By Dalton Ray–
Entering the season, experts placed Clemson and Alabama in a class of their own ahead of the college football world. Starting the year at No. 2, Dabo Swinney’s team is ranked No. 5 after four games. The Tigers lost six players to the NFL on the defensive side of the ball but the offense came back loaded. Led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, Clemson is among the nation’s elites in terms of talent.
Undefeated, CU hasn’t looked as impressive as people thought they might. After only winning by a total of 12 points in the first two games, Clemson is starting to look like the team everyone is used to seeing in the orange and purple. Swinney is searching for his 80th victory as the head coach of the Tigers.
Watson is considered to be in the top tier of quarterbacks in the nation. Still in the Heisman picture, he is expected to be a top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. On the year, Watson has thrown for 996 yards on a 60 percent completion rate with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Watson ranks among the top of Clemson’s all-time passing yards, touchdowns and completion percentage.
Wayne Gallman is the main ball carrier for the Tigers. After a huge 2015 season in which he ran for 1,527 yards and 13 touchdowns, Gallman is having a tough start to 2016. The junior ran for 123 yards in week one but hasn’t topped the 60 yard mark since then. Gallman is an explosive and dynamic back who is one of the ACC’s best backs.
Receiving wise, Clemson might be the best in the nation. Just between the top two wide outs and the number one tight end, not many teams can match what the Tigers have. The top three targeted receivers are Mike Williams, Ray-Ray McCloud and Artavis Scott. Senior tight end Jordan Leggett is considered one of the best receiving tight ends in the nation. The four players are responsible for 63 of the 105 completions, 744 of the 1,172 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
The offensive line is one of the best in the country. Watson has only been sacked twice this season and Clemson allowed 18 sacks last season. With three members voted to the All-ACC preseason team, the Tigers are loaded up front.
Swinney’s defense took a hit from the NFL Draft last season, but Swinney is one of the best recruiters in the nation. The defense is packed with talent and depth through all positions. Only bringing back four starters, three are among the leading tacklers for the Tigers.
Up front, Dexter Lawrence has dominated opposing offenses. At 6-foot-5 and 340 lbs., the former five star is a huge reason why Clemson sits at 18th in the nation in yards per carry with 3.54. Third on the team in tackles with 21, Lawrence is a rare breed of lineman and will require a lot of attention. Christian Walkins, 6-foot-4 and 310 lbs., has five tackles for loss already this season.
At the second level, Kendall Joseph and Ben Boulware lead the charge for Clemson. Boulware is the heart and soul of the Tigers’ defense and has 20 tackles with a forced fumble on the year. Joseph is the leading tackler with 26 and leads in tackles for loss, six, as well. While the backers might not have a great size, they are all fast, purse well and deliver hits.
The secondary is a veteran group with two juniors and a sophomore. Van Smith, second in tackles, is a very athletic free safety that makes plays all over the field. Both corners have great size that cause problems for opposing receivers. Cordrea Tankerlsey, senior, stands 6-foot-1 and 200 lbs. while Marcus Edmond checks in at 6-foot and 175 lbs.
Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal