Sizing up the ACC: Where does Clemson's young o-line rank?

The Clemson Sports Blog

Clemson center Dalton Freeman prepares to snap the ball against Wake Forest.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson center Dalton Freeman prepares to snap the ball against Wake Forest.

They don’t make the 40-yard dash down the sidelines or juke a defender out of his shoes on the bubble screen or even throw the Hail Mary pass for the score, but without them – the ever-unheralded offensive line – those plays fail before getting off the ground.

Measuring the strength of an offensive line isn’t easy – nor anywhere close to an exact science.

With rushers and receivers, there’s rushing and receiving yards, yards per carry and catch, explosive plays and much more, but the o-line doesn’t have such stats.

Brandon Thomas

Brandon Thomas

Clemson enters 2012 with two starters back (center Dalton Freeman and left tackle Brandon Thomas), ranking eighth in the ACC in starting experience.

Five most experienced ACC o-lines (projected starters – career starts)

NC State: 113 starts returning – LT R.J. Mattes (30), LG Duran Christophe (14), C Camden Wentz (26), RG Zach Allen (26), Rob Crisp (1).

UNC: 94 starts returning – LT James Hurst (25), LG Jonathan Cooper (35), C Russell Bodine (2), RG Travis Bond (17), RT Brennan Williams (14).

Duke: 88 starts returning – LT Takoby Cofield (2), LG Dave Harding (14), C Brian Moore (27), RG Laken Tomlinson (12), RT Perry Simmons (24).

Georgia Tech: 77 starts returning – LT Ray Beno (11), LG Will Jackson (21), C Jay Finch (15), RG Omoregie Uzzi (24), RT Tyler Kidney (6).

Boston College: 64 starts returning – LT John Wetzel (12), LG Bobby Vardaro (8), C Ian White (14), RG Harris Williams (1), RT Emmett Cleary (27).

Last year, we took a look at the biggest starting fives on average in the ACC, and the correlation between size and results weren’t quite there.

In adjusted sacks allowed (a stat explained further below), the best of the top-5 biggest o-lines was Miami, coming in at a 314 lb. average, finishing 52nd nationally and fifth in the ACC. The other four finished 59th (Clemson) through 111th (Florida State). Clemson and Florida State both were dealt their fair share of injury issues last season though, making their stats worth a second look.

This year, the Tigers and Seminoles are once again in the top half of the conference in stature, but not in the upper tier in experience like last season (first and second in 2011 – seventh and eighth in starts in 2012).

Six biggest ACC o-lines (projected starters)

Miami: 319 lb average – LT Malcolm Bunche (6-7 325), LG Jon Feliciano (6-5 320), C Shane McDermott (6-4 290), RG Brandon Linder (6-6 310), RT Seantrel Henderson (6-8 350).

UNC: 316 lb average – LT James Hurst (6-7 310), LG Jonathan Cooper (6-3 305), C Russell Bodine (6-4 305), RG Travis Bond (6-7 345), RT Brennan Williams (6-7 315).

NC State: 311 lb average – LT R.J. Mattes (6-6 313), LG Duran Christophe (6-6 302), C Camden Wentz (6-3 301), RG Zach Allen (6-3 328), RT Rob Crisp (6-7 312).

Florida State: 310 lb average – LT Cameron Erving (6’5 304), LG Josue Matias (6’5 320), C Austin Barron (6’3 295), RG Tre’ Jackson (6’4 325), RT Bryan Stork (6’4 307).

Wake Forest: 307 lb average – LT Frank Souza (6-5 320), LG Antonio Ford (6-3 315), C Garrick Williams (6-4 310), RG Daniel Blitch (6-6 310), RT Colin Summers (6-5 320).

