Clemson wants to run the same offense as Tennessee. That makes sense. The Vols were the talk of the nation last season as they scored touchdowns seemingly at will. However, there’s one problem.
It’s not that easy.
“You look at what Tennessee could do (last season) and everybody talked about how fast they played, I think that’s going to be a lot similar to what we’re going to be doing this next year,” Tigers’ quarterback Cade Klubnik said last week when Clemson opened spring camp. “Just the speed we can play at, but also the efficiency. It’s not a bunch of guys running around trying to figure out what we’re doing. Even in the first day after 10 minutes guys were running around and getting to the spot and snapping the ball 15 seconds later.”
That sounds good, but to imply that Clemson has Tennessee’s tempo down pat so quickly could be considered a bit insulting by the Vols’ coaches, who have seemingly perfected an offense that almost every program in the nation envied last fall. That same offense helped the Vols beat Clemson 31-14 in the Orange Bowl in January.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney decided on a new offensive approach when he hired former TCU offensive Garrett Riley, who has learned up-tempo offenses from former Kentucky coach Hal Mumme, former Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach and current Southern California head coach Lincoln Riley, who is Garrett’s older brother and considered one of the best offensive minds in the nation.
Garrett Riley and Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel have one thing in common that should help the Tigers. Riley has experience playing quarterback in college for Texas Tech like Heupel has when he played for Oklahoma. Experience playing quarterback should help any coach looking to implement a Heupel-style offense. However, there is more.
A Heupel offense isn’t just based on playing at an up-tempo pace. However, that’s important. That’s not something that can be turned on like a light switch. It will take Clemson and any other program in the nation a full year just to get their entire roster up to a conditioning level to run uber-tempo like Heupel.
“It’s fun,” Klubnik said. “You’re running around, you’re getting set, snapping the ball, and getting six more yards. Then you’re taking a shot, you’re getting six more, six more, then taking a shot. It’s just fun. That’s the best way to describe it. It’s just a fun offense to play in.”
Well, it’s fun for quarterbacks. It’s not as fun for 300-pound offensive linemen. It’s also not particularly fun for a defensive coordinator who has to practice against an up-tempo offense each day.
What Clemson may not understand just yet is that doing what the Vols have done offensively is a change that will affect the Tigers’ entire program. There really is no going “halfway” in order to protect a team’s defense. A coach, like Heupel, has to be “all in” to completely benefit from all the rewards of running such an offense. That means the defense can be put on the back burner.
It’s easy to say that a program is going to mimic the Vols or Texas Christian, where Riley helped coach the Horned Frogs to a national championship game berth last season. However, it takes experience, time and a complete dedication by the entire program to make sure it’s successful.