Inside Clemson football: Offense efficient, turnover-timing unfortunate in Columbia

Clemson running back Roderick McDowell turns upfield after catching a pass against South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson running back Roderick McDowell turns upfield after catching a pass against South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium on Saturday.

There are at least two stories to a game: the scoreboard and the stats that got you there. They often intertwine, but Clemson's two-touchdown loss at South Carolina had its oddities.

Let me take you back towards the start of the fourth quarter, where the Tigers had two turnovers to the Gamecocks' nil, and South Carolina held a 24-17 lead.

As they're prone to do, Steve Spurrier's offense had just plodded down the field - 11 plays and 75 yards to take 6:14 off the second half clock.

Clemson had moved the ball well, considering the competition and road environment, and that continued.

Going into a game-changing strip of Tajh Boyd with 8:38 left, the hurry-up scheme was averaging 7.9 yards per play (outside of sacks).

Boyd was completing passes at a 74 percent clip for 8.7 per attempt, while averaging an even six yards per carry.

Led by Rod McDowell's 14 carries for 111 yards, the Tiger run game was gashing the Gamecocks for 7.1 per rush. A "Hot Rod" 22-yard run put Clemson in position to answer South Carolina's score as time ticked under nine to go in Williams-Brice.

Two plays later, however, the turnovers came in bunches - Chaz Sutton's strip fumble of Boyd, an Adam Humphries' muffed punt return after a defensive stand, and then down two scores with 3:44 left, two Boyd interceptions in four plays.

The plays South Carolina made and Clemson handed over did a number on some longstanding figures under Chad Morris.

They were a perfect 29-0 with the total yards advantage, which they held 352-318 Saturday, and 11-0 when converting at least 50 percent on third down (6-11).

We center mainly on that side of the ball because the defense held USC under 100 yards of its average, but the run contain struggled, as Clemson surrendered only one less first down-by-ground (10) than against triple-option foes Georgia Tech and The Citadel (11).

Eight of those conversions came from senior quarterback Connor Shaw, who's totaled two of his top-three rushing efforts against the Tigers (94 on Saturday; 107 in 2011).

Playcall breakdown

Noting Clemson's efficiency pre-fourth-quarter fumbles isn't to say Morris called a perfect game. Here's the breakdown which factors sacks as pass calls (while the NCAA does not)...

Categories Rush Pass Total
Overall 24 33 57
1st Down 12 15 27
2nd Down-Short 1 1 2
2nd Down-Middle 3 3 6
2nd Down-Long 3 8 11
3rd Down-Short 1 0 1
3rd Down-Middle 2 0 2
3rd Down-Long 2 6 8

What's interesting is you can't really blame being behind by two scores for the pass-to-run disparity, since only four plays were run in that situation in the fourth quarter.

In Clemson's four other scoreless drives, they averaged one run to every 4.3 passes. Boyd and one errant Sammy Watkins' throw combined for 2.4 yards per pass, while the one run per possession hit 10.8 per carry.

By down overall, the numbers support less and less the lack of run touches.

On first down, McDowell and Boyd (Clemson's only two ballcarriers) averaged 12.3 per rush - on third-and-middle and long situations, the two gained first downs three of four attempts for 12 per carry.

On second-and-long, the nine passes averaged just 5.8 per with two sacks, and on first down, they suffered three sacks, two interceptions and only 3.9 an attempt.

Conclusion: Just like last year, the Tigers' top rusher didn't touch the ball enough.

Conclusion No. 2: It's pretty obvious, but you can't win with four fourth-quarter turnovers...the Gamecocks did their part to start the self-destruction and Clemson unraveled in all three phases. The Tigers' increased efficiency on offense, however, is what sets this one apart from the last two losses in the series. The situation isn't hopeless in the rivalry going forward, but as Morris says all the time, it really is about the Clemson Tigers fixing some internal issues.

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Comments » 21

33dtb writes:

nervous nellies that freak out if nobody blinks or if they get a couple scores ahead.

we've got to keep fighting.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

Brandon - Don't have the numbers in front of me but here are a couple more: 1)Going into last weekend teams that had outgained their opponents had won 81.1% of the time in 2013. 2)Teams with 6 turnovers had a winning % of 0.0% in 2013.

