Title game thoughts and looking ahead to next season


by - Senior Writer -
Uiagalelei is ready to take the reins of the Clemson offense.
Uiagalelei is ready to take the reins of the Clemson offense.

Yes, it felt a little strange sitting in my living room watching the National Championship Game. Clemson has played in four of those games since 2015 so watching from afar was different and yet eye-opening.

First off, no one was going to beat Alabama this season. That offense was just too good, both lines of scrimmage were excellent and there were playmakers all over the field, and DeVonta Smith was, without a doubt, the best player on the field.

This Alabama team reminded me of Clemson’s 2018 team, from the lines of scrimmage to the quarterback to wide receivers like Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. That was a Clemson team led by guys who eschewed the NFL for a year so they could come back and win a title, and that’s exactly what they did. Nothing was going to stand in their way.

Alabama had a handful of players that felt the same way and it showed in the demolition of Ohio State.

Speaking of Ohio State, one can’t help but wonder if making Clemson the main target instead of the National Championship hurt the Buckeyes. Everyone from their coaches to the players made sure that Clemson was the target and they left a lot out on the field in New Orleans. It also helps that Alabama was once again the No. 1 seed and wasn’t really tested by Notre Dame. The Crimson Tide went into “easy” mode against the Irish and was able to make sure they weren’t beat up for the title game.

For the second year in a row, the Tigers and Buckeyes beat each other up in the semifinal and didn’t have a lot left in the tank. Getting that No. 1 seed – and playing the weakest of the four playoff teams – has paid dividends.

I also had to laugh yesterday when someone sent me an article from the excellent Ohio State site Eleven Warriors. On the day they are playing in the National Championship Game, against Nick Saban and that machine from Bama, they run an article focusing on…….Dabo Swinney.

If you need a good laugh on a Tuesday, you can read that article here. It gives a little insight into where the focus lay. Hint: It wasn’t on stopping Smith or Mac Jones or Christian Barmore.

Now, how does all of this relate to Clemson? It gives you a glimpse into what the Tigers need to do to not only get back to the title game and the College Football Playoff, but win. It starts in the trenches.

I have written more than one story about how Clemson looks getting off the bus. In 2018, with players like Clelin Ferrell and Austin Bryant and Christian Wilkins and some of those dudes on the offensive line, with guys like Tanner Muse and Isaiah Simmons roaming the secondary, there were fast AND big players all over the place.

Before the Fiesta Bowl last year, I walked around and interviewed Ohio State players for most of a morning and texted Nikki (the wife, who had not yet arrived) and told her that the Buckeyes certainly looked the part, probably more than Clemson, which had smaller players along the defensive line (graduation, injuries, attrition, it all took a toll). Watching Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl and watching them paired up against Alabama, it once again hit home (as we’ve already written) that the Tigers have to make improvements in the trenches. It’s one thing to just out-talent people in the ACC but when you make the final four, there is a difference in talent.

As I’ve written over the last few weeks, I think the coaches have started to address those needs with the last two recruiting classes and that will start to pay dividends this season. I've seen a lot of posts on social media since the Sugar Bowl that makes it sound like Clemson needs to reboot the program. The offense was really good last season despite the offensive line woes and injuries at the receiver spot, finishing third nationally in scoring offense. Yes, tweaks are needed and the line has to play better, and yes, the defense has to figure out a way to stop tempo offenses. But those are tweaks, not major overhauls.

I tweeted last night when Alabama quarterback Bryce Young entered the game that he will take over next season for the Crimson Tide, and he's no stranger to playing against DJ Uiagalelei in championship games. I also fully expect them to go head-to-head next season at some point. Alabama loses a ton of talent, but they will be back. So will Clemson.

In the meantime, spring practice will start at the end of February and then we all know what comes after that.

Bring on Georgia.

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spacer The question involved only offensive lineman.
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