Hokies inconsistent on offense, defense coming to Death Valley

The Clemson Sports Blog

Virginia Tech running back J.C. Coleman (AP Photo)

Virginia Tech running back J.C. Coleman (AP Photo)

Two games – in an otherwise business-as-usual Virginia Tech season under Frank Beamer in 2011 – weren’t remotely like the rest.

Both against Clemson, a touchdown favorite in each – they dropped a 23-3 decision in Blacksburg in early October and 38-10 in the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte.

Boyd 'anxious' to see Foster scheme


The Tigers touched-up Bud Foster’s notoriously stingy D for 19 explosive plays (runs of 12+ yards and passes of 16+) – 12 by air alone, including touchdown strikes of 24 and 32 ( Dwayne Allen) and 53 yards ( Sammy Watkins) and runs of 29 ( Andre Ellington) and 31 ( Mike Bellamy).

How have the Hokies fared so far this season? Inconsistent at best.

Over the last two weeks against variations of the spread offense, the results have been mixed – giving up 48 points and 10 explosive plays (7 runs/3 passes) to UNC in a road loss and 13 points hosting Duke the next week with four explosive plays (all passes).

Going in to last week, they ranked 96th in sacks (1.33 a game) and wore down an experienced Blue Devils o-line with five sacks last week – four in the second half. In the same second half, Duke had only two drives of over 3 plays, with two forced fumbles and on the game, averaged 1.3 yards per carry (a week after UNC rolled up 334 rushing yards and 7.4 yards per carry).

Life on the road hasn’t been fun for the Virginia Tech defense, surrendering 535 yards and 41.5 points per game against UNC (18th-best total offense) and Pitt (39th-best total offense).

Offensively, inconsistency is a staple too for Beamer’s boys.

Going into the date with Blue Devils, the Hokies averaged paltry numbers – 60th in scoring offense (29 PPG), 86th in total offense (376.8 YPG), 91st in rushing offense (131.3 YPG) and 52nd in passing offense (245.5 YPG).

But after falling behind Duke 20-0 in the first quarter, Hokies quarterback Logan Thomas, wide receiver Marcus Davis and running back J.C. Coleman combined for four scores of 40-plus yards in a 41-0 scoring run.

They posted their most offensive yards (525), rushing yards (269) and second-most points of the season against a Duke defense that had been improved.

A major facet of that victory was the emergence of the true freshman tailback Coleman – the Hokies’ first 100-yard rusher of the season (183) with scores of 45-and-86 yards. His 7.3 yards per carry provide a much-needed spark to the Virginia Tech running game, which had six 100-yard rushing games just from NFL-bound David Wilson in their first seven games last season (nine on the season; averaged 77.5 yards with no touchdowns against Clemson).

Coming off a second-team All-ACC sophomore campaign, Thomas hasn’t quite lived up to the preseason hype, but is on track to out-perform his ’11 numbers, averaging more passing yards (243.2-215.2) and touchdowns (2.3-2.1) per game, with slightly higher interceptions (1.1-0.7) and lower rushing yards (28.4-33.5).

Category With Campanaro Without
Scoring Offense 24.3 PPG 19 PPG
Passing Offense 215.3 YPG 169.3 YPG
Rushing Offense 125.3 YPG 114 YPG
Total Offense 340.5 YPG 283.7 YPG
Tanner Price Comp. % 60 45.4

Defensive/Special Teams Nos. at Midseason and Looking Back

No matter the numbers coming in and in the series overall with the Hokies – can Clemson stop anybody?

The answer so far has been no, giving up 446 yards and around four touchdowns per game, and more yards per play (6.6) than Chad Morris’ offense is racking up (6.4).

A more experienced 2011 unit had its best games against the Hokies last season (6.5 points/294 yards/3 sacks per game), and overall, have a significant edge on this year’s team through six games in scoring defense (19.5-27.3 PPG), total defense (356.3-444.5 YPG), rushing offense (176.9-202.7 YPG) and pass defense (196-242.8 YPG).

In sacks, the 2011 team was closer to two per game (1.83 – 69th nationally at the time) than 2012’s 1.17 (104th nationally).

Clemson sports information pointed out in its Virginia Tech notes that Brent Venables’ unit is improved in the second half of games though, allowing two touchdowns total in the wins over Auburn, BC, Georgia Tech and Furman.

Against last season in full, this year’s team is giving up two less points per game despite surrendering around 50 more yards (445.5 to 394.4).

How these midseason numbers shake out individually is even more interesting.

Category '12 Clemson '11 Clemson
Scoring Defense 27.3 PPG 19.5 PPG
Total Defense 445.5 YPG 356.3 YPG
Rushing Defense 202.7 YPG 160.3 YPG
Passing Defense 242.8 YPG 196 YPG
Sacks Per Game 1.17 1.83
Pass Efficiency Defense (Lower number is good) 135.5 124.03

Clemson has seven sacks on the season, and only two come from your traditional pass rushers – defensive ends – neither one from starters Malliciah Goodman or Corey Crawford. Instead, sophomore Vic Beasley, in roughly 26 less snaps per game, has both of them.

At this point last season, Goodman had 10 more tackles (21-11) and a sack and tackle for loss (3.5-2.5) more with fewer snaps than his current senior campaign.

Crawford has 21 tackles with two for loss in 260 snaps, while Beasley has six in 115 and Tavaris Barnes has added nine tackles in 116.

