Clemson has won at least 10 games in four consecutive seasons, and even with personnel losses on both sides of the ball, the Tigers should be in contention for the ACC title in 2015. Quarterback Deshaun Watson should be at full strength from a torn ACL by the fall, and the rising star will be surrounded by a deep group of skill players. Only two starters return on one of the nation’s top defenses. However, Clemson has recruited well, and there’s still talent on the roster to replace some of last year’s stars.
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Previewing Clemson’s Offense for 2015
The moment Clemson fans had dreaded for the better part of four years finally arrived in December when offensive coordinator Chad Morris became SMU’s new head coach. But the Tigers’ offense shouldn’t look that different as long as star sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson stays healthy. Coach Dabo Swinney opted for continuity, elevating running backs coach Tony Elliott and wide receivers coach Jeff Scott to co-offensive coordinators.
Watson is the key. In eight games (five starts), he threw for 1,466 yards with 14 touchdowns against two interceptions, but he missed nearly five full games with a broken finger and later a torn ACL. He had surgery in December and will be healthy for the season opener. With Cole Stoudt at the helm, the offense largely struggled. Clemson averaged 30.8 points per game, No. 51 nationally, and ranked 110th in red zone offense.
Watson is a dynamic dual threat with excellent targets in Mike Williams and Artavis Scott, who combined for 1,995 yards with 14 touchdowns on 133 receptions a year ago. Wayne Gallman leads an improving backfield as a powerful speed back. There are questions about a line that must replace both starting guards, and true freshman Mitch Hyatt is expected to start at left tackle after Isaiah Battle declared for the NFL supplemental draft. But if Watson is healthy, the Tigers’ offense should be scary good.
Previewing Clemson’s Defense for 2015
Brent Venables raised some eyebrows when he left Oklahoma to take over Clemson’s struggling defense in January 2012; but three years later, it looks like a brilliant move. Last fall, the Tigers had the nation’s top overall defense, allowing 260.8 yards per game, and the No. 3 scoring defense, yielding 16.7 points per game. The challenge? Repeating the feat after losing nearly the entire defensive line two-deep (including Clemson’s career sack leader Vic Beasley) as well as middle linebacker Stephone Anthony, the team’s leading tackler.
Junior defensive end Shaq Lawson will be expected to take his game to the next level: He was a freshman All-American two years ago and had 3.5 sacks as a reserve last fall.
Junior Ben Boulware, one of the defense’s most intense players, will step into a lead role at weak-side linebacker. He and senior B.J. Goodson will have to carry bigger loads while a pair of hard-hitting redshirt freshmen — Kendall Joseph and Korie Rogers — provide depth.
The secondary will be a major strength. Sophomore cornerback Mackensie Alexander established himself as one of the ACC’s top cornerbacks with excellent shutdown ability. Safety Jayron Kearse is an athletic specimen who is expected to take the next step this fall. Clemson was No. 2 nationally in pass defense a year ago, allowing 157.4 passing yards per game, and the defense will lean on the secondary again while the new defensive line gets acclimated.
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Previewing Clemson’s Specialists for 2015
Clemson’s only early draft departure was junior punter Bradley Pinion, who averaged 42.6 yards per boot. His replacement, junior Andy Teasdall, had two punts for 87 yards last fall. Kicker Ammon Lakip struggled initially while replacing Chandler Catanzaro, but he recovered to make 21-of-28 field goals and finish as a Lou Groza Award semifinalist.
Under Dabo Swinney, Clemson has developed into one of the nation’s steadiest programs, winning 42 games over the last four seasons with an ACC title and bowl wins over LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma. Now is the time for the Tigers to take the next step and make a run at the College Football Playoff. This group has the talent and the schedule to win the ACC. From there, the sky is the limit.