When I get a chance, I want to take a look and see how many (my guess is 0) teams were -6 in turnovers and still outgained their opponents.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

Meant to add...I've been mystified by the apparent lack of confidence in McDowell all season. Of course, some of that could be Tajh's decision on the plays that have a run/pass/keeper option, but it baffled me.

McDowell had 4 explosive plays in 14 rushes. He should have carried the ball at least 20 times vs. SC.

clemvol writes:

Conclusion: Who has the decision on do we run or do we pass. ( We know the answer to this )It's really not hard to look at impressive stats of playing acc teams. Another conclusion: Choked. It started with the coaching staff ( they choked first ) then it filtered down to the players where they choked. Conclusion: Are we to continue to accept and pay for choking that will continue? Final conclusion: Change, It starts at the top.

kimpots writes:

Wow! After all thats said and doner Clemson still lost to South Carolina, just better coaching.

kellytown writes:

We should have given hot rod the ball untill they stopped him. Hot rod was getting chunks of yards. What killed us was the coaching we should have stayed with the run all night maybe a pass here and there. Why in the world would Chad morris pull a Sammy watkins pass attempt if you want to call it that. It was the definning moment in the game it turned the momentum in the game even though it was the first quarter.we were the better team our Defense played outstanding. Our offensive line had a good day considering. bottom line we gave the game away.

TRUTH4U2 writes:

Man to still be writing articles about this game 5 days after the fact. Must really butt hurt over losing again.

FlopEye writes:

Tommy Bowden's legacy continues. After
ANOTHER loss, the Tiger faithful, using
stats and a bunch of " What ifs ", try
to convince themselves that they actually
won the game they just lost. Bowden had to
make his excuses about losing to the weak
sisters of the ACC, not S.Car. He owned
S. Car. This cast of clowns coaching now
can whip up on the pathetic bottom
feeding teams of the ACC, yet crumble
when facing Fla. St and S. Car. But, in
their delusional little minds, by Monday
morning, after another beat down, they
convince themselves, " We won that game,
we just got outscored. "

BrandonRink writes:

in response to FlopEye:

Tommy Bowden's legacy continues. After
ANOTHER loss, the Tiger faithful, using
stats and a bunch of " What ifs ", try
to convince themselves that they actually
won the game they just lost. Bowden had to
make his excuses about losing to the weak
sisters of the ACC, not S.Car. He owned
S. Car. This cast of clowns coaching now
can whip up on the pathetic bottom
feeding teams of the ACC, yet crumble
when facing Fla. St and S. Car. But, in
their delusional little minds, by Monday
morning, after another beat down, they
convince themselves, " We won that game,
we just got outscored. "

I think the vast majority of Tiger fans on this site aren't making excuses and are questioning the coaches.

South Carolina made the stops and forced the game-changing fumble in the fourth quarter, but if you actually analyze the game, it's nowhere near as simple as "another beat down."

clemvol writes:

College football is big business, a million dollar business, agree? Of course we agree. Now the President of this business ( Tiger football team/ Head Coach ) has just lost the major account that supports his company again, for the 5th straight year. Now, do the board of directors ( the fans ) continue to accept this or do they call for a resignation/termination? Keep in mind this is for the survival and future of your company ( Team ). I don't know of too many people that would want to wear your company logo or brand in public. I don't see many outlets selling your company paraphernalia or would want. I don't know that the company ( recruiters ) could bring in the talent or keep any talent if they are told " we are a championship team " but consistently fold at crunch time. Bottom line: This year end competition has always been will always be the single most important event that is crucial your company ( Team ) future and survival. Your company ( Team ) simply does not and i repeat DOES NOT lose to your competetion (rival ) 5 years in a row. Unacceptable and should not be tolerated and it begins at the top. No excuses.

FlopEye writes:

in response to BrandonRink:

I think the vast majority of Tiger fans on this site aren't making excuses and are questioning the coaches.

South Carolina made the stops and forced the game-changing fumble in the fourth quarter, but if you actually analyze the game, it's nowhere near as simple as "another beat down."

