Offensive Woes: What happened to Clemson’s Offense?

Photo courtesy of Amy McKenna, @AmyCMcKenna

It’s a weird feeling. Losing for the first time in 2 years, or in Trevor Lawrence’s case, losing for the first time in his college career. All good things have to come to an end however, as Clemson lost to LSU in the national championship game Monday night. In a game where the top scoring offense faced off against the top scoring defense, the college football world wondered who would prevail. Would it be Brent Venables? The master mind himself? Or would it be the offensive prodigy Joe Brady? 


The game started exactly the way Clemson wanted it to. After a decent drive to start the game, Clemson punter Will Spiers pins Ohio State on their own 7 yard line for their first drive. With a big first play to Thaddeus Moss getting called back due to an ineligible receiver penalty, the Clemson defense held LSU at their own 3 yard and got the ball back to Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne on the LSU 42 yard line. 


The offense disappoints with a 3 and out, but the Clemson defense held Heisman winner, Joe Burrow to a three and out again. It seems that Brent Venables has figured out the LSU offense. With different coverages and blitz packages. With Isiah Simmons playing every single position you can play on defense. This fantastic play however, only lasted one quarter. 


LSU proceeded to score on the last three drives of the first half. These scoring drives included Ja’Marr Chase beating out his man AJ Terrell on multiple occasions, with help from Joe Burrow making beautiful throws. Clemson was still getting pressure on Burrow, but his quick throws and pocket presence kept him alive long enough to make a perfect pass to either Chase, Jefferson, or Moss. Meanwhile on their last three drives of the 1st half, Clemson ran 10 plays for a combined 40 yards. 


Going into halftime, Clemson had no answer for LSU’s offense, and Clemson’s offense couldn’t get any momentum going. The start of the second half will look bleak as well, since LSU will return the kickoff to start the second half. 


Clemson’s defense came out and got a 3 and out to start the third quarter. Clemson’s offense comes roaring out the gate with a 6 play 50 yard drive, and a two point conversion to cut the lead down to just 3 points. 


After that drive, Clemson would be held scoreless for the rest of the game as the offense could only muster up a total of 65 yards after that last touchdown. Many around the country were baffled by this dominance by LSU’s defense. We heard all year about the offensive weapons that Clemson has, such as Trevor Lawrence, Tee Higgins, Travis Etienne, and Justyn Ross. So what happened?


1.First thing that comes to mind is that Clemson seemed to abandon the run. Travis Etienne scored the last touchdown for Clemson with 10:49 left in the third quarter. Etienne only got one more carry for the rest of the game. This seems odd as Travis boasted 5.2 yards per carry in the game against a very good LSU defensive line. Also it wasn’t like Clemson was down big for this whole period of time. After that last touchdown the defense got another 3 and out. Down by 3 with plenty of time left, yet Clemson never gave the ball to one of the nation’s top running backs. 


2. Braden Galloway was suspended for the entire year thanks to a positive drug test before the Cotton Bowl last year. He was able to come back and start playing for the College Football Playoffs this year. He is an athletic tight end who is very similar to Jordan Leggett from the 2016 Clemson team. Braden Galloway had two receptions on two targets in the national championship game against LSU. One reception was a 42 yard completion that got called back thanks to a blindside block by Tee Higgins, and the other was an 18 yard reception at the end of the first quarter. I thought Clemson would use him more since there is no film on him, and he is a solid extra receiver to have on the field, but after the first quarter he was quiet. 


3.Trevor Lawrence has never had a bad game in his college career. The national championship game was very different for him. He had 13 overthrown passes in the game, which is very uncharacteristic of him. Seemed like he kept trying to force passes to either Tee Higgins or Justyn Ross. LSU sent pressure that he has not seen before. Of course, I am not blaming the whole game on Trevor Lawrence, he is still a really good quarterback. But he mentioned himself, “Just not a good night to have a bad night, and I had a bad night tonight.” 

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