Curious playcalling, pressure on Tajh Boyd combine for sour finish

The Clemson Sports Blog

Clemson running back Roderick McDowell runs for a first down near South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson running back Roderick McDowell runs for a first down near South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney during the first quarter at Memorial Stadium in Clemson.

Some big picture items likely came into play for Clemson’s fourth-straight loss in the Palmetto State series last week, but statistically and from re-watching the game, some aspects offensively especially stood out.

With a season-low 59 plays, the Tigers called for passes one more time (30) than runs (29), and by the numbers, that made little sense.

On first down, they averaged 7.2 yards per carry against a top-20 USC rush defense – on second-and-long, 3 yards per carry, and overall, 4.1 yards per.

In those same categories, Morris called passes 57.9 percent of the time. On first down, they hit around their season mark at 9.5 yards per pass, but in second-and-long, averaged a paltry 1.3 yards per. USC sacked Boyd four times on first down passes, and twice on second-and-long.

Individually, Andre Ellington only getting 15 carries was a crime with his production level Saturday night – seven of those carries went for five yards or more (three of 10 or more), while backup Rod McDowell provided a spark with 15.7 yards per on three carries.

But overall, the theme was Tajh Boyd’s struggles and USC’s pressure making it worse.

If there’s one place in the game I’d point to, it was the Tigers’ fourth possession – right after Boyd had thrown a picture-perfect 43-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins, jumping out to a 14-7 lead.

Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney started to make his presence known.

It only shows up in the box score as a hurry, but on a rollout to the right, nobody blocked Clowney on the weakside and he caught up with Boyd so fast the Tigers’ signal-caller had no choice but to throw it out of bounds. Just a couple plays later, Clowney fought through a hold for his second sack of the game. And on third down, Clemson called a bizarre quarterback run on third-and-nine, out of a run formation with the fullback, that was stopped well short.

If he wasn’t already, it appeared Clowney was in the back of Boyd’s mind from then on – the junior QB just didn’t look comfortable in the pocket all night.

In the first three drives, where Clemson scored its only two touchdowns, Boyd completed 4-of-7 throws for 83 yards – in the final nine possessions, Boyd threw two picks and hit 7-of-17 attempts at 4.2 yards per pass (less than half his season average).

And it trickled down to the receivers, who weren’t getting the on-the-money throws they were used to, but had some critical drops as well, including Hopkins’ one past the sticks with some room to move on third-and-16 with under four minutes left, to essentially seal the loss.

Category Clemson USC
Yards Per Pass 7.6 7.6
Yards Per Play 5.6 5.2
Total Yards 328 444
Rushing Yards 145 134
Yards Per Carry 4.1 3
Rushes 35 45
Turnovers 2 1

More on Boyd

Want more evidence that South Carolina sent Clemson’s offense out of rhythm? Stat guru Seldom Used Reserve updated his Boyd distance and area of the field numbers and had some interesting tweets out of it.

Going in, the Tigers had used the field pretty evenly, around 40 percent on the left and right, but against the Gamecocks, threw it to the left side of the field only four times (out of 24 chances).

And to the right, Boyd completed just 4-of-12 for 65 yards.

A major aspect of the Tigers’ scheme this season was quick behind-the-line-of-scrimmage passes, using blocking and speedy receivers to pick up yards. After making up almost 25 percent of the passing game through 11 games, Boyd did not throw one all game against USC.

Clemson v. Clemson

Now, the good?

The big difference between the ’12 and ’11 Tigers is obviously the ACC title, and secondly, one less regular season loss.

The offensive numbers year-to-year aren’t really in the same ballpark, averaging nine more points (42.3-33.3) and 25 more yards (518.3-493.3) on almost five more plays per game (80.2-75.5). Year two in Morris’ scheme also rendered almost two more 20-plus yards plays per game (6.8-4.9).

Boyd bettered his numbers by a wide margin in completion percentage (66.6-59.9), yards per pass (9.4-7.9) and pass efficiency (168.5-143.1).

Clemson finished No. 1 in the ACC and top-15 nationally in scoring offense, total offense, passing offense (319.58) and pass efficiency (165.45).

Defensively, the numbers are worse in terms of yards in total defense (384 to 411) and passing ‘D’ (197 to 250), but Brent Venables’ unit moved up 30 spots in rushing defense (92nd to 62nd) and rode a top-20 ranking in red zone defense to a spot in the top-50 in scoring defense (about a field goal better than last season).

They round out the regular season 26 spots higher nationally in sacks (66th to 38th) and 59 in tackles for loss (87th to 28th).