Clemson Football - Gifford Timothy, Tajh Boyd, Tyler Shatley

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson Football - Gifford Timothy, Tajh Boyd, Tyler Shatley

Clemson/Virginia: 306 lb average – Tigers: LT Brandon Thomas (6-3 300), LG Kalon Davis (6-5 335), C Dalton Freeman (6-5 285), RG Tyler Shatley (6-3 295), RT Gifford Timothy (6-6 315). Cavaliers: LT Oday Aboushi (6-6 310), LG Sean Cascarano (6-6 280), C Matt Mihalik (6-7 310), RG Luke Bowanko (6-6 295), RT Morgan Moses (6-6 335).

One of the easiest measures that the NCAA has for gauging the offensive line is sacks allowed, but it has its flaws.

2011 sacks allowed per game (National ranking; starters back)

Georgia Tech – 1.00 (15th; 4)

Virginia Tech – 1.21 (22nd; 1)

Virginia – 1.23 (24th; 3)

Maryland – 1.42 (37th; 3)

Miami – 1.58 (43rd; 2)

Duke – 1.58 (43rd; 4)

Boston College – 2.00 (65th; 4)

UNC – 2.08 (68th; 4)

Clemson – 2.36 (87th; 2)

NC State – 2.62 (98th; 4)

Wake Forest – 2.69 (100th; 1)

Florida State – 3.15 (110th; 4)

Georgia Tech ranks atop the group regularly thanks to its run-geared offense, while Clemson, which attempted 358 more passes, is towards the back at 87th nationally.

Making up for that pass attempt gap is “adjusted” sacks allowed. FSU SB Nation site Tomahawk Nation put together the stats for last season and the last five years to help examine this further.

ACC adjusted sacks allowed - Rank nationally, 2011/Last 5 years avg. (2011 NCAA sacks allowed rank)

Virginia – 19th/49th (24th)

Duke – 20th/44th (43rd)

Maryland – 29th/61st (37th)

Virginia Tech – 33rd/98th (22nd)

Miami– 52nd/56th (43rd)

Clemson – 59th/69th (87th)

NC State – 70th/71st (98th)

UNC – 80th/91st (68th)

Boston College – 82nd/43rd (65th)

Wake Forest – 86th/104th (100th)

Georgia Tech – 89th/83rd (15th)

Florida State – 111th/97th (110th)

Georgia Tech’s downward slide is most notable – ranking 15th in sacks allowed and 89th in adjusted sacks allowed, while Virginia and Duke have been consistent in keeping their QBs upright over the last four seasons.

Meanwhile, Florida State’s numbers are confirmed – puzzling considering they have one of the nation’s most respected o-line coaches in Rick Trickett. Trickett has had to deal with an inordinate amount of injuries though. This could be the year the stars align and his group is able to improve exponentially with some good luck in the health department.

The Tigers are right in the middle of the ACC and nationally, but may have finished better without the injury to left tackle Phillip Price to close the regular season, allowing 11 sacks in the two games he missed (NC State and South Carolina) after surrendering 18 in the previous 10 games.

Looking at the rushing game…

2010 rushing offense Yards per game (National ranking; o-line starters back)

Georgia Tech – 316.46 (2nd; 3)

Virginia Tech – 186.86 (28th; 1)

Maryland – 169.33 (42nd; 3)

Virginia – 171.43 (52nd; 3)

Clemson – 158.50 (59th; 2)

Miami – 145.67 (71st; 2)

UNC – 138.85 (76th; 4)

Boston College – 130.92 (82nd; 4)

Wake Forest – 114.62 (99th; 1)

Florida State – 112.15 (104th; 3)

NC State – 104.85 (109th; 4)

Duke – 94.08 (115th; 4)

How much of that is a great running back? Scheme? Technique? Obviously, the offensive line figures in the equation somewhere, but it’s hard to judge.

The Yellow Jackets are up there because they’re good at what they do, and the sheer volume of rush attempts per game.

Virginia Tech was the only team in the conference with a first-round NFL draft pick from a 2011 ACC season geared towards the pass statistically (five 3,000-yard passers and four 1,000-yard rushers; seven in the top-60 nationally in passing offense and five in the top-60 in rushing offense).

