Clemson got some bad news Tuesday, as multiple media outlets are reporting that three Tigers will be suspended for the Orange Bowl. Most notably, freshman wide receiver Deon Cain is reportedly heading back to South Carolina.
Watching Clemson’s games from this season, Cain stood out as one of the keys to the match-up with the Sooners.
The Tigers’ passing game builds off of quick routes to slot receiver Artavis Scott. The diminutive wideout caught 84 balls this season, and as his per-catch average of 9.6 yards would indicate, Deshaun Watson primarily targeted him on slants, sticks and other short routes.
Meanwhile, Cain constituted Clemson’s top deep threat. At 6-2, 200 pounds, Cain’s size enabled him to take advantage of smaller defensive backs down the field. When defenses keyed on the quick game, Cain could make them pay by going deep. Alternatively, his presence on the field can loosen up a D, giving the Tigers more room to operate in the middle of the field or on short routes.
For evidence of Cain’s impact on Clemson’s offense, consider that seven of his 34 catches this season went for 25 yards or more, according to cfbstats.com. Scott had nine on 84 catches, and the Tigers had a total of 40 such passing plays on the year.
With Cain out of the picture, Clemson’s options for stretching OU take a hit. Jordan Leggett had similar success as Cain working out of his tight end spot. Lanky senior Charone Peake can get down the field, too. Neither is as dangerous as Cain, though, and it’s tough to see second-stringers Hunter Renfrow and Germone Hopper commanding the same level of respect from the Sooners.
There’s a hidden benefit to taking Cain off the field, too.
With Cain out of the picture, Clemson might deploy four- and five-wide offensive sets less often. In turn, OU defensive coordinator Mike Stoops would have more license to keep his base 3-4 personnel on the field, rather than a nickel package. The Sooner D is at its best when outside linebackers Eric Striker and Devante Bond are on the field at the same time.
All things considered, even though Cain may not be Clemson’s most productive player, the Tigers are going to feel his absence on New Year’s Eve.