Third and fourth down belong to Clemson, on both sides of the ball

Tiger offense is extending drives at a 60 percent clip; defense holds Terps to 1-of-13 on 3rd down

Stanton Seckinger catches a four-yard touchdown pass in the second half

Photo by Mark Crammer

Stanton Seckinger catches a four-yard touchdown pass in the second half

Third down belongs to the Tigers.

That's the way it was on Saturday against Maryland, and that's the way it's been for most of the season.

On both sides of the line of scrimmage.

The ability of Clemson's offense to move the chains, sustain possession and make big plays on third down has become a staple of Chad Morris' offense.

A year ago, the Tigers converted 94 of 217 third-down plays - for a better-than-respectable 43.3 percent.

This year the Tigers have blown that benchmark away by converting 83 of 156 third-down plays, 53.2 percent.

Before making wholesale second-half substitutions, the Tigers converted six of their first eight tries against Maryland, which at the time boosted their season mark to 83 of 150, 55.3 percent.

Those numbers only tell part of the story.

The Tigers are also leading the ACC in fourth-down conversions with 11-of-13 - 84.6 percent - after going 3-for-3 Saturday against the Terps.

The real, possession-extending impact of Clemson's work on third and fourth down is staggering.

On the 156 occasions that Clemson has faced a third-down situation this season, the Tigers have extended their drive, or scored, 94 times. That comes out to a 60.3 percent success rate.

Winning third and fourth-down matchups has become the foundation of Clemson's record-breaking offense.

“Last year on third-and-one, you’d hear everyone in the stands hold their breath, ‘Oh, God, it’s third and one,’” said Dabo Swinney on Saturday. "Heck, us down on the sidelines were holding our breath, ‘Oh, God, it’s third and one.’

"But you look at how our team has improved. They’re like, fourth and 8, let’s go for it, they don’t even hesitate. We trust our players and they’ve earned that.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers' have posted winning numbers all season. Even when busts, breakdowns and problems stopping the run were allowing opponents to pile up big yardage totals, Clemson was doing a decent or better job of getting opposing offenses off the field.

The Tigers capped it by limiting Maryland to 1-of-13 third-down conversions on Saturday. Clemson's season total now stands at 46-of-146, 31 percent.

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