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A ONE point
win over your bitter rival IS a beat down to some.

radtiger writes:

Its funny how in the beginning of the season,I tried to point out to you guys how Dabo always feed false hope to the fans and at the end of regular season game we always lose.I was called a TROLL, a COOT and you name it, simply because I was facing the truth and dealing with reality, Now it seems like everybody is seeing what Ive seen all along but I have yet to hear any of these same people throw names at them....My point is Im not being Negative just because Im not delusional about the strength of my team, Everybody is upset because we just lost again to our In state Rivalry but as soon as August arrives, you guys will be right back thinking we are NC material until Fla State and SC whip us up again.....SOS year after year, Whats it going to take???? We arent as good as we think we are and the sad thing is that we are the only ones that doesnt realize that.

essoclub writes:

Turning the ball over six times does not equate to "efficient". In fact, it is the complete opposite of efficient. I will submit that our offense / special teams "efficiently" handed S. Carolina the ball six times.

The lone bright stop on offense was McDowell, who gashed S. Carolina's D to the tune of 14 carries for 111 yards @ an average of 7.9 yds / carry.

However, Morris was true to form. He has had the same modus operandi in all but two big games since arriving at Clemson - pass, pass, pass. He abandoned the run when McDowell was gashing S. Carolina. The Gamecocks ran the ball 50 times vs. 29 times for Clemson. Those numbers are nearly identical to last year's breakdown in the Clemson S. Carolina game. Notice a pattern here?

By way of comparison, how did Auburn beat Bama this year? They ran the ball down Bama's throat, to the tune of nearly 300 yards on the ground.

Clearly, Morris is not cut from the same cloth as Malzahn. We got the wrong guy, again. (See T. Bowden vs. Rich Rod).

It's time to start assigning blame to the Clemson A.D. He is clearly just as clueless and "green" as Morris. It's time to bring in an A.D. who can put his big boy pants on and see the forest through the trees. The whole administration is out way over their skis. Maybe we can find an intern at Bama with some random tie to Clemson and promote him to A.D. That's about how things work in Tiger town.

Here is a thought: The less ties that folks have to the last 20 years of mediocrity, the better. Bring in proven winners with actual experience at the positions you are hiring for, so that they are not learning on Clemson's dime. Ridiculous. Unacceptable.

BrandonRink writes:

in response to essoclub:

Turning the ball over six times does not equate to "efficient". In fact, it is the complete opposite of efficient. I will submit that our offense / special teams "efficiently" handed S. Carolina the ball six times.

The lone bright stop on offense was McDowell, who gashed S. Carolina's D to the tune of 14 carries for 111 yards @ an average of 7.9 yds / carry.

However, Morris was true to form. He has had the same modus operandi in all but two big games since arriving at Clemson - pass, pass, pass. He abandoned the run when McDowell was gashing S. Carolina. The Gamecocks ran the ball 50 times vs. 29 times for Clemson. Those numbers are nearly identical to last year's breakdown in the Clemson S. Carolina game. Notice a pattern here?

By way of comparison, how did Auburn beat Bama this year? They ran the ball down Bama's throat, to the tune of nearly 300 yards on the ground.

Clearly, Morris is not cut from the same cloth as Malzahn. We got the wrong guy, again. (See T. Bowden vs. Rich Rod).

It's time to start assigning blame to the Clemson A.D. He is clearly just as clueless and "green" as Morris. It's time to bring in an A.D. who can put his big boy pants on and see the forest through the trees. The whole administration is out way over their skis. Maybe we can find an intern at Bama with some random tie to Clemson and promote him to A.D. That's about how things work in Tiger town.

Here is a thought: The less ties that folks have to the last 20 years of mediocrity, the better. Bring in proven winners with actual experience at the positions you are hiring for, so that they are not learning on Clemson's dime. Ridiculous. Unacceptable.

That's the thing, you can't just throw out six turnovers and blame it on the offense. Two came on special teams. Two came when down two possessions with under 4 to go.

To me, there's two offensive turnovers - the weird Watkins pass call when moving the ball on the first drive - and then there's the Sutton strip of Boyd driving late.

For a little over three quarters, Morris' offense was just fine - though they could've run it more as I say above, but on a run, the game changed in the fourth quarter.