At linebacker, the two veterans playing significant time, Tig Willard and Quandon Christian, are having near mirror image seasons to ’11 (for better or worse). Willard has one more tackle (41-40) with the same tackles for loss (2.5), but with four pass breakups, while Christian has the same number of tackles (25) with 1.5 more for loss and an interception in each.

Tiger D ready to improve in second half


Versatile veteran DB Xavier Brewer is having a down season, with no pass breakups or interceptions and 27 tackles (1.5 for loss) in 279 snaps (had an interception and four PBUs through six games last year). Sophomore Bashaud Breeland has used the extra playing time as a starter to rack up 28 tackles (2.5 TFL) with two pass breakups and a sack (13 tackles/PBU in limited time at midseason ’11).

At safety Jonathan Meeks leads the defense by far in snaps (390), but had four tackles (36), a pass breakup (3) and an interception more last year halfway through. Rashard Hall’s trajectory is an interesting study – playing through injury at this point in 2011 and coming off surgery for that injury in 2012. The senior has one less tackle (24), but more interceptions (3-1), tackles for loss (2-0.5) and pass breakups (2-0).

Among underclassmen, DeShawn Williams stands out at defensive tackle, with a team-leading 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks in 180 snaps, while Grady Jarrett is doing the dirty work at nose-guard, has 27 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in 232.

True frosh defensive back Travis Blanks has 32 tackles in 252 snaps, with a tackle for loss and pass breakup.

In the special teams realm, Catanzaro has been flawless, hitting 4-of-4 from 30-plus yards and 7-of-7 everywhere else. Going into the season, the punter position battle was one to watch – the senior Spencer Benton won the job over the freshman Bradley Pinion, but is averaging less yards per punt (41.2-43.8) and net yards per punt (38.7-42.8) than Pinion with 15 more attempts. Benton does have the advantage in pinning teams inside the 20 (5-0) and 50-plus yard punts (3-1).

In a year light on kick returns due to the new rules, Andre Ellington has been the Tigers’ most potent threat, averaging 25.5 yards per on six tries, while Sammy Watkins is averaging 16 per on eight attempts.

Records and Rich Rod

We’ve been keeping track of the Morris offense’s year-to-year progression, but Clemson sports info is already looking ahead to the many school records, ranging from as old as 1900 (points per game) to last season (touchdown passes per game), which could fall by season’s end.

Overall, the ’12 Tigers are on pace to break the plays (82.2-78.8), points (41.3-37), total offense (525.8-440.8 YPG), touchdowns (5-4.8), third down conversion (54-51.6 percent) and first downs (26.2-23.5) per game marks.

Just in the passing game, pass attempts (43.5-37.7), completions (26-23.4), completion percentage (67.2-65.8), pass efficiency (155.4-148.2), passing offense (324.7-283.6 YPG) and touchdowns passes (2.67-2.36) per game are primed to fall.

Category '12 Clemson Record
Scoring offense 41.3 PPG 37 PPG
Total yards 525.8 YPG 440.8 YPG
Cmp. pct. 67.2 65.8
TDs per game 5 4.8
Passing Efficiency 155.4 148.2
Plays per game 82.2 78.8
First downs per game 26.2 23.5
3rd down pct. 54 51.6
Passes per game 43.5 37.7
Completions per game 26 23.4
Passing offense 324.7 YPG 283.6 YPG
TD passes per game 2.77 2.36

The off week was also used by the CU SID to draw the interesting comparison between Morris and Rich Rodriguez’s run in TigerTown through 20 games.

The run-fueled offense of 1999-2000 holds the edge by a wide margin in rushing yards (3,996-3,426) and attempts (931-791) – the same the other way in passing for Morris’ crew (49 TD passes to 30; 295 YPG to 238.6; 143.76 to 132.81 in passing efficiency).

The overall stats are pretty close – the hurry-up spread with the advantage in points (35.9-33.4) and total offense (466.3-438.4), but actually trailing in plays per game (77.8-77.4).

Category Morris Rodriguez
Record 15-5 14-6
Scoring offense 35.9 PPG 33.4 PPG
Rushing Offense 171.3 YPG 199.8 YPG
Total offense 466.3 YPG 438.4 YPG
Passing offense 295 YPG 238.6 YPG
Plays per game 77.4 77.8
Yards per play 6.02 5.63
TDs-INTs 49-18 30-19
Pass efficiency 143.76 132.81
Completion % 61.7 58.8


* 3rd/4th-and-short dominance: Last year, Seldom Used Reserve kept track of a struggling Tiger offense in short yardage situations – those problems are no more in 2012. Facing third-and-one, they’ve converted 10-of-11 times, and fourth-and-one, 4-of-5.

* Watkins' targets: SUR also offered one explanation for Sammy Watkins’ low numbers this year, as he’s been targeted 25 times, and 13 of them behind the line of scrimmage. As I pointed out last week, he has no catches of 20 yards yet this season.

* Tigers move up in FEI ranks after bye: Clemson now checks in at 26th in the Football Outsiders’ FEI rankings – up to 13th in offensive efficiency. Though the BCS doesn’t like them as much (at 14th), FEI is still a FSU believer, as the Tigers’ highest ranked opponent this season at 7th. South Carolina dropped three spots to 13th, while NC State is only two spots back from Clemson at 28th, with a 29th-best offensive efficiency and 38th-ranked defensive.

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