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Riley’s offense paying off for both sides of the ball ahead of Duke opener

After helping lead TCU to the national title game, Garrett Riley joined Clemson’s staff in January as the team’s new offensive coordinator.

Heading into Week 1, Clemson has sharpened its claws in all areas. And thanks to the addition of former TCU assistant coach Garrett Riley as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, the Tigers’ offense has new life and energy.

Questions have been raised about the Tigers’ complete offense the last few seasons, and for a good reason: the Tigers fell out of the top 50 passing offense the past two seasons and placed 48th in the nation for points scored per game last year.

“I think our whole approach is you’ve got to be physical. We’re not going to lose that,” Riley said. “We’re going to be a physical team, but I just think the consistency in what we do. It doesn’t have to be really complicated. We expect to have great players here at Clemson, and I think it’s exciting just to be simple, attack mode and just let our guys play and be free.”

Riley’s scheme and up-tempo approach has allowed the offense to take advantage of the entire field in fall camp.

“We spread the ball all over,” head coach Dabo Swinney said after the team’s first scrimmage. “We had a bunch of guys touch it, which is going to happen in what we’re doing.”

Leading the charge for the offense is sophomore quarterback Cade Klubnik. Although he started just one game last year, Klubnik’s flashes on the practice field this fall have earned him high praise from his head coach, especially about his ability to bounce back from mistakes. 

“He is kind of like Deshaun (Watson) in that regard,” Swinney said. “Deshaun would throw an interception in a heartbeat, but nobody panicked because we were going to score 40. You just have that same feel with Cade.”

Klubnik finished his freshman season completing 61% of his passes for 697 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. He also scored two touchdowns on the ground.

Joining Klubnik in the backfield will be junior running back Will Shipley. Coming off his 1,182-yard season in 2022, Shipley is excited about what Riley is bringing to the table. 

“I’m hoping to do a lot of the same things I did last year, along with breaking some of those big runs that I left on the table,” he said. “Have a couple more catches out of the backfield, whether it’s screens or lining up in the slot, I think those opportunities are gonna be there.”

Set to block for Shipley is the Tigers’ offensive line, which will return four of five starters from last season. The only position that needs to be filled is left tackle. The two players competing for the starting spot are redshirt sophomore Tristan Leigh and redshirt freshman Collin Sadler.

“I think we have eight guys that can start, that are in the mix to start,” Swinney said of the offensive line. He also noted there are nine to 12 players that he has no problem playing. 

As for Clemson’s receivers, the Tigers return Antonio Williams, Beaux Collins and Adam Randall, all of whom are in line to compete for a starting spot. 

Meanwhile, the Tigers’ defense has taken note of the budding chemistry on the opposite side of the field. 

“Yeah, I just really feel like the camaraderie within the offense has just been second to none. Especially coming in with a new OC, new quarterback, I think the vibe over there has just been different. Cade (Klubnik) has taken that role, and he’s ran with it,” junior linebacker Barrett Carter said.

“Just the speed of the offense, they’re trying to make that hurry-up, that speed offense, so that’s really a challenge with that,” graduate safety Jalyn Phillips added. 

Although the aggressive offense has given the defense fits in fall camp, iron has sharpened iron. Cornerback Sheridan Jones said that the offense has “come out with energy every single day” under Riley. 

The No. 9-ranked Tigers will travel to Durham, North Carolina, on Labor Day to kick off the season against the Duke Blue Devils at 8 p.m. on Sept. 4.

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Grace O'Donnell
Grace O'Donnell, Sports Editor
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