If Morris doesn't take a head coaching job, I think you'll see a bigger dose of the run next season with more playing time for Kelly and maybe Watson, and adding Tyshon Dye to the running back mix. This season, it's hard not to get guys like Watkins and Bryant the ball with an All-ACC QB.

And on Malzahn v. Morris, it's not like Clemson had the option to get Malzahn - he was already at Auburn and on his way to a head coaching job the next season. Trust me, a lot of schools would take Morris off Clemson's hands, and then you'd see just how narrow the field of top playcallers/OCs are in college football.

essoclub writes:

@BrandonRink: You make some very valid points, and while I understand your argument about the turnovers, you are discounting Morris' inexplicable refusal to stick with the run, when McDowell was gashing the S. Carolina defense. That is inexcusable. Spurrier called 50 running plays. We called 29. The offensive script in the 2012 matchup was almost identical to this year's game.

With that said, Morris' record as the Clemson O.C., in big games, is not debatable. Based on empirical data, and wins vs. losses, Clemson's offense has grossly underachieved in (a) every game against S. Carolina under Morris' watch and (b) the last two games against FSU. Maybe you are looking at a different schedule, but other than the Georgia game, our two must win games were FSU and S. Carolina. The same can be said for 2012. Don't even get me started about 2011 and the WVU implosion, which while not completely Morris' fault, our high powered O could not sustain drives in the 2nd half, because we refused to run the ball, which meant our defense, which we all know was a disaster, spent the entire game on the field running away from WVU's skill players. They certainly were not tackling them.

If the goal of the current Clemson administration is to continue whipping up on weak ACC teams and FCS powerhouses like the Citadel and S.C. State, while consistently falling flat against FSU and S. Carolina, then by all means, you are 100% correct - we should keep Morris. In fact, based on that measuring stick, he should be promoted.

essoclub writes:

Let me add that Morris is the highest paid assistant coach at a FBS public school. I am not aware of any other assistant coach leapfrogging him in salary over the last year: http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/...

With this in mind, Clemson is clearly not getting its money's worth as Coach Morris' "high-powered offense" is consistently shut down in big games, with the exception of the LSU game and the Georgia game. In three years, that's not a whole lot to hang one's hat on, but Morris clearly has one of the best agents in the business who has told him that he should make a move now. Clemson will be rebuilding in '14 and if Dabo is still at the helm, go ahead and chalk up losses to FSU and S. Carolina.

How will Tiger Nation swallow a potential 6th straight loss to the 'Ol Ball Coach, a third straight loss to FSU and potentially, two other slip-ups in conference play? Morris is smart, he is going to get paid, while he can. However, you will notice that Washington passed him over for the H.C. job, as according to an ESPN report a few hours ago, Peterson from Boise St. will be named the new H.C. Maybe the A.D. at Washington actually looked under the kimono of Morris' offense and figured out that it was nothing more than a bunch of patty cake b.s., which consistently implodes when confronted by a stout defense from a top tier team.

BrandonRink writes:

in response to essoclub:

@BrandonRink: You make some very valid points, and while I understand your argument about the turnovers, you are discounting Morris' inexplicable refusal to stick with the run, when McDowell was gashing the S. Carolina defense. That is inexcusable. Spurrier called 50 running plays. We called 29. The offensive script in the 2012 matchup was almost identical to this year's game.

With that said, Morris' record as the Clemson O.C., in big games, is not debatable. Based on empirical data, and wins vs. losses, Clemson's offense has grossly underachieved in (a) every game against S. Carolina under Morris' watch and (b) the last two games against FSU. Maybe you are looking at a different schedule, but other than the Georgia game, our two must win games were FSU and S. Carolina. The same can be said for 2012. Don't even get me started about 2011 and the WVU implosion, which while not completely Morris' fault, our high powered O could not sustain drives in the 2nd half, because we refused to run the ball, which meant our defense, which we all know was a disaster, spent the entire game on the field running away from WVU's skill players. They certainly were not tackling them.

