What is wrong with the Clemson offense? It's a question that's been asked a lot already this season, as it's the inefficiencies on that side of the ball which are primarily to blame for the fact Clemson will not reach the College Football Playoff for the first time since the tournament's inception in 2014. The Tigers are 2-2 after losing 27-21 to NC State in overtime on Saturday, snapping a 36-game win streak against teams that weren't ranked in the AP Top 25 poll.
Through the first month of the season, Clemson ranks last in the ACC -- a conference it has dominated -- in points per game (21.8), yards per game (295.5) and yards per play (4.73). Now, the context to these numbers is important. In a small sample size of four games, a terrible performance against a Georgia defense that has made life miserable for anybody it's faced can skew things, and it has. It just hasn't skewed things enough to find optimism, as the Tigers managed only 4.3 yards per play while scoring 14 points against Georgia Tech, and NC State held the Tigers to 4.37 yards per play Saturday.
This is an offense that has gone three-and-out on 41.7% of its offensive possessions this season. That ranks 115th nationally and last in the ACC -- 6.5% behind the next worst team, Florida State.
As you'd expect in matters like this, plenty of people have ideas about what's wrong, and there's truth in nearly all their ideas. What's also true is that as complicated a game as football can be, sometimes it's incredibly rudimentary. You can fire the offensive coordinator, change the quarterback or install an entirely new offense, and none of it is going to matter if you can't block anybody.
And, right now, Clemson can't block anybody.
THE TD THAT GAVE NC STATE THE WIN OVER NO. 9 CLEMSON 🔥 pic.twitter.com/7kiAfcXicQ— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) September 25, 2021
The Tigers came into 2021 with questions on their offensive line, and so far, not many have been answered. They've shaken things up -- three different players have played at left guard in the last two weeks -- and tried different combinations, but so far, few are working to the level Clemson needs them to be if they're going to meet expectations.
Clemson is only averaging only 1.39 yards before contact. That ranks 13th in the ACC (Louisville is at 1.17) and 102nd nationally. D.J. Uiagalelei has been pressured on 29.9% of his dropbacks (61st nationally, 9th in ACC), sacked on 6.6% of them (81st nationally, 9th in ACC) and has had an average of 2.46 seconds to throw the ball before being pressured (81st nationally, 11th in ACC). Now, the offensive line is not solely to blame for all of these numbers. Uiagalelei looks like he lacks confidence in the pocket and is taking too long to make decisions, partially due to a lack of confidence in his offensive line. Some blame needs to be put on receivers and their inability to get open consistently, as well as offensive coordinator Tony Elliott for not finding ways to scheme the receivers open.
Still, while everybody shares the blame, the offensive line is a common theme throughout, and it's difficult to imagine anything improving the Clemson offense if the offensive line doesn't improve first. The good news is that a young offensive line could improve as the season goes along. The bad news is there's no quick fix at the ready, and things could get worse before they get better, too.
NC State STUNS Clemson 👀— CBS Sports HQ (@CBSSportsHQ) September 25, 2021
It's Clemson's 1st loss vs NC State since 2011 and snaps their 36-game win streak vs unranked teams! pic.twitter.com/deBRgmrJao
Polarizing Team of the Week
While we're talking about Clemson, what's wrong with the people voting in polls? Clemson is 2-2, and its lone wins have been a six-point win over Georgia Tech and the evisceration of South Carolina State. Yet it remains ranked at No. 19 in the Coaches Poll and No. 25 in the AP Top 25. I'm not surprised by their spot in the Coaches Poll because the coaches have always been more forgiving of programs like Clemson and show a little too much respect to previous accomplishments.
But what are AP voters doing? I thought the media was supposed to overreact to things? The Tigers appeared as high as No. 14 on one ballot and are still ranked in the top 20 by 11 of the poll's 62 voters. I'd love to know how many times in AP Top 25 history, nearly 18% of the voters had one team in their top 20, while 55% (34 voters) left that same team off their ballot entirely.
I wouldn't be shocked if the Tigers improve and show themselves to be a top-20 team at the end of the season, so I don't think anybody putting them there now is entirely out of line. But there are just so many other teams that deserve to be ranked ahead of Clemson right now that aren't.
Heartbreaking Loss of the Week
When Old Dominion trailed Buffalo 35-7 at halftime on Saturday, it's hard to imagine there were many in the Monarchs' locker room thinking a comeback was possible, yet it nearly was. The Monarchs stormed back in the second half, shutting out the Bulls and cutting the lead to 35-28 with 8:36 left to play. The Monarchs defense would force two more three-and-outs afterward to help the team recover from a fumble. Then, with just over three minutes remaining, the Monarchs went on a 10-play, 46-yard drive that finished with a 19-yard pass from D.J. Mack Jr. to Zack Kuntz to cut the lead to 35-34.
