I caught up with Matt Goldin of Shakin The Southland this week to get his perspective on the Clemson Tigers. See his answers to my questions below. You can find my answers to some of his questions at STS as well.
1.) DJ Uiagalelei seems to have put last year behind him completely—what are the reasons for the improvement that he’s shown in 2022?
DJ looks a lot more comfortable. I think one of the things that has helped him is the team and coaches show 100% support and confidence in him. The talent has always been there, but he now looks like he’s having fun playing football again. He’s also dropped about 30 lbs, which definitely has him playing lighter and quicker. I think this off-season was a good time for him to refocus on football and put a lot of work in. DJ is certainly a very hard worker, and I’m thrilled to see his progress.
2.) To what extent have the new offensive and defensive coordinators changed the way Clemson plays? Or is it too early to notice their fingerprints on Clemson’s approach?
Not having Brent Venables raging on the sideline is the big difference! In all seriousness, we’ve seen less of the exotic blitzing from co-DCs Wes Goodwin and Mickey Cohn. But some of that may be contributed to the early opponents. I feel like the Georgia Tech, Furman, and Louisiana Tech games were all pretty vanilla, which is often Clemson early season style. Wake Forest was about trying to stop the bleeding quick. This is probably the game where we’ll see more
Offensively, similar to what I said about defense and being vanilla, with the exception of Wake. Clemson threw to the middle of the field a lot more in that game. Lack of middle of the field play was a common complaint under Tony Elliot. We’ve also seen Clemson go back to using its tight end more. The tight end play of Jordan Leggett was a huge part of the 2016 Championship year. Veteran Davis Allen and sophomore Jake Brinningstool have been fantastic at tight end so far. I don’t know if that’s as much on the a new coordinators as it is having good tight ends and inconsistency from the receiving corps.
3.) Clemson was down a few defensive backs at Wake Forest. Any updates on those injuries and how the return of one or more of them could impact the game this weekend?
The only one Dabo has specifically mention was cornerback Sheridan Jones having a good chance to be back. With the rest of the injuries we’ll have to wait for the team to release the injury report Saturday.
4.) What’s been the least surprising thing (good or bad) you’ve seen from this Clemson team? Most surprising?
Will Shipley being good. He was an outstanding freshman despite missing a few games with injuries, but he’s flourished as the starting running back and being the team leader
The most surprising may be the lack of domination from the defense. Clemson played a solid defensive ballgame opening week against Georgia Tech, but they haven’t quite had that same success over the past few weeks. Injuries are a huge part of that though.
5.) If Clemson wins on Saturday night, what do you figure will be the biggest reason why?
Clemson has to figure out the defensive back issues. It’s demoralizing to force a team to third down and then give up a long first down or touchdown. The offense probably isn’t scoring 51 again this week. Clemson’s defense can’t afford to spot NC State any easy touchdowns. Granted, the potential rain may limit passing on both sides.
6.) What’s your score prediction?
Right now I’m thinking something like Clemson 27 NC State 24. It’s going to be a gritty game. There’s a lot of intangibles on Clemson’s side. The players still remember the lost last year and are going to come out with some fire. Death Valley is going to be wild. I think that, plus getting some injured guys back pushes us to the win.