Inside Clemson Football: Big game 'Hot Rod,' big game ahead for perception

Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney, right, chats with quarterback Tajh Boyd before the Tigers' Orange Bowl practice session at their indoor facility on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 in Clemson, S.C. Clemson plays Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl in Miami, Fl. on Jan. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson football head coach Dabo Swinney, right, chats with quarterback Tajh Boyd before the Tigers' Orange Bowl practice session at their indoor facility on Saturday, Dec. 14, 2013 in Clemson, S.C. Clemson plays Ohio State in the Discover Orange Bowl in Miami, Fl. on Jan. 3, 2014. (AP Photo/Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Below are the pre-bowl game numbers for Clemson that we’ve been tracking throughout the season. While there are areas that can certainly be improved upon the most important statistic is yards gained, because there’s no other statistic correlates more highly to points than yards gained.

In 2013 the team with more yards won over 80% of the time regardless of other metrics and the Tigers are 9-1 when they have outgained their opponents this season.

It seems like I’ve written about this topic endlessly, but I simply don’t understand the Tigers tendency to seemingly give up on the run. As fans, we never know exactly what led to a particular play call. We do know that a senior quarterback with 3,000 snaps in the Chad Morris offense was deservedly given plenty of leeway. We also know that built into that offense are plays where there are multiple options including some with a run/pass/quarterback run option.

The big mystery is why the offense appeared pass heavy at times, especially when Rod McDowell had a senior season eerily similar to Andre Ellington’s 2012 season (especially the projected numbers).

As shown by the numbers immediately above, McDowell shined brightest when the bright lights were on, averaging 6.5 yards a carry and an explosive play (12 or more yards) on almost 15% of his rushes.

While McDowell surged in those three games, Tajh Boyd seemed to struggle as seen in the splits below. Even in a win and 0 interception game against Georgia, Boyd didn’t look particularly sharp. At least one pass hit a defender in the numbers, but was dropped. Sometimes stats alone don’t tell the story.

A drop-off against top flight competition is to be expected to some extent, there was a slightly higher percentage of sacks per drop back in the Georgia, Florida State and South Carolina games and, as I mentioned, sometimes stats don’t tell the complete story. If you’re behind by 21 early, then stats are going to reflect the score and desperation of the situation and it often builds upon itself and becomes difficult or impossible to overcome. Yet that was just one game. In the other two Clemson won one and was in the other in the 4th quarter.

Back in August I wrote that this team had the opportunity to change the perception of the program and the Tigers took a huge step towards achieving that goal with a win over Georgia. But that one step forward has been overshadowed by two steps back in losses to Florida State and South Carolina.

Sometimes it’s not just that you lost, but how you lose that sticks in the minds of players, coaches, fans and media.

This edition of the Clemson Tigers has one more opportunity to even the scales a bit against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, where Clemson has peaked (1982) and crashed (in 2012 vs. West Virginia) and where once again we find this team and program at a crossroads. Somehow that seems fitting, despite being a different venue than 1982.

A win and the Tigers head into what could be considered a rebuilding year with some momentum similar to last year’s victory over LSU. A loss and questions that are already on many fans minds suddenly multiply and become louder.

College football is the ultimate reality show, where a year’s worth of practice, preparation, sweat and tears can be lost on the turn of a single game or even a single play.

At the end of the three or so hours it takes to play the Orange Bowl the reality of the 2013 Tigers will be written.

Will that reality be an 11-2 team that split 4 tough games or a 10-3 team that hasn’t beaten a quality opponent since August?

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Comments » 10

lhaselden writes:

I do not see next year as rebuilding... I see our D improved with another year of experience and a redshirt freshman starting at corner but I do not see any freshman starters like we have had for a few years now... On the O, I see a shot at starting one OL and one RB redshirt freshman, but I do not see any freshman starting.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

I think the defense has a chance to be the strength of the team next season. On offense, you lose 3 linemen that started the season as starters (Timothy, Shatley, Thomas), a QB with 3,000+ snaps and an all-american WR and an under rated RB (see chart above). Those are significant losses (except perhaps Timothy) in my mind.

Could someone step on on the OL? Yes. Could a RB or two step up? Yes. Could a QB step up? Maybe. Could a WR step up to match Sammy's output? Doubtful (for next year). The odds on one of those things happening is probably not that bad. The odds on ALL of them happening is not very good.

