The Clemson offense had its worst outing since the 2017 season Saturday against North Carolina, finishing with 331 total yards and 21 points.
The Tigers struggled in particular running the ball as Clemson’s running backs finished with 87 rushing yards.
North Carolina “played a lot of coverage. They played tons of coverage. Their plan was to make us run the ball,” Swinney said after the game.
But Clemson left guard John Simpson believes the Tigers didn’t run it enough.
The only two running backs that received carries against the Tar Heels were Travis Etienne and Lyn-J Dixon, and they combined for 18 carries, including only four in the second half.
UNC played a lot of cover two, according to Simpson, which is typically when Clemson runs the ball. But that wasn’t always the case on Saturday, Simpson said.
“Well, we’re supposed to go to run plays. I feel like we were just trying to, I don’t really know. I don’t call the plays. But I feel like when we did run the ball we were getting like five yards at a time and things like that. That’s pretty good on the run,” Simpson said. “If we’re getting five yards a carry you get the first down after two plays. I think if we would’ve ran the ball a little bit more it would’ve been fun. But we did what we had to do to win.”
Etienne and Dixon combined to average 4.83 yards per carry, but neither back seemed to get into a rhythm.
Clemson struggled to find consistency on offense the entire game, scoring on only three of its 11 drives. Simpson believes the offense could have had more success had it committed to the run.
“I feel like if the game was put in our hands, I feel like we would be better off,” Simpson said. “But I don’t know. I’m just an offensive lineman doing my job.”
The Tigers did run the ball 31 times compared to 30 pass attempts. But quarterback Trevor Lawrence had 11 of the rushing attempts, while two of the other runs were kneel downs.
“We didn’t run the ball much, I think it was like 18 carries (for running backs). I mean that’s not a lot of running,” right guard Gage Cervenka said. “They were playing two high (safeties) and sometimes that’s what you need to go to is the run game. Coach (Tony) Elliott and coach (Jeff) Scott, they know what they’re doing. They had a game plan that they wanted to go to and they stuck with it.”
Cervenka and Simpson both praised Clemson’s co-offensive coordinators Scott and Elliott for the job that they do, but they also said the offensive line did a good job in the running game, and the offensive line as a group wanted to keep the ball on the ground more.
“I definitely feel like we had some success. We had no TFLs, so that’s huge. When we don’t have any tackles for losses that speaks very well. I think we ran the ball well, we just didn’t have a lot of touches,” Cervenka said. “I’m a guy, I want to run the ball all the time. I want to get dirty in the trenches. I think we ran the ball well. I would love to see it more, but that’s not my decision. That’s not my call.”