Old Dominion then made a fatal mistake, however: it celebrated. Players ran onto the field following the touchdown and officials flagged them for unsportsmanlike conduct, which turned an ordinary extra point attempt into a 35-yard attempt, and, well, the 15-yard penalty turned out to be an important one.
As called on Buffalo Bulls radio: pic.twitter.com/siaz0tRxeY— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) September 26, 2021
Snacking Decision of the Week
When Skittles are life 🌈 pic.twitter.com/mXUjYC7FEw— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 26, 2021
Don't pretend you've never snacked on the job.
Stock Advice of the Week
BUY -- Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights lost to Michigan 20-13 on Saturday, but I learned a lot more about the team in their first loss of the season than I did in their three wins. I was highly skeptical of Rutgers' ability to maintain its 3-0 start, and not just because it's Rutgers and expected to lose. It was more the lack of anything promising on offense and over-reliance on turnovers through three games that just didn't seem sustainable. Then Rutgers went and had its best offensive performance of the season against Michigan in a loss. Now, I'm not telling you to buy stock in Rutgers expecting it to compete in the Big Ten East. Looking around the division, it's hard to imagine Rutgers finishing higher than sixth, but this team is going to be a pain in the butt for everybody it plays.
Pretty play call 💯@aaronyoung04 hauls it in to give @RFootball its first TD of the day. pic.twitter.com/xWtDmSngCa— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 25, 2021
Greg Schiano has this team playing hard and believing in itself when it probably doesn't have any right to, and it makes every snap feel like a chore for its opponent. Again, the East looks stronger than usual this season, so I don't expect Rutgers to win many more games this season, but there are signs of improvement everywhere you look within the program.
HOLD -- West Virginia: The Mountaineers became the latest team to head into Norman and make Oklahoma look vulnerable at home, eventually falling 16-13 to the Sooners. They're now only 2-2, but their losses are to Oklahoma and a Maryland squad that's undefeated so far and looks like a potential eight-win team. Meanwhile, WVU has picked up a win over Virginia Tech and played solid defense. There's a lot of wiggle room in the Big 12 behind Oklahoma and Texas. Even if Baylor and Oklahoma State are off to much stronger starts, I wouldn't be surprised if the Mountaineers finish ahead of both.
Pick 6. Rinse. Repeat. @NDFootball pic.twitter.com/iAsl2iAc8o— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) September 25, 2021
SELL -- Wisconsin: I picked the Badgers to win the Big Ten West this season, and while the rest of the division looks soft enough to keep that a realistic possibility, it's hard to hold on to this Badgers stock any longer. The offense has been horrible, and Paul Chryst needs to consider making a change at quarterback. Graham Mertz was a highly-rated recruit out of high school, but he's having a hard time living up to the billing. After throwing for five touchdowns in his first career start against Illinois last season, Mertz has thrown five touchdowns and 11 interceptions in nine games since. Unsurprisingly, Wisconsin is only 4-5 in those games.
Worst Fans of the Week
During the spring, I decided to sit on a take during an episode of The Cover 3 Podcast. We were discussing spring game performances, particularly the performance of Oklahoma backup quarterback Caleb Williams. I said that Williams was the best quarterback on Oklahoma's roster and should start ahead of Spencer Rattler.
Now, I said this with my tongue not firmly planted in my cheek but delicately. It was more my way of expressing concerns about Spencer Rattler. I'd never seen Williams play in anything outside the Oklahoma spring game, and I was basing my opinion on what I've been told about the former five-star recruit. At the time, I didn't think Rattler was as good as the hype surrounding him, and I still don't.
That said, I'd never boo him -- or any player -- or chant for Williams if I were an Oklahoma fan. Sooners fans could be heard chanting "We want Caleb!" during the game and booing him. It was embarrassing, and Sooners fans who joined in should be ashamed of themselves.
Celebration of the Week
Solo cup and a cigar after beating Clemson 🐺@StateCoachD living his best life ... catch him on The Huddle tonight after the UNC-Georgia Tech game. pic.twitter.com/NV8SsSJKrR— ACC Network (@accnetwork) September 26, 2021
A red solo cup is the traditional sign of "having a good time" on college campuses across the country, and it's easy to understand why NC State coach Dave Doeren felt like having a good time Saturday night.
College Football Playoff Projection of the Week
If you don't think I considered putting four SEC teams here just to troll, you're mistaken. Though, the way this season has started, you could project any number of teams to reach the College Football Playoff right now and make a coherent argument to defend it. Still, I'll continue to play it safe-ish for now.
Until the next Monday After!