Expectations were high for Clemson left tackle Mitch Hyatt entering the season.
After earning Freshman All-American honors in 2015, Hyatt was named to this year’s preseason All-ACC team. CBS Sports and Athlon Sports each named Hyatt as a second-team Preseason All-American, while Lindy’s ranked Hyatt as college football’s seventh-best offensive tackle.
Hyatt said he didn’t pay much attention to the preseason hype. He acknowledged during the bye week, though, he didn’t play up to his own expectations in Clemson’s first few games this year.
“That was kind of a rough start,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt can’t pinpoint why he struggled at the beginning of the season. He said he thinks he just wasn’t in the right mindset. Instead, he was easing into the season.
“Once I started getting more into the season, I started preparing myself a little better and then understanding the situation I was in,” Hyatt said.
As the season has progressed, Hyatt believes he and the whole offensive line have improved.
“I’ve started catching up with the sense of the season and the fact that we’re in it, and I think I’ve improved my game a lot more these past two games,” Hyatt said.
Hyatt thought the offensive line’s worst performance of the season came in Clemson’s second game against Troy, when the Tigers struggled to a 30-24 win.
“I’d definitely say that was our worst game, in that we didn’t get the run game going as much as we wanted to, and just making wrong calls on everything,” Hyatt said. “It just wasn’t a good game as a whole.”
Hyatt considered Clemson’s game against Louisville, which the Tigers won 42-36, to be a turning point for he and his unit. Clemson has averaged more than 500 yards of offense in its three October games.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney disagrees with Hyatt’s self-criticism.
“I just think sometimes them guys, they think they got to tell y’all something,” Swinney said. “He’s not a robot. He’s had some moments where he’s missed a play here or there. But shoot, he’s played good.”
Clemson’s coaching staff was particularly impressed with Hyatt’s performance in the Tigers’ most recent game against N.C. State, for which he was named as the team’s offensive player of the game.
While Hyatt received more fanfare for his play last season, Swinney considers his sophomore left tackle to be much improved.
“He’s stronger, he’s bigger, he’s more knowledgeable, he’s more confident,” Swinney said. “He hasn’t gotten worse, that’s for sure.”
Hyatt’s competition won’t get any easier. In Clemson’s next four games, the Tigers will be facing three of the top pass-rushers in all of college football: Florida State’s DeMarcus Walker, Pittsburgh’s Ejuan Price and Wake Forest’s Duke Ejiofor.
What can’t be denied, Swinney said, is how important Hyatt has been to the Tigers’ success.
“You don’t win 21 games with a bad left tackle,” Swinney said. “He’s pretty damn good.”
Who: Clemson at Florida State
When: 8 p.m., Saturday
Where: Doak Campbell Stadium
Radio: 93.1 FM
Line: Clemson by 3