Category '12 Clemson '11 Clemson
Scoring Offense 42.3 PPG 33.3 PPG
Total Yards 518.3 YPG 493.3 YPG
Cmp. Pct. (Tajh Boyd) 66.6 59.9
Yards Per Pass (Tajh Boyd) 9.4 7.9
Passing Efficiency (Tajh Boyd) 168.5 143.1
Plays per game 80.2 75.5
Plays of 20+ per game 6.8 4.9
3rd Down Pct. 52.1 44.7
Yards Per Carry 4.4 3.9
Yards Per Play 6.5 5.8

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Comments » 11

michtiger writes:

How can you even mention national improvement when the ACC was so bad this year, along with Ball state and Furman. Fact is we had two challenges in FSU and SC and we folded. This will continue until we get out of the ACC. Can not expect to improve unless you play good opponents. Only Ball state and NCst had winning records this year, last year 9 had winning records. Can not claim improvement.

Xander5000 writes:

So okay Clowney just may be the new Bubba Smith, but we still have a shot at possibly beating 2 SEC teams real soon. I said it before and I will say it again--It doesn't matter what conference you are in or what conference you play against. You still have to play to win no matter who your opponet is. We already beat a so called SEC team this year-(Auburn). Not Clemson's fault that they are bad. We beat the same SEC team that ended up beating the Gamecocks last year-(Auburn). And the year before that we lost in overtime to the same SEC team that won the National Championship-(Auburn). So whoever we play in the bowl game we have to try to beat them flat out, plain and simple that we can do this because it's been done before. DON'T MATTER WHAT THE CONFERENCE IS!

BrandonRink writes:

in response to michtiger:

How can you even mention national improvement when the ACC was so bad this year, along with Ball state and Furman. Fact is we had two challenges in FSU and SC and we folded. This will continue until we get out of the ACC. Can not expect to improve unless you play good opponents. Only Ball state and NCst had winning records this year, last year 9 had winning records. Can not claim improvement.

Overall, the schedule was tougher last season, 23 spots higher in Sagarin's SOS rankings year-to-year, but they only faced one less top-50 defense (5) than last season (6) http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/fe...
http://footballoutsiders.com/stats/fe... .

Jumping nine points per game on average is certainly improvement, but I understand the frustration with losing the two big games. It's tough to say Clemson folded at FSU though - poor kick coverage opened the door for the Seminoles' momentum, and FSU's offense and defense executed a pretty high level in the second half. Morris called one of his best games against that 'Noles defense, but their deep d-line wore down Clemson's o-line eventually.

TRUETIGER1 writes:

Let's just keep telling ourselves how good we are, it's much easier than facing the truth.

omnipotent1 writes:

Another curious stat was the lack of touches by Sammy as mentioned in the no calls of screens, but also no jet sweeps. Think Morris dropped the ball?

dkilgore1 writes:

Morris doesn't seem to coach well in big games. He let South Carolina's DC out coach him. He went away from what made that offense productive. He still has a high school mentality. You have to make adjustments on this level.

tigerdh writes:

in response to omnipotent1:

Another curious stat was the lack of touches by Sammy as mentioned in the no calls of screens, but also no jet sweeps. Think Morris dropped the ball?

You are dead on, we never found a consintant way to get the ball to Sammy and Nuk. They have been the playmakers all year. Ellington was running the ball in the first quarter but we quit going to him. Maybe SC made adjustments that prohibited that.

Bigboots writes:

Very conservative, unimaginitive play-calling by Morris and company. This was a real disappointment.
It looked like the goal wasn't a win, but just to keep the game from becoming a blowout.

cuGIZ82 writes:

With all the pressure FSU and SC were able to apply by only rushing 4-5 defenders, I expected Morris to use an extra O-linemen or TE in his scheme...sometimes a coach has to adjust his game plan in-game and we did not.

Lynx26 writes:

Yeah this is crazy to me.... no excuses for not getting our play-makers involved until the wheels fall off. If you call an aggressive game... we probably give our defense some hope, or better yet help.

Start rolling Tahj.... away from Clowney maybe? lol smh

CUNo1Fan writes:

in response to cuGIZ82:

With all the pressure FSU and SC were able to apply by only rushing 4-5 defenders, I expected Morris to use an extra O-linemen or TE in his scheme...sometimes a coach has to adjust his game plan in-game and we did not.

You hit the nail on the head. Carolina adjusted to our game plan and we did not adjust. For what ever reason (I surely don't understand it), we didn't call the plays that would have helped stop the rush by Clowney such as screens. We also didn't continue to run the ball when we were obviously having good sucess with it.

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