than defensively, but arguably more difference-makers on the defensive side.
There were some losses at linebacker and safety, but the Clemson defensive front is a surefire strength heading into 2022. Defensive end Myles Murphy was a former consensus top-five recruit, a freshman All-American, and he had eight sacks last season as a sophomore. There's a very good chance he will be a top pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
At the other end, Xavier Thomas is a former five-star recruit himself, plus a two-time All-ACC selection. He enters his fifth year, having contributed going back to the 2018 title team.
Defensive tackle might be even more loaded with Bryan Bresee, Ruke Orhorhoro and senior Tyler Davis all back. Also, more than a few upperclassmen who saw action last year are back for depth behind Clemson’s starters up front, especially at end.
Safety Andrew Mukuba started as a true freshman last year and had 47 tackles.
At linebacker, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. also was a true freshman last year that didn’t start, but flashed and could emerge. Outside of junior Trenton Simpson, it’ll be mostly reserves taking on larger roles in this unit.
On offense, Uiagalelei returns at quarterback, and so does the rushing tandem of Kobe Pace and Will Shipley (1,300 yards and 17 touchdowns combined in ‘21).
The top Tigers lineman back is multi-year starting guard Will Putnam, a senior.
Kicker B.T. Potter was All-ACC last year and a Lou Groza Award finalist the season before that. The senior was 21-for-26 on field goals last season.
Big shoes to fill: Who is in line to replace top Tiger departures?
* The Tigers’ linebacker corps lost its top two tacklers from 2021 in seniors James Skalski and Baylon Spector. While Skalski went undrafted and Spector was a seventh-round pick, both were impressive in college and leaders on the team. Skalski had been pestering opposing offenses since 2016 and was the team captain.
* Wide receiver Justyn Ross was as talented as they come and had 1,000 yards as a freshman and 153 yards and a touchdown in the 2018 title game. Significant injuries limited his later days at Clemson, unfortunately, but he came back from a year off to grab 46 catches and over 500 yards last season. Clemson returns wideouts Joseph Ngata and Beaux Collins and a few more talented youngsters.
* Clemson lost much of its defensive backfield from last year, including corner Andrew Booth Jr. (second-round pick to the Minnesota Vikings), and seniors Mario Goodrich and Nolan Turner, a top safety.
QB: No controversy despite mixed results from Uiagalelei
Over the course of a decade, Clemson had the luxury of stellar quarterback play in nine out of 10 seasons, between Tahj Boyd, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence.
While that wasn’t the case last year, junior D.J. Uiagalelei enters the summer as the team’s clear-cut starter, per Swinney. He competed against top quarterback recruit Cade Klubnik in the spring, and there will be more competition in fall camp when Northwestern transfer and former Clemson signee Hunter Johnson officially joins the team.
Clemson pulled Klubnik out of Texas, where he was the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect and No. 1 quarterback, per Rivals. Johnson played sparingly and threw five touchdowns in three seasons with Northwestern.
Although the staff continues to express support for Uiagalelei, this could be an intriguing quarterback battle in August.
Several Clemson media outlets were researched to contribute to this report: ClemsonTigers.com (official team site), Tiger Illustrated (Rivals), and TigerNet.com.