Clemson's red zone strength meets Wake Forest's weakness

The Clemson Sports Blog

Wake Forest's Mike Campanaro evades Clemson's Jonathan Willard as he returns a punt 50 yards for a touchdown.

Photo by Mark Crammer

Wake Forest's Mike Campanaro evades Clemson's Jonathan Willard as he returns a punt 50 yards for a touchdown.

The Deacs have a problem, which Kerry Capps touched on Monday – they aren’t converting on third down or holding the line in the red zone.

Swinney previews Wake Forest

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They rank 115th nationally in third down conversions (29 percent) offensively, and come off their worst game yet, converting 1-of-15 times in the 16-10 win over Virginia.

Defensively, opponents have scored touchdowns 67.9 percent of the time in the red zone (19-of-28).

Conversely, the Tigers are 10th nationally in third down efficiency (52.2 percent), and are allowing touchdowns at 46.2 percent rate in the red zone – ranked 15th in red zone ‘D’ overall. And the struggling Wake Forest red zone defense faces the No. 1 offense in the category, Clemson scoring all but once with a 69.7 percent touchdown rate. (Per Clemson, the Tigers join only top-5 Oregon and Alabama in the top-15 nationally in red zone offense and defense)

Wake Forest’s offensive issues have been compounded by the loss of junior receiver Michael Campanaro with a broken hand in late September, who made up 52.2 percent of catches and 49 percent of the Deacs’ receiving yards in the first four games – No. 1 in the ACC in receptions (9) and No. 2 in receiving yards per game (105.3). Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said he is "definitely going to play" Wednesday, which could be big.

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

In their last three games without Campanaro, Wake Forest has averaged 19 points, 288 total yards and 169 passing yards per game, slipping to 109th in total, 94th in scoring and 95th in passing offense nationally.

It’s hurt third-year starting quarterback Tanner Price the most, as he completed 60 percent of his passes pre-Campanaro injury and just 45.4 percent since. Senior Terrence Davis has stepped in as the leading receiver in two of the three games, with over 100 yards in each with a touchdown, but had one catch for three yards at Virginia and has had injury issues of his own with a separated shoulder in two games this season.

The lack of the balance has hurt the running game, to the tune of 11 less yards per game (114-125.3), but it wasn't particularly good to begin with, dropping from 92nd to 98th nationally.

Going Fast

If Saturday seemed atypical for the up-tempo Clemson offense, even outside the uncharacteristically low offensive-yard total (295), your suspicion is with merit.

The Tigers scored on back-to-back drives once all game – with drives of 52 and 47 yards punctuated by Andre Ellington (12-yard run) and DeAndre Hopkins (37-yard catch) scores.

Going in, Chad Morris’ crew scored on back-to-back drives 19 times this season, at least twice in each game and over three on average (3.2). Against Georgia Tech, they averaged 17.5 seconds per play, in game-time, in a string of five-straight scores.

The Tigers had six three-and-outs and one four-and-out against the Hokies.

In scoring drives, they averaged 17.9 seconds per play (outside of the last one running out the clock). On non-scoring drives, they fell back to 24.8 and 23.4 secs overall on the game.

Stats to Win

It’s not been a good couple weeks for the six stats to win in college football – despite Clemson’s success, losing all of them this week, but again, the turnover margin was in the Tigers’ favor.

After being plus-three in turnovers against Georgia Tech, they were plus-three again against the Hokies. Per Seldom Used Reserve’s midseason data, teams with four turnovers, like the Hokies last Saturday, have lost 80 percent of the time, while committing one turnover like Clemson, has yielded a winning percentage of 63.

Clemson was edged in yards per pass (13.8-13.3), rushes (49-45) and yards per play (5.2-4.5), while there was a bigger disparity in total yards (406-295), rushing yards (199-135) and yards per rush (4.1-3).

Despite the pair of anomalies, I would expect the statistical look of the game to return more to normal Thursday night.

Category Clemson Virginia Tech
Yards Per Pass 13.3 13.8
Yards Per Play 4.5 5.2
Total Yards 295 406
Rushing Yards 135 199
Yards Per Rush 3 4.1
Rushes 45 49

Misc.

* Tigers move ahead of upcoming opponents in FEI: Clemson moved up three spots in Football Outsiders’ FEI rankings to 26th, and are favored to win 3.7 more games this season with an offensive efficiency of 14th and 67th defensively. South Carolina dropped from 13th to 25th after the 44-11 loss to Florida, with an offensive efficiency of 89th and defensive of 13th – with only two more wins projected. Thursday night’s opponent is 75th overall, with an overall game efficiency measure of 80 (98th O; 38th D).

Offense limited when Boyd struggles

* Wake Forest hasn’t had much success in series: The Tigers have more wins over Wake Forest than any other team not named South Carolina (59). They split the series from 2003-08, but have lost the last three with Dabo Swinney as head coach by 19.3 points per game.

* Boyd Accuracy and Range Update: SUR is keeping track of Boyd's passing stats by length and area of the field, and his struggles in throws to his right side only increased. The junior has completed 10-of-20 passes of 0-5 yards on the right with a pair of touchdowns, and is 6-of-11 in the middle of the field in the same range. To put it in perspective, he is completing passes more efficiently in every other spot, but 21-plus yards in the middle (42.9) and left (30) areas of the field. Boyd is still remarkably accurate for throws of 16-20 yards, hitting 10-of-15 attempts for 211 yards with no interceptions (only better elsewhere behind the line of scrimmage, 47-of-50 for 372 yards with an interception - 23 percent of his overall throws).

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