Bleedsorange writes:

I agree mostly but all could come true if stout or Kelly (especially ) can build that first year chemistry with at least one receiver like Tajh and Sammy did two years ago if that happens I see the tigers 10-2 again which wouldn't be bad. And lets face it Watson will redshirt and should so it will be interesting considering run happy should be the offensive mainstay next year with Dye and Gallaman entering the mix.

TigerFan95 writes:

We're going to be stacked with talent and versatility at RB--perhaps better than we've ever been--- and by ever I mean even since the Ford days. We'll have more than enough talent at WR to get the job done and I think we'll use both Stoudt and Kelly significantly with a QB by committee approach. Like always, our success will depend on our O-line..Given that we'll be deeper and more talented at RB than WR and QB. I think we're going to be more of a running team than we've been, which is a good thing in my book.

tigerrob44 writes:

in response to seldomusedreserve#284867:

I think the defense has a chance to be the strength of the team next season. On offense, you lose 3 linemen that started the season as starters (Timothy, Shatley, Thomas), a QB with 3,000+ snaps and an all-american WR and an under rated RB (see chart above). Those are significant losses (except perhaps Timothy) in my mind.

Could someone step on on the OL? Yes. Could a RB or two step up? Yes. Could a QB step up? Maybe. Could a WR step up to match Sammy's output? Doubtful (for next year). The odds on one of those things happening is probably not that bad. The odds on ALL of them happening is not very good.

Your comment on next years personnel is as perceptive as any coach could offer. The last 2 sentences' tells the tail of next years team I think. You are right on money. It's good to read a comment that actually is based on fact and not on someone's delusional opinion of the team or the coaches. Thanks for a good comment.

TigerNE writes:

in response to seldomusedreserve#284867:

I think the defense has a chance to be the strength of the team next season. On offense, you lose 3 linemen that started the season as starters (Timothy, Shatley, Thomas), a QB with 3,000+ snaps and an all-american WR and an under rated RB (see chart above). Those are significant losses (except perhaps Timothy) in my mind.

Could someone step on on the OL? Yes. Could a RB or two step up? Yes. Could a QB step up? Maybe. Could a WR step up to match Sammy's output? Doubtful (for next year). The odds on one of those things happening is probably not that bad. The odds on ALL of them happening is not very good.

I see it a little differently. We have the experience related risks like you say with the loses of high-snap count offensive players. But in my mind we also have a higher average level of talent. If Bryant returns, we will be even more loaded at WR without as big a standout. We will have skill levels at TE and RB that we haven't seen in a while. More room for mistakes for sure. But a lot better chance for recovering from mistakes in any one game or any one possession for that matter.

The bigger question for me is how either Stoudt or Kelly will handle pressure. We will have some better talent on the line with guys like Battle, but also some better talent with little experience like Morris and Crowder.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

I tend not to project too much on players who have never played at this level, i.e. Dye and Gallman and other backs.

I think the TE position left something to be desired this year, especially in the blocking and playmaking category though Leggett could grow into a huge threat.

Tajh received a lot of criticism after SC and FSU and while that's understandable to some extent, his body of work over three years may never be matched at Clemson. It'll be interesting to see what happens next year at QB.

Really concerned about the OL. You mentioned a guy who is up and down (Battle) and 2 guys who have 0 experience.

I just think it's going to be difficult to match the numbers given the losses on the line, in the backfield and with Sammy.

Remember - at Georgia and at Florida State next year.

DahlonegaJoe writes:

Proud of our Tigers. Its been a good year. Not great
We must beef up the OL to go along with the talent we have to carry, throw, catch the ball.
While we all wanted more, we have to be realistic about the outstanding contributions made by Boyd and Watkins this year. On paper, we can replace them. On the field, we will see.
GO TIGERS. BEAT THE BUCKEYES.

harryD writes:

Enjoy watching these tigers one last time in January talent like this is hard to come by I don't think they will disappoint us. Watkins is one of a kind and hate to think about watching a game without him.

33dtb writes:

........."Sometimes it’s not just that you lost, but how you lose that sticks in the minds of players, coaches, fans and media.".........

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