Three-and-outs have Clemson's defense on its heels

The Clemson Sports Blog

Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. scores at touchdown past Clemson safety Rashard Hall and Clemson linebacker Quandon Christian in the second quarter.

Photo by Nathan Gray

Florida State running back James Wilder Jr. scores at touchdown past Clemson safety Rashard Hall and Clemson linebacker Quandon Christian in the second quarter.

Speed kills with Clemson’s hurry-up offense, but in some situations, that extends to the other side of the ball.

Dabo Swinney acknowledged Tuesday that three-and-outs in Chad Morris’ scheme put pressure on the Tiger defense, but saying the Tigers score 62 percent of the time when getting the first, first down of a drive last season.

How much have the three-play drives hurt Clemson this season? In non-garbage time (Clemson up big or down big with minimal time left) off them, they’ve allowed scores 62.5 percent of the time (5-of-8).

Quick 3-and-outs hurt Tiger D

None

Seven of the eight three-and-outs came in the second half.

It’s a stat that’s hard to put in context of the FBS-level as a whole, but at least for the Tigers’ D, the turnarounds have been tough.

On the season, the Clemson offense is averaging a play per every 20.6 seconds of game-time, compared to 24.2 through 14 games last season.

They hit their best mark in seconds per play (21.2) overall in Tallahassee, bumping the average to 19.2 seconds per on scoring drives.

Against Auburn, the scoring drives were at 22.2 seconds per and Ball State, 19.4.

Clemson v. Clemson

The good news – compared to an ACC 2011 title season – the Tigers are scoring more (39-37.8) and allowing just a half point more per game (25.5-25) doing it.

But the bad news…is there’s more bad news.

In the same four-game sample size, Clemson is allowing more total (442.5-405.5), rushing (206.5-175.8) and passing (236-229.8) yards per game.

Brent Venables’ unit has surrendered 27 plays of 20 or more yards (16 runs; 11 passes) and 6.2 yards per play overall.

What’s interesting though is last year’s defense was no better in the pass rush statistically – both teams with a sack per game (101st nationally now and tied for 98th last season) at this point.

Kevin Steele’s unit had one of its better games last season in week five against Virginia Tech, which may widen the gap even more in average totals by next week depending on the weekend in Chestnut Hill.

Offensively, the numbers are more mixed.

The ’11 squad was better through four games in total yards (502.5-494.5) and third down percentage (54-47.7), and Tigers gunslinger Tajh Boyd on top in yards per pass (9.2-8.1) and passing efficiency (173.7-156.8).

But this year’s installment has the edge in yards per carry (4.8-4.2) and explosive plays (10.5-10.3), and Boyd in completion percentage (68-65.9).

The ’12 Tigers remain No. 1 in red zone offense nationally, scoring 16-of-16 times with 12 touchdowns. Last season, they converted 70.5 percent of red zone trips into scores in their first four games, but scored touchdowns 11 of the 12 tries.

Plays per game are now even (79), just below the 80-play goal for each.

Category '12 Clemson '11 Clemson
Scoring Offense 39 PPG 37.8 PPG
Total Yards 494.5 YPG 502.5 YPG
Cmp. Pct. (Tajh Boyd) 68 65.9
Yards Per Pass (Tajh Boyd) 8.1 9.2
Passing Efficiency 156.8 173.7
Plays per game 79 79
Explosive plays per game 10.5 10.3
3rd Down Pct. 47.7 53
Yards Per Carry 4.8 4.2

Stats to Win

I don’t need to tell you this past Saturday night didn’t go well for the Tigers.

Against FBS competition going in, Clemson had won five of the six important stats (70 percent or better correlation to wins last season) versus Auburn and the majority against Ball State (3-2-1).

Against the No. 4 ‘Noles, Clemson did not hold an advantage in any category – significantly bested in total yards (667-426), rushing yards (287-136), yards per rush (7.2-3.6), yards per plays (8.9-5.5) and yards per per pass (10.9-7.4).

What’s interesting is the halftime stats suggested Clemson’s 21-14 lead was tenuous.

The Tigers trailed significantly in yards per pass (13.3-8.2), total yards (311-253), rushing yards (130-63) and yards per rush (8.1-3.2), with Chad Morris’ crew on top in yards per play (8.2-6.5) and rush attempts (20-16).

Add miscues on special teams and turnovers to FSU’s overwhelming offensive numbers, and it got out of hand quick in the second half.

Category Clemson FSU
Yards Per Pass 7.4 10.9
Yards Per Play 5.5 8.9
Total Yards 426 667
Rushing Yards 136 287
Yards Per Rush 3.6 7.2
Rushes 38 40

Misc.

* Downfield passing: The Seldom Used Reserve is keeping track of passing stats for Tajh Boyd for where on the field and how far he’s throwing. In attempts of 21-plus yards, Boyd is 6-of-15 for 209 yards, three touchdowns and an interception, at 13.9 yards per pass. From 16-20 yards, the junior has been deadly-accurate, 7-of-8 for 139 yards. The quick passes behind the line of scrimmage have been a staple of the second-year Morris offense – 29 attempts (27 completions) going for 217 yards and 7.5 yards per pass.

* FEI Ranks through 4 weeks: The Football Outsiders’ FEI rankings have the Tigers down to 27th (from 18th), with the 20th-most efficient offense and a 98th-ranked defense. Clemson falls in the middle in field position advantage overall (61st). Last week’s opponent? The Seminoles are No. 1 overall, with an 8th-best game efficiency mark and sixth-best in field position advantage. Clemson plays five more top-50 FEI teams – BC coming in at No. 47, Georgia Tech at No. 29, Virginia Tech at No. 24, NC State at 47th and South Carolina at 18th.

* Kicker showdown: In the battle for the O’Rourke-McFadden Trophy this week – established as the MVP award for the winner in the Clemson-BC series in 2008 – kickers have won it twice (Richard Jackson in 2009 and Chandler Catanzaro in 2011). Saturday, two of the ACC’s best placekickers are on display in Catanzaro and the Eagles’ Nate Freese. A junior like Cat-man, Freese is second nationally in field goals per game (2.33), and 7-for-7 on the season (a long of 39). Catanzaro broke the school record for consecutive kicks made (14) with his career-long of 50 yards last week at FSU. The Greenville native has also made 7-of-7 field goal attempts with three from 40-plus.

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