CLEMSON — People forget that Clemson’s offense was sort of in disarray last September.
Let’s inspect Games 2, 3 and 4 of 2015. The Tigers struggled on third downs (5-for-15 vs. Appalachian State and in the rain vs. Notre Dame; 5-for-14 at Louisville.) Of their six visits to the red zone, they only yielded two touchdowns.
With the defense forcing 10 turnovers, the offense converted just four scoring drives (albeit all touchdowns.)
Clemson’s three yards-per-play averages against the Mountaineers (5.23), Cardinals (5.73) and Fighting Irish (4.63) were its three least-efficient yardage efforts all season.
More than anything else, offensive coordinator Tony Elliott’s playcalling was called into question. Clemson’s offense simply wasn’t quite as explosive as it had hoped.
Two things were missing: one, Deshaun Watson’s running ability, which didn’t round into form until the waterlogged Notre Dame matchup on Oct. 3.
And Mike Williams.
People forget how sorely the Tigers missed Williams upon his frightening injury catching a touchdown pass on the first drive of the season vs. Wofford. Yes, Deon Cain was quite the scoring machine later in the year, but Cain needed time to mature as a player — and it would turn out he still needed time to mature as a person, as he was suspended for the regular season game at Miami, the Orange Bowl in Miami and national championship game in Arizona.
You don’t just lose a 1,000-yard receiver and potential future first-round NFL Draft pick on the first drive of a season and expect to truck along with no speed bumps.
“(Williams) makes a big difference,” co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. “He’s a big force over there on the boundary, makes a lot of plays. Long, tough guy to cover. He adds another element in our offense.”
There are not many areas of concern for Clemson’s offense, what with all the playmakers coming back, but one of them is this: Scott has identified the Tigers’ 60 percent success rate scoring touchdowns after penetrating the red zone — 70th best in the country — as unacceptable.
He’s right. Too many three-point results, not enough seven-pointers. A healthy Williams changes all of that.
“It was tough. I mean, you want to be out there to help your teammates win,” Williams said of sitting out the 14-1 season. “But now that I’m back out here, I feel good. I’m just another weapon to the offense.”