Heacock sees Clemson offense playing its best football of the year

Jon Heacock says Clemson’s offense is playing its best football of the year.

It would be hard to argue with Iowa State’s veteran defensive coordinator going into Wednesday’s Cheez-It Bowl clash in Orlando.

Sure, on the surface, Clemson’s offense appears to have struggled mightily, especially for that program’s standards, as they enter the game ranked No. 85 nationally in scoring offense, No. 95 in yards per play, No. 98 in yards per game and No. 110 in third-down offense.

But, Dabo Swinney’s offense made significant strides after a 27-17 loss to Pittsburgh on Oct. 23. The unit averaged 36.4 points per game in the five contests after that loss to the Panthers.

The Tigers are also 5-0 in those five games.

“I think the guys maybe got comfortable, the experience of guys that were playing, it was a newer group,” Heacock said on Sunday of the early season struggles. “But, man, sure, you do notice a difference in the second half of the season, scoring upwards of 30-some points a game; the ball is going up and down the field, success running the football, throwing the football.”

That improvement can be attributed to more comfortable play from sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei. The former five-star recruit threw five of his nine touchdown passes this season during the Tigers’ five-game winning streak.

Clemson also found some efficiency in the run game, with true freshman Will Shipley going over 100 yards in three of the five games. The Tigers got a 191-yard performance from Kobe Pace in their win over Wake Forest during that stretch, as well.

On the flip side of all those positives, the Tigers are working through a change at offensive coordinator after longtime OC Tony Elliott left to become the head coach at Virginia, and quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter slid in to fill Elliott’s shoes.

Heacock doesn’t expect that change to slow Clemson’s offensive attack or change its approach to putting points on the board.

“I think you have to prep for what you see. I don’t think you chase ghosts,” Heacock said. “We don’t try to chase too many ghosts. You just don’t have time. You have to kind of do what you do. You have to look at what they are doing, what their strengths are, try to pull from that, look at years, maybe, of experience that they have seen versus your kind of style of defense or whatever. If you get caught chasing ghosts in a Bowl game, it’s a long haul. We try to stick with what we think we’ve seen and who is doing what they do, and that’s what we go with.”

So, while the season statistics might lead you to believe Clemson is entering this game without the offensive firepower they’ve possessed in past seasons, don’t bank on that being the case.

This is a team playing its best football at the right time.

“They improved and got better and better and were playing their best football at the end of the year,” Heacock said. “That’s what you hope, and that’s really what I saw on film.”

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.