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Paws up, paws down: Clemson’s 2023 season

Ashleigh Snyder
The Tigers have faced many trials this season but still managed to pull off their 13th consecutive nine-win season — the only other DI program to do so being Alabama.

Clemson finished its 2023 season on Dec. 29, defeating Kentucky in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl to finish the year 9-4.

Here are the biggest takeaways from the Tigers’ 2023 campaign:

Paws down: Costly turnovers

If there was one glaring issue with Clemson this season, it was the turnover bug.

When the Tigers won the turnover margin, they had a perfect 7-0 record, but when they lost the margin, they were 2-4. Over 13 games, Clemson had 22 turnovers, tied for the eighth most giveaways among FBS schools. Of those 22 turnovers, 13 were lost fumbles, tied for third-most in the country.

Those ball security issues began way back in Week 1, when Clemson had three turnovers in the red zone, leading to the Tigers’ 28-7 loss to the Blue Devils.

Had Clemson taken care of the ball more effectively in critical situations, this season could have played out a whole lot differently.

Paws up: Finishing on the right note

Despite a 4-4 start to the season — the worst since 2010 — the Tigers never wavered down the stretch and ended up winning five straight games to close out the year. Two of these victories came against ranked opponents, as head coach Dabo Swinney led his team to defeat then-No. 15 Notre Dame and then-No. 20 North Carolina.

As Swinney said to his Tigers after the Gator Bowl, the team could’ve quit on itself and mailed in the season. Instead, the players and staff looked at everything ahead of them instead of everything behind them.

“What y’all did this year, it’s special. It really is,” Swinney said. “I’m never going to forget it because at 4-4, you all had to make a decision, and you continued to believe, you continued to stay together. You had that windshield mentality.”

Winning five straight to cap off a four-loss season may not have the same glamor as a College Football Playoff or ACC Championship appearance, but finishing the way that they did could help the Tigers gain some confidence heading into their opener against Georgia in the fall.

Paws down: Offense still has work to do

Coming into the year, there was a renewed sense of confidence in the Tigers’ offense with the addition of Garrett Riley as offensive coordinator and Cade Klubnik entering his sophomore season. While there were improvements in some areas, the offense was still lackluster compared to what it once looked like in the Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence eras.

The Tigers were middle of the pack in terms of total yards per game and points per game in the ACC, with 402.7 and 29.8, respectively. Even when they did move the ball, the Tigers often struggled to get points on the board. They even had a three-game stretch, two of which were losses to Miami and NC State, when they didn’t score a single point in the first quarter.

Although Riley’s unit had some bright moments, Klubnik and the passing game never developed into an “air-raid” system that TCU developed under Riley in 2022.

Paws down: Injuries at pass catcher

A significant reason behind the Tigers’ offensive struggles came down to the availability of their wide receivers.

Starting wide receiver Cole Turner, who was primed for a potential breakout season, went down in Week 3 with three torn abductor muscles and never returned to the field. Starting slot receiver Antonio Williams battled through an ankle and toe injury and missed eight games. Beaux Collins also missed the South Carolina game with a torn plantar fascia.

To make matters worse, sophomore pass-catcher Adam Randall battled through a broken hand that forced him to practice with a club on his hand.

All of those injuries often left Clemson shorthanded and without a proven wide receiver in many of its matchups.

Paws up: The future is bright

Put plain and simple, Clemson’s 2023 recruiting class has a chance to be special.

Several true freshmen made significant contributions and started in several games, including defensive tackle Peter Woods, safety Khalil Barnes, cornerbacks Avieon Terrell and Shelton Lewis as well as guard Harris Sewell.

Arguably, the Tigers’ most impactful true freshman was wide receiver Tyler Brown, who was a three-star recruit and a very late addition to the class. Brown finished the year leading the team in receptions (42) and receiving yards (531) and had four scores, including an absurd, one-handed touchdown catch against Georgia Tech.

Defensively, freshman defensive end TJ Parker was one of the Tigers’ best pass rushers, recording 5.5 sacks to tie with Jeremiah Trotter Jr. for most on the team.

Although the Tigers’ haul in the 2023 recruiting cycle wasn’t considered to be a top 10 class by most recruiting sites last spring, early indications suggest there will be more than a few NFL prospects.

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About the Contributors
Justin Robertson
Justin Robertson, Associate Editor
Ashleigh Snyder
Ashleigh Snyder, Photo Editor
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