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.
Clemson efficiency (through 12 games)
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).
McDowell v. Ellington through 12 games
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.
Tajh Boyd 2013 passing splits
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?