If the goal of the current Clemson administration is to continue whipping up on weak ACC teams and FCS powerhouses like the Citadel and S.C. State, while consistently falling flat against FSU and S. Carolina, then by all means, you are 100% correct - we should keep Morris. In fact, based on that measuring stick, he should be promoted.

FSU shut Clemson down this season no doubt, but Morris' offense put up more yards (426) and as many points (37) as any against a No. 1 'Noles defense last season in Tallahassee. Again, special teams were killer in that game.

They ran 100 plays in a win over top-10 LSU. They're 3-0 against Bud Foster's Virginia Tech D.

In the Orange Bowl, Clemson was down 49-20 at half and the defense had apparently never seen a jet sweep before.

Trust me, I get the frustration - Spurrier has outcoached Clemson each of the last five seasons. In this series, Morris hasn't earned the dinero, but outside of the series, he's done good-to-great. And as I concluded with above, the offense did perform better and move the ball - the late-game turnovers just spiraled the game out of control.

Beating South Carolina is expected and should be, but it's not like their defense has been mediocre and two of Morris' three games in the series haven't been on the road. Either way, the only way Morris is gone is if he takes another job, and I'm not sure that's gonna happen this offseason.

essoclub writes:

@radtiger - you make some great points. I have also never been on the Dabo bandwagon. He was not a proven assistant coach and he had zero head coaching experience. We all just witnessed that the Trojans passed over their interim coach, Ed Orgeron, for the vacant H.C. job, even though his team lost only lost two games during the remainder of the season, after he took over for Lane Kiffin. Clemson should have offered Dabo a job on the staff and recruited a top notch coach with significant H.C. or assistant coaching experience from a top tier program. That did not happen and the rest is history.

If you really want to get depressed, read this analysis of Dabo's success against ranked opponents, when having a week or less time to prepare. Enjoy.

http://garnetreport.com/dabo-and-the-...

With that said, the ship can be righted, but the decision to make fundamental changes to philosophy and strategy will have to be top down from the board of directors and the A.D. The current Clemson coaching staff does not learn from past mistakes… adjustments are not made. Period.

essoclub writes:

@BrandonRink - Again, you make great points, but you are still not addressing the fundamental issue with Morris, which is that he quickly abandons the run. In the '12 S. Carolina @ Clemson game, McDowell touched the ball three times for 15 yards per carry. S. Carolina couldn't stop him, but Morris stopped giving him the ball. I do not have the numbers readily available, but I recollect McDowell only touching the ball once in the 2nd half. This year, McDowell was unstoppable. I am sure you will agree with me there, as his numbers support my position. He had 111 yards, for a 7.9 yards / carry average. He was also racking up yards on receptions.

For the first time in five years, we were actually consistently gashing them with the run, but again, inexplicably, Morris followed his usual M.O., and stopped feeding McDowell the ball. There is no explanation other than Morris is a pass first guy who will use the pass to set up the loss, as opposed to using the run to set up the pass. In last year's game against FSU, again, Morris inexplicably stopped feeding Ellington and McDowell in the 2nd half. FSU's D made halftime adjustments, our offense did not.

There are no morale victories in sports; coming close does not count. While I appreciate that Morris has had some success against Va Tech., it is not even debatable that Va Tech has been at their weakest, when looking at a 20 year stretch, during the last three years.

Based on my analysis, Morris in underachieving. How will another year change the fact that he refuses to stick with the run? It will not. You know it and I know it. Bank on losses to FSU and S. Carolina next year if no changes are made to (1) coaching staff members, (2) recruiting priorities (0-line) and (3) offensive philosophy (run first, pass second).

33dtb writes:

in response to FlopEye:

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A ONE point
win over your bitter rival IS a beat down to some.

All-time record 566–544–44 (.510)

Took OBC what, 5 seasons of 10 win seasons to get y'all over .500 ????????

33dtb writes:

...."Based on my analysis, Morris in underachieving. How will another year change the fact that he refuses to stick with the run? It will not. You know it and I know it. Bank on losses to FSU and S. Carolina next year if no changes are made to (1) coaching staff members, (2) recruiting priorities (0-line) and (3) offensive philosophy (run first, pass second).".......

How 'bout the way he treated Nuk last year???
If Sammy was dressed out, Nuk got VERY few touches....

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