Midseason Report: Year two in offense big for Tiger upperclassmen

Taking an in-depth statistical look at Clemson football through six games

Rod McDowell dives for a touchdown in the second quarter against Georgia Tech

Photo by Mark Crammer

Rod McDowell dives for a touchdown in the second quarter against Georgia Tech

DeAndre “Nuk” Hopkins is slowly getting his name out there – taking ACC receiver of the week honors after his second-straight game of 170-plus receiving yards with scores of 35 and 58 yards (throwing for a two-point conversion too).

Bye comes at good time for Tigers


What may surprise you, Hopkins, leading the nation with 777 receiving yards, is blowing away Sammy Watkins’ numbers in several areas from this point last year.

The junior has more receptions (49-38) and receptions per game (8.2-6.3) and yards (777-623) and yards per game (129.5-103.8), and touchdowns (8-6) as well.

Hopkins has been every bit the big-play threat as well, with 12 catches of 20-plus yards (touchdowns of 34, 35, 35, 58 and 60 yards) to Watkins’ 14 explosive plays through six games last season.

It’s indicative of the whole Tigers offensive unit outperforming year one in Chad Morris’ scheme, by leaps and bounds in some areas.

In every category tracked here this season, the ’12 Clemson ‘O’ holds the edge in all but one (yards per pass, 9-8.7) – scoring offense (41.3-35 points per game), total yards (525.8-472.3 YPG), plays per game (82.2-77) and third down conversions (54 percent-48 percent) most notably.

Tajh Boyd has exactly six more passing yards (1,748-1742) with one less touchdown (15-14), but is completing passes at much higher rate (68.2-61.3) with a bigger impact in the rushing game – 308 yards gained (before sacks and tackles for loss) to 218 last season and second on the team in rushing.

Andre Ellington, leading the ACC with 597 rushing yards, is improved in every key stat, with 14 runs of 10 or more yards this season. Backup tailback Rod McDowell’s impact is what really jumps off the charts – having as many touchdowns (4) now as he had carries at this point last year, averaging 5.1 yards carry with four runs of 10 or more yards.

Category '12 Clemson '11 Clemson
Scoring Offense 41.3 PPG 35 PPG
Total Yards 525.8 YPG 472.3 YPG
Cmp. Pct. (Tajh Boyd) 68.2 61.3
Yards Per Pass (Tajh Boyd) 8.7 9
Passing Efficiency (Tajh Boyd) 159.2 156.1
Plays per game 82.2 77
Explosive plays per game 11 10.6
3rd Down Pct. 54 48
Yards Per Carry 4.6 4.1
Yards Per Play 6.4 6.1

Watkins, due to the suspension and later ailments, has indeed had the dreaded “sophomore slump,” with no catches of 20 or more yards in his 16 receptions – averaging 7.4 yards on 5.3 receptions per game. I’ll cover special teams in another post, but Watkins’ struggles have carried over into the new kick return duties, with a third-best on the team average of 16 yards per return.

Sticking at receiver, Jaron Brown is two catches (12) and two touchdowns (0) short of his ’11 run, but is averaging slightly more yards per catch (15.8-14.6) with two of 20 or more yards.

The Dorman duo of Charone Peake and Adam Humphries used the extra playing time in Watkins’ absence to improve their numbers, with 32 more catches (38-6) and 170 more yards (237-67) – 6.2 yards per on 6.3 catches per game.

Martavis Bryant, another local product from T.L. Hanna, made an impact in very limited action an injury pre-BC, hauling in touchdown catches for his only two receptions for 61 receiving yards.

If there was spot invaluable to production last season, it was tight end with Dwayne Allen’s Mackey Award-winning season, and so far, Brandon Ford has stepped in nicely – with as many scores as Allen (4) at midseason and 20 catches for 234 yards.

Stats to Win

Giving up, and understandably so, season-highs rushing yards and attempts – and their second-worst yards per pass-and-play numbers, Clemson bucked the trend of the six important stats (70-plus percent correlation to wins last season) telling the story against Georgia Tech.

While Clemson held the advantage in total yards (601-483) and rushing attempts (51-46), the Jackets were on top in yards per pass (10.3-9.5), yards per play (8.1-6.5), yards per rush (7.4) and rushing yards (339).

And Clemson can’t thank the turnover margin either, in which they were minus-two (two interceptions) – a stat where with the edge, opponents have won 74.6 percent of the time through five weeks this season, according to Seldom Used Reserve. Going in, teams with two turnovers won just 47.3 percent of the time, while those with none triumphed 71.3 percent of the time according to their numbers.

Paul Johnson’s Jackets are atypical in scheme and philosophy though, as they often edge teams in yards per pass with a playaction effect essentially on every pass playcall.

And it’s also a testament to the Tiger D’s resiliency that Georgia Tech didn’t score off from either turnover (fourth-down stand and blocked field goal), rendering that effect on the game null and void.

Category Clemson Georgia Tech
Yards Per Pass 9.5 10.3
Yards Per Play 6.5 8.1
Total Yards 601 483
Rushing Yards 204 339
Yards Per Rush 4 7.4
Rushes 51 46

Going fast

Referenced earlier Georgia Tech’s advantage in yards per play and several more offensive categories, but Clemson ran 33 more offensive plays last Saturday.

One reason why, of course, is the pace of Chad Morris’ scheme, which used roughly seven less seconds between snaps in game-time than the Jackets, and overall, were more methodical than hitting big plays.

The Tigers had their longest drive in both yards (90) and plays (14) in the third quarter, averaging 23.4 seconds in game-time between snaps, and sped it up on an ensuing touchdown drive, at 18.25.

In the stretch of five-straight scores in the first half, they averaged 17.5 seconds per play.

The Tigers had only three non-scoring drives (not counting the kneel-down with 24 seconds left), running at 19 seconds per play.


* Tigers Drop in FEI Ranks: The AP rankings weren’t the only one that Clemson dropped in over the weekend, also falling in Football Outsiders’ Fremeau Efficiency Index, from 19th to 29th. With six games to go, the statistical formula projects 3.9 FBS wins left on the schedule – 41st in game, 14th in offensive and 92nd in defensive efficiency with a field position advantage of 60. In any ranking, South Carolina is the toughest opponent left on the schedule, but in FEI, they are 10th, with an offensive efficiency of 41st and defensive of third overall. NC State is the only other remaining ACC opponent in the top-40, at 31st, with a struggling ‘O’ (80th) and solid ‘D’ (30).

* Boyd Range and Accuracy Update: SUR is keeping track of Boyd’s accuracy in range and place on the field this season, and it’s provided some interesting numbers at midseason. In their measures, the junior gunslinger is only below 50 percent in completion percentage in throws of over 21-plus yards (10-24 for 395 yards – 6 touchdowns and 2 interceptions) and from 0-5 yards on the right side of the field (9-19 for 58 yards and two touchdowns). Almost half of his throws have been behind the line of scrimmage (44 percent) – completing 43-of-46 for 345 yards with an interception. He’s second-most accurate from 16-20 yards downfield, completing 10-of-14 throws for 211 yards.

* Red Zone Offense and Defense/3rd Down D Nos.: The Tigers rank fourth nationally in red zone offense, with 20 touchdowns in 29 drives, and 24th in red zone defense, forcing seven scoreless and six field-goal drives out of 24. With opponents in first-and-goal territory though, they've given up seven touchdowns in eight chances. Clemson ranks 28th in third down defense – opponents converting 33 percent of the time (for a reference point, the Tiger offense is converting 54 percent of tries).

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