Looking at Clemson-South Carolina in three parts, along with our typical Tiger football breakdown…
What South Carolina Does Offensively
Steve Spurrier’s USC offense ranks 93rd in yards per game, but according to Football Outsiders’ efficiency rankings, they’re in the top-50 nationally offensively (45th).
Clemson faces the Gamecocks in a situation similar to last season, with leading-rusher Marcus Lattimore on the sidelines.
How did they compensate for his absence last season? Two words: Connor. Shaw.
Shaw burned Kevin Steele’s ‘D’ for 107 rushing yards and a score, at 5.6 yards per carry (YPC), while connecting on 14-of-20 passes for 210 yards and three more touchdowns.
An effectively mobile quarterback is a formula that’s worked against the Tigers already this season, with FSU’s E.J. Manuel carrying it 11 times for 102 yards and 9.3 YPC (the Seminoles averaged 7.2 YPC overall) – hitting 27-of-35 passes for 380 yards and two touchdowns in the lone blemish on Clemson’s schedule.
Shaw joins Manuel and the Tigers’ Tajh Boyd in the top-20 nationally in pass efficiency (16th, 156.9; Boyd is 2nd, 172.7).
In South Carolina’s eight FBS wins, Shaw averaged 40.5 rushing yards per game with three touchdowns. In the two losses? Minus-three yards. LSU and Florida, those losses, were both top-20 rushing defenses, while Clemson ranks 72nd, but they have jumped 30 spots in the category since midseason (after getting Georgia Tech out of the way).
That’s what makes Shaw’s foot injury situation – not practicing Monday or Tuesday according to his coaches – very interesting.
Compared to the season average, the Gamecocks’ offense has dipped a bit without Marcus Lattimore, but they’ve turned it up in other key areas.
They are minus-4.3 in points and minus-27.9 in yards in the last two games against the overall marks, but are converting third downs 53.8 percent of the time (42 percent on the season) and are up 0.2 in yards per pass (8.7-8.5 YPP) – a stat tied strongly to winning.
A tad surprisingly, the red zone offense and touchdown percentages in that red zone ‘O’ are basically the same – scoring 83 percent of the time (right on the average) and getting six at a 66.6 percent rate (68 percent overall).
It’s not necessarily meant to be predictive measure, but we’ve been keeping track of Seldom Used Reserve’s key stats (plus turnover margin) game-by-game (70 percent or better winning percentage with the edge). Here’s the two offenses involved side-by-side:
Stats to win in college football, Clemson v. USC
|Yards Per Pass||9.5||8.5|
|Yards Per Play||6.5||5.6|
|Yards Per Carry||4.5||3.7|
|Rushes Per Game||45.7||39|
Defensively, the Gamecocks are holding opponents to 4.6 yards per play – Clemson, 5.8.
What I’d add in that mix is pass protection, where Clemson gave up five sacks last year to USC, but in back-to-back weeks against the ACC’s team sack leaders, surrendered none and rank 59th nationally in sacks allowed. The Gamecocks have two pass rushers in the top-10 in school history in sacks at the bookends (Jadeveon Clowney – 16.5; Devin Taylor – 18).
Meanwhile, the Tigers’ pass rush has improved, with 3.4 sacks per game in their last five contests, while the Gamecocks fall at 100th in sacks allowed (four last week just to Wofford).
Three games this season, South Carolina has played with either a limited Lattimore (Florida, 44-11 loss) or no Lattimore (Arkansas, 38-20 win; Wofford, 24-7 win), and Spurrier learned a lot from the loss, mirroring (to an extent) his gameplan against Clemson last season in the latter two.
Against the Gators, the Gamecocks got pass-happy, which could have been caused by three fumbles on the day – throwing 63.2 percent of the time on first down and second-and-long situations.
They averaged 3.5 yards per pass on first down and 5.3 per on second-and-long throws – 3.1 yards per carry in their 13 first down runs. On the day, they hit a paltry 1.4 YPC, while Florida put up 1.9.
Against Arkansas (with a top-25 rush defense), the Gamecocks in turn rushed 64.3 percent of the time on first down and second-and-long, at 2.7 YPC – not great, but it helped set up 11.2 per pass for Shaw and co. (9.1 per against Florida).
Against Wofford, the trend continued – running 66.7 percent on first and second-and-long, with 4.6 YPC on first and 3.7 YPC in second-and-long spots.
Just about 365 days ago, USC did the same to the Tigers, only passing at a 25.6 percent rate on first down (2.6 YPC) and second-and-long (2.9 YPC), but especially hurt Clemson on third-and-long – averaging 11.7 YPC and 12.2 YPP in nine tries (8-of-18 converting).
