College Sports

Blessed with wealth of talent, experience, Clemson’s offense has lofty goal: to be best ever

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a Heisman Trophy favorite, is surrounded by a wealth of offensive talent and experience this season.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, a Heisman Trophy favorite, is surrounded by a wealth of offensive talent and experience this season. AP

Clemson center Jay Guillermo says the Tigers can be the best offense ever.

Best ever in Clemson history?

"Best ever in college football," senior Guillermo asserted Tuesday. "We honestly think we have the potential to do so."

Guillermo’s statement is neither boastful nor fantasizing. Entering Saturday night’s season-opener at Auburn, the second-ranked Tigers have a rare convergence of talent and experience offensively. At every key position in offensive football – quarterback, wide receiver, running back, tight end, center and left tackle – they have a returning starter drawing national accolades.

They are coming off a 14-1 season and generated 40 points in the national-championship game loss to Alabama. They finished last season 11th nationally in total offense (514 yards per game) and 16th in scoring offense (38.5 points per game).

They have the Heisman Trophy front-runner in junior quarterback Deshaun Watson. Guillermo said what should concern opponents most is Watson being even more focused and driven in what will likely be his last college season.

"He’s gotten better at all the little things. Better at recovery and getting rest. Better when he’s at home, instead of sitting around watching TV, watching more (game) film," Guillermo described.

"All the nit-picking things you have to do to be the best."

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney discusses Saturday opener versus Auburn.

Watson gets so much attention that the parts around him sometimes are overlooked. There’s tailback Wayne Gallman, who rushed for 1,527 yards last season. There’s tight end Jordan Leggett, who caught 40 passes for 525 yards. There’s left tackle Mitch Hyatt, who started at perhaps the most mentally and physically challenging line position as a true freshman.

And there’s Mike Williams, who had the potential to be the country’s top wide receiver before a severe neck injury in the 2015 season opener ended his season.

Williams, who had 1,030 receiving yards as a sophomore, always had spectacular talent. He returned from the injury – he fractured his neck in a collision with a goal post – with a new perspective on his craft.

"More focused and probably has a better appreciation for his talent and the opportunity to play football," said coach Dabo Swinney. "This is the best version of Mike Williams I’ve seen."

This wealth of talent is a great opportunity. It’s also a huge responsibility.

"As coaches, we’re really challenged to be our best," said Jeff Scott, who shares offensive coordinator duties with Tony Elliott. "How can we best utilize all this talent? Also, it’s still about potential."

Scott, a former Clemson wide receiver, says the aspect of this story that has probably been under-told is how much these players’ joint experience provides a synergy that is rare in college football.

"One thing that is very different is (the shared experience) is more like the NFL than college typically," Scott said. "(New England Patriots quarterback) Tom Brady has been with some of his skill-position players five, six, even seven years. In college we always have guys coming and going. But now we have so many talented players who’ve played together three years."

That has created an added sense of accountability. For instance, the offensive line has set sky-high goals of finishing this season averaging 250 yards rushing and allowing no more than 13 sacks.

"We’ve set ourselves up really well – how we practice, how we prepare," Guillermo said. "We want to be the best ever."

Is that possible? Yes and no, said tight end Leggett, harkening back to a 1983 Nebraska team that averaged 50 points and 504 yards over a 13-game season.

"I definitely think this offense is going to do something unheard of here," said Leggett, who put off going to the NFL last spring to play his senior season.

"As far as the best ever, we talked to some guys from Nebraska back in the day whose stats were just ridiculous. We can aspire to be the best offense in this stadium and one of the 10 best ever."