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WRNL Interrogates: Shakin The Southland

Let’s get some insight on Clemson

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

We turned to our friends over at Shakin The Southland and Ryan Kantor to get some insight on Clemson before the Cheez-It Bowl. Iowa State takes on Clemson tomorrow afternoon at 4:45 CST.

1. Clemson is down two really good coordinators, does that worry you going into a bowl game? What does the future hold for the Clemson offense and defense which have both been really good over the course of the last 5 years and longer.

I don’t know if “worry” is the right word, but this game will be an exciting look at the work of Clemson’s new coordinators and I’m sure we’ll rely way more than we should on a sample of one game to decide if the internal hires are going to work out.

As for the future beyond this bowl, I admit I was initially panicked about losing Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables and disappointed that the struggling offense promoted from within, but upon further reflection, it definitely makes sense and I think will work out well. Clemson’s bigger challenge is roster management in the new world of losing 10+ transfers per year. Clemson, as of this writing, has not brought in a significant transfer player during the Swinney-era.

2. What’s been the one thing that has most surprised you about this Clemson team?

The quarterback and wide receiver struggles really caught me by surprise. DJ Uiagalelei was amazing in two starts last season (when Trevor Lawrence had COVID) after coming in as a highly rated recruit. I expected him to have a big year.

The passing game’s struggles are hardly his fault alone though. The wide receiver corps have really struggled. Frank Ladson, who was a huge recruit, once against couldn’t stay on the field due to injuries and now he is transferring. Ajou Ajou, a high-upside Canadian player that was hyped by coaches in Fall Camp, looked lost and is now transferring. Justyn Ross, the freshman star of the 2018 playoff run, came back from injury, but was never quite right and is now injured (he won’t play in the bowl) and is going to enter the NFL draft. Several other players battled injuries as well. I’ve really never seen anything like it. Against U of SC, we had a walk-on returning punts and another original walk-on, Will Swinney, the son of Coach Swinney, starting in the slot. It’s been a tough season from a health-standpoint for the wide receivers!

3. Let’s highlight some of the underappreciated players. Who are some players that Iowa State fans don’t know yet and will by the end of the Cheez-It Bowl?

Clemson’s star players on offense are their running backs. Freshman Will Shipley and sophomore Kobe Pace lead the way while freshman Phil Mafah rounds out the three-headed monster. Clemson has suffered three transfers from their RB corps since the pre-season, but this trio has emerged to carry the offense while the passing game has struggled. Also lookout for freshman wide receiver Beaux Collins who has come on as of late as he has elevated his game and made the most the opportunity created by all the injuries at wide receiver.

The defense has a ton of star players. The team’s second leading tackler, Baylon Spector, is out with a hand injury, but Clemson is deep at linebacker and led by sixth year senior James Skalski. Myles Murphy is a great pass rushing defensive end with an NFL future, but the biggest star, at least from an NFL draft perspective, is probably cornerback Andrew Booth. He is expected to go in the first half of the first round.

4. How does Clemson win this game?

Clemson ran for 333 and 265 yards in their last two games. Prior to that, the only game in which they eclipsed 250 rushing yards was against South Carolina State. I think the recipe is to control the game with a dominant rushing attack. The offensive line seemed to start gelling late in the season. We really need to see that continue.

5.Let’s say you walk up to a Clemson fan right now and say Iowa State. What would Clemson fans first think about?

Until this matchup, Iowa State was been very far from the minds of Clemson fans. The Tigers haven’t played a Big 12 opponent since the 2014 and 2015 bowl wins over Oklahoma and have never played the Cyclones. I would say Matt Campbell is one of the first things that comes to mind since he is a very highly-regarded coach that is always rumored to be on the move, but has been with Iowa State for quite a while.

6. Prediction time! Who do you got?

Initially, I had the Cyclones, but as I’ve learned about the outgoing transfers they’ve lost (it isn’t just us!) and the opt-out from Breece Hall, I’ve changed my prediction. Clemson is the more talented squad and they have a ton of motivation to end the season on a high-note given the coaching and recruiting hoopla (they had several high-profile de-commitments after Venables left). The last time we were in this bowl was in 2014 vs. Oklahoma (it was called the Russell Athletic Bowl back then). The Tigers had a tough year offensively and lost offensive coordinator Chad Morris before the bowl. The Tigers set the course for the next five years of playoff appearances with a stunning 40-6 win over the Sooners. I badly want a repeat of that and I can envision it, but a low-scoring 50-50 affair is more likely. I’ll predict Clemson wins 27-20.