Big-play passing game was lacking without Sammy Watkins

The Clemson Sports Blog

DeAndre Hopkins celebrates with Tajh Boyd after scoring a touchdown against Ball State

Photo by Mark Crammer

DeAndre Hopkins celebrates with Tajh Boyd after scoring a touchdown against Ball State

Two games into year two of the system, Chad Morris’ offense is looking pretty good.

The Tigers are ahead of 2011 averages at this point in total yards (527 to 472), passing yards (290 to 266), rushing yards (237 to 206), and plays per game (85.5 to 70) among more categories.

Clemson ranks ninth nationally in third down percentage (57.14), over the 43.3 percent conversion to start against Troy and Wofford last year.

Category '12 Clemson '11 Clemson
Scoring Offense 39 PPG 39 PPG
Total Yards 527 YPG 472 YPG
Cmp. Pct. (Tajh Boyd) 75.4 64.4
Yards Per Pass (Tajh Boyd) 7.7 8.9
Passing Efficiency 159.49 169.32
Plays per game 85.5 73.5
Explosive plays per game 10 10.5
3rd Down Pct. 57.14 43.3
Yards Per Carry 5.2 5.2

In terms of the scoreboard, both averaged 39 points through two contests, also tied in yards per carry (5.2).

Similar as well are explosive play numbers, this year’s edition hitting 10 in each game (12 passes of 16 or more yards; 8 runs of 12 or more yards), while the ’11 trial run had 10.5 per game – six pass and six run in the second game against the Terriers and five run and four pass against Troy.

Venables 'happy as hell' Sammy Watkins is back

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Quarterback Tajh Boyd’s passing efficiency stats are slightly down, 169.32 to 159.49, but his completion percentage up, 64.4 to 75.4. His impact on the running game wasn’t as big against Ball State, but the junior is averaging 64 yards on 22 carries – compared to three yards on 20 carries with a touchdown in 2011 at this point.

The only significant difference in last season’s production to 2012 is yards per pass for Boyd, with an 8.9 to 7.7 edge. It’s an area where Sammy Watkins’ return to the lineup will boost those numbers. He averaged 12.5 yards per catch with three explosive plays in the first two games last year.

Stats to Win

Last week, we introduced Seldom Used Reserve’s six stats, that when won on the field, usually mean a win in the standings.

Clemson had the biggest edge last week on Ball State in yards per pass (8.5 to 4.4), which ranks highest among the six key ranks in correlation to wins. The Tigers also had the advantage in the second-and-third-most important on the list, yards per play (6.3 to 5.5) and total yards (526 to 380).

But as has been noted this week, the Cardinals ran wild for 252 yards and 6.3 yards per carry, with a significant edge on Clemson with the same amount of attempts (40).

The total numbers certainly point to areas needing improvement, but the situations are key here.

Category Clemson Ball State
Yards Per Pass 8.5 4.4
Yards Per Play 6.3 5.5
Total Yards 526 380
Rushing Yards 154 252
Yards Per Rush 3.8 6.3
Rushes 40 40

Five of Ball State’s seven explosive plays (four of them runs) came after selected starters were pulled with a 45-10 Tigers’ lead to start the second half.

In the first half against the first-team, the Cardinals averaged 6.3 yards per carry, but much of that came on one blown play – a 54-yard touchdown run. They averaged 3.1 yards per rush everywhere else in the half.

That’s not an excuse Brent Venables will accept, but the final stats don’t tell the whole story for a unit now ranked 98th nationally in rush defense.

Clemson first-half pace on par with opener

After week one, we measured the pace of the Tigers’ offense in seconds per play (in game-time), where the year two opener edged year one by a 2.3 second average (24.2 to 21.9).

Against Ball State, the starters were out with two offensive drives to go in the second quarter, and on the day, the reserve-heavy unit hit 25.9 seconds per play – obviously draining clock as well in the blowout win.

But looking at the first half scoring drives, every one bested last week’s average, ranging from a 12-play touchdown game-opener of 19.4 secs to a 14.7 second three-play touchdown strike to DeAndre Hopkins off an interception.

All totaled, Clemson averaged 20.22 seconds per play in the first half, compared to 26 in the second half.

In comparison to game two last year, the down-to-the-wire Wofford clash kept the tempo up, a play every 22.4 secs.

Misc.

* Last week, commenter Matthew Blackstone mentioned the Football Outsiders’ Fremeau Efficiency Index (FEI) as a solid outlet for a statistical breakdown – and I agree.

The guys at FO use a number of weighted measures, largely based on FBS-level versus FBS-level competition, with game efficiency (scoring offense and defense when the game is on the line), strength of schedule, offensive efficiency (drive success versus expected drive success based on field position) defensive efficiency (success versus expected success in stopping opponents based on field position) and field position advantage factored in.

We’ll use it more as the season goes on, but with so many early FCS games, it’s still a work in progress. Most notably, No. 10 FSU in their rankings doesn’t have any FEI measures besides strength of schedule now due to playing back-to-back lower level opponents.

Venables details struggles in the run defense

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Clemson comes in at 13th, a spot down from last week, with a game efficiency rank of 23, offensive efficiency of 13 and defensive efficiency of 54. They also average out expected FBS wins in the formula, and the Tigers are projected 6.1 wins remaining and 7.8 total – one mark off from FSU’s 7.9.

Six Clemson opponents are top-50 FEI currently with the aforementioned ‘Noles (10), Virginia Tech (12), South Carolina (15), Georgia Tech (25), NC State (31) and Boston College (41).

*Clemson sports information has Morris’ offense averaging 34.3 points and 451.6 yards per game – 5.89 yards per play through 16 games in TigerTown and gaining at least 400 yards in 13 of those matchups (six with 500 or more).

* Mentioned earlier Clemson’s third down offense, but the defense is also top-20 nationally, allowing a just-under 26 percentage of conversion. At this time last season, opponents got another set of downs 42 percent of the time in the same situation.

* The Tigers are 25-0 all-time against FCS opponents like Furman, averaging a 36-point margin of victory in the Dabo Swinney era, but of course, surviving the closest shave in Clemson history against Wofford last season, 35-27. That was the first single-digit win over an FCS opponent in school history. The only other game that close in the last 10 was against Furman, a 28-17 win in 2003. Furman last came to town in 2007 and were dominated 38-10.

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