Dabo Swinney built something special down at Clemson. The Tigers enter this season as favorites to repeat last year’s national championship. Shakin the Southland gave us a quick look at the 2019 Tigers, and what to keep an eye on in advance of BC’s visit on October 26th.
BCI: Travis Etienne and Trevor Lawrence are on everyone’s radar, but are there any lesser-known offensive players poised to break out in 2019?
StS: One guy to keep an eye on is running back Lyn-J Dixon. It may not look it based on his numbers, but Clemson is big on rotating its running backs to help keep Etienne fresh. There were only two games last season where Etienne totaled over 20 carries (Syracuse and South Carolina). With both of last year’s backups Adam Choice and Tavien Feaster gone, Dixon is the clear-cut No.2 back. He has the potential to continue providing explosiveness in the run-game when Etienne takes a breather. He gained over 547 yards and scored six touchdowns on the ground as the fourth-back in the rotation last year, and last year showed the ability to run between the tackles and good speed in the open field. Look for him to take an even bigger role given, especially since beyond Dixon are two freshmen backs who just arrived this summer.
BCI: I’m not sure there is one, but what would you say is the biggest area of concern for this year’s Clemson team?
StS: Probably depth in the interior at defensive tackle and at linebacker. Clemson lost starter Kendall Joseph to graduation and presumed starter Shaq Smith to a surprise transfer. Projected starters in senior graduate Chad Smith and redshirt junior James Skalski have both seen plenty of time in games over the past couple of years. Redshirt junior Isaiah Simmons is a stud. Behind them is a lot of youth and untested potential at linebacker. One injury to any of those guys is huge, especially Simmons, who is a former safety and provides Brent Venables with a versatile option for his defensive schemes.
BCI: BC makes a trip to Death Valley on October 26th—how do you see that game playing out?
StS: With BC, the end score never really tells the whole story. In 2017 it took late hard running from fresh legs Travis Etienne to seal the victory (that game was the day every fan realized what kind of back Etienne was gonna be). Last year, BC was probably Lawrence’s worst game against an ACC opponent all year. I expect Clemson to pull out the victory, but it’ll take until about the third quarter for it to happen. Fortunately, we don’t play BC super early in the year.
BCI: What about a prediction for the season? Any games circled on the calendar? Should we just skip right to Clemson vs. Alabama in New Orleans?
StS: In this day and age, you can never skip out on any team. The obvious games to circle are Texas A&M (home) and Syracuse (away). Both are going to be played in back to back weeks and will be during a time in which Clemson will be breaking in its front seven. With unproven depth in the interior outside of one player, both are likely to test them on the ground early. Games against BC are always some of our lower-scoring games, so I never fall asleep against them. All in all, I see another ACC Championship and return to the Playoff should health check out and the defensive line settles in quickly enough. If Clemson were to drop a game, I only see it being one of the two games in September.
BCI: Thanks for the time!