What Clemson Didn’t Do Last Season
Going into Columbia losing 2-of-3 last season, Clemson’s previously red-hot offense had significantly cooled, and facing the No. 5 total defense nationally, it got worse – a lot worse.
Boyd had a game to forget, completing only 11-of-29 passes for 83 yards with a touchdown and interception. Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins were held to nine yards per on seven catches, while the Tigers couldn’t utilize Andre Ellington’s solid YPC (5.1; 66 yards on 13 carries) as they fell behind quick.
Breaking it down, ineffective first-and-third down passing plagued the Tigers.
On first down, Clemson averaged minus-0.1 yards per pass (yes, -0.1), and in third-and-long, only hit 5.3 yards per pass, with two sacks and an interception.
To start drives, Chad Morris tried to run, with 13 rushes to nine passes on first down, but in 16 second-and-long spots, the Tigers passed 75 percent of the time.
They scored only half the time entering South Carolina territory, with two punts and a turnover on downs.
Overall, Clemson had four three-and-outs and six punts in 11 possessions.
Looking for a bright spot? Chandler Catanzaro was perfect in placekicking, hitting from 32 and 40 yards-out.
What Clemson Is Doing Now
Swinney and Morris have already said repeatedly this week the difference a year makes in the Tigers’ offense now compared to this point last year through 11 games.
The stats, which had been on a similar track all season, show the divergence.
The ’12 edition is plus-9.5 in points (44.6), 70.3 in total yards (535.6) and 1.8 in 20-yard plays (7.1), with 5.2 more plays per game (82.1).
Boyd is routing his sophomore self in completion percentage (68-61.5) and yards per pass (9.5-8.2), averaging 3.7 touchdowns per game (2.8 per through 11 games in ’11).
2012 Clemson offense v. 2011 Clemson offense (11 games)
|Category||'12 Clemson||'11 Clemson|
|Scoring Offense||44.6 PPG||35.1 PPG|
|Total Yards||535.6 YPG||465.3 YPG|
|Cmp. Pct. (Tajh Boyd)||68||61.5|
|Yards Per Pass (Tajh Boyd)||9.5||8.2|
|Plays per game||82.1||76.9|
|Plays of 20+ per game||7.1||5.3|
|3rd Down Pct.||52.8||45.7|
|Yards Per Carry||4.5||4.1|
|Yards Per Play||6.5||6|
What the Tigers hope is last year’s offensive output against the Palmetto State rivals was an exception to the rule under Morris, while South Carolina’s pass defense outlier this season is more like the norm against an elite passing offense.
Against a then 28th-and-now-13th-best Tennessee passing attack, USC surrendered 8.7 YPP, five touchdowns and 381 yards in their 38-35 shootout home win. To their credit, against a top-20 Arkansas passing attack the next week – they cut it down to 6.8 YPP, two touchdowns and 277 yards.
Gamecocks’ Tight Ends a Threat: Senior USC tight end Justice Cunninham is averaging 13.1 yards per catch, and sophomore Rory Anderson is hitting 20.3 yards per with five touchdowns. Last season in Williams-Brice, the two combined for 23.7 yards per catch with a score. Shaw has spread the ball around this season, with Cunninham third on the team in receptions (20) and receiver Bruce Ellington having the maximum of 31 (15.9 YPC).
Don’t Throw Out the Record Books?: Per Clemson, the team with the better record (the Tigers this season) has won 72 percent of the time in the last 31 seasons, but in five of the last seven, that hasn’t been the case. Swinney and co. hope this particular stat is due to be true.
Speaking of Records…: 42 single-season or single-game, team or individual records have fallen this season for the Tiger offense, with nine more in range, and they are currently ahead of single-season record averages in plays, total offense, points, touchdowns, first downs, passing yards and touchdowns per game and pass efficiency, third down conversions and completion percentage.
Boyd Range and Accuracy Update: Per SUR’s updated numbers, Boyd is now completing 64 percent of his throws of 21-plus yards to the right side of the field, with five touchdowns and a pick – 22.8 YPP. In the middle and to the left, he’s completing 45.2 percent with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Overall, Boyd has the best completion percentage to the left side of the field (70.8), with the highest yards per pass up the middle (10.3).
In Review: Clemson edged State last week in all six offensive categories to win, and tied in turnovers…
Stats to win in college football, week 11
|Yards Per Pass||9.7||9.3|
|Yards Per Play||7.4||6.8|
|Yards Per Carry||5.7||3|