Without further ado (and much more stats), ranking the ACC offensive lines based on projected field impact (offensive production, sacks allowed, etc.).

Projecting the ACC O-lines

1) Virginia

Outlook: The Cavaliers, under offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, have had one of the more balanced offenses in the ACC lately, and ranked atop the conference in adjusted sacks allowed (19th in the nation) last season. Virginia brings back veterans at left tackle (Oday Aboushi, 25 starts) and right tackle (Morgan Moses, 20 starts).

2) Miami

Outlook: Led by 6’8 350 junior right tackle Seantrel Henderson, Miami has an imposing frontline, ranking in the lower tier in experience (42 starts), but solid as a unit overall over the last couple years.

3) UNC

Outlook: UNC is second only to NC State in starting experience (91), but have underperformed the last four years – 91st in adjusted sacks allowed.

4) NC State

Outlook: State is the only ACC team in the triple digits in returning starts (113). The Wolfpack feature a pass-centered offense, which lends to stats like a 98th-ranked 2.62 sacks allowed per game last season, but adjusted ranks improved it to 70th.

5) Georgia Tech

Outlook: Paul Johnson uses his o-line like few teams in the country with the lightest starting five (284 lbs) in the ACC, and maneuvering it in to one of the nation’s top rushing attacks year-in and year-out. Georgia Tech returns four starters and the other spot is manned by junior right tackle Tyler Kidney, who started six games last year.

6) Florida State

Outlook: Is this the year talent, coupled with some injury luck, guides the Seminoles’ o-line to a strong season under Trickett? We shall see. FSU has four returning starters (50 career starts), but shook things up this spring, leaving a projected starting five with two returners battling each other for right tackle (Bryan Stork/Bobby Hart) and the other (senior LG Jacob Fahrenkrug) behind sophomore Josue Matias, who started one game and played in seven as a freshman.

7) Duke

Outlook: Of the group, Duke’s sacks allowed numbers (20th in adj. SA/44th over last five years) are intriguing due to their league-leading 41 pass attempts per game last season. Bringing back four starters (88 career starts), the Blue Devils should only improve/maintain those stats.

8) Clemson

Outlook: Second-year offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell faces a challenge with the only Tigers’ starting experience coming from senior center Dalton Freeman and junior left tackle Brandon Thomas. Taking the three open spots on the Clemson o-line are converted defensive tackle Tyler Shatley (RG) and sophomores Kalon Davis (LG, 28 snaps) and Gifford Timothy (RT, 36 snaps). Caldwell should shape the unit to be around what they’ve been – not best in the ACC but not the worst either, which will be enough to keep the Chad Morris offense moving.

9) Boston College

Outlook: The Eagles have taken a step back here from when they won the Atlantic Division back-to-back years. They’re in the top half of the ACC in starting experience, returning four starters, but as a unit, haven’t been anything special for the past few seasons.

10) Virginia Tech

Outlook: Junior center Andrew Miller’s 14 starts last season make up the whole Hokie team’s career starts in ‘12. Last year’s veteran unit was strong overall statistically, ranking 33rd in adj. sacks allowed and opening holes for the second-best rush offense in the ACC. Two seniors are likely to anchor the new starters at tackle in Nick Becton (LT, 26 games played) and Vinston Painter (RT, 19 games played).

11) Maryland

Outlook: Besides Duke, Maryland’s impressive pass protection stats last season were a tad suprising (third in the ACC and 29th nationally in adj. sacks allowed) in relation to the overall offensive production. They replace both tackles, but return starters at all three interior line spots.

12) Wake Forest

Outlook: After being the ACC’s heaviest starting o-line in 2011, the Deacs are now fifth (307 lbs avg.), but second-to-last in starting experience (19) and one of the worst in adj. sacks allowed over the last five years (100th – 86th last season).

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