Inside Clemson football: Tigers will be measured by finish

Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins carries the ball against Virginia.

Photo by Sefton Ipock

Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins carries the ball against Virginia.

Sometimes statistics lie. Or at the very least they don’t tell the entire story. That’s the reason I believe in statistics combined with the eyeball test. The eyeball test puts some context around the numbers and leads to a better all-around analysis.

Putting together the numbers below I noticed that despite racking up over 600 yards of offense and 59 points that a couple of the categories showed only marginal improvement.

Looking at the stat sheet post game told me that Clemson was 6-for-17 on third downs. What those numbers didn’t tell me is that the Tigers were 5-for-10 on third downs with the starters, including a 96 yard touchdown pass from Tajh Boyd to Sammy Watkins on 3rd and 15, and 1-for-7 with Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly at the helm.

Next, the red zone touchdown percentage caught my eye. Only four touchdowns in six trips into the red zone? This is a disaster waiting to happen! Not so much. When the starters were in it was three touchdowns in three trips, while the backups went 1-for-3.

But statistics can lie both ways. Officially, the Tigers finished with 175 yards rushing. Sounds good, yet midway through the second quarter on the first 10 carries of the game Clemson totaled just 12 yards rushing. The vast majority of the Tigers first half rushing yards came on two plays – a 16 yard run by Rod McDowell, followed shortly by a 25 yard touchdown run by McDowell.

The Tiger running game appears inconsistent and very thin. How thin? With Zac Brooks resting a shoulder and C.J. Davidson nursing a knee, starter Rod McDowell was inserted into the game with a 42-10 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Also, it appears the defense is improved and the eyeball test tells me that’s so. The question is how much? In nine games the defense has faced four offenses ranked 81st or worse by the NCAA (Syracuse 81, Virginia 91, Boston College 111 and Wake Forest 114) and an FCS team. The two good offenses, Georgia and Florida State, had 545 and 565 yards respectively against the defense.

Looking ahead, Georgia Tech has been a middle of the road offense on average (55) and South Carolina a little better (39).

On the flip side, these are two of the top three (statistically) defenses that the Clemson offense will face (the top was Florida State). Georgia Tech is a surprising 14th in the country, while South Carolina comes in at 24th.

In particular, Georgia Tech is only giving up 103 yards per game on the ground and with the Tigers hit or miss running game expect a lot of passes next Thursday night.

The Georgia game seems like so long ago and like just yesterday at the same time. College football is unforgiving for a team like Clemson. Another loss and the accomplishment of beating a relatively healthy Georgia team fades a little more, becoming a distant, less relevant memory.

Losses in November sting a little more and not just because an arch rival is on the schedule. The losses linger because the regular season is coming to a close. It’s the vast emptiness between the regular season and bowl game where recent setbacks are much fresher than wins over top 10 teams way back on August 31st and that causes the mind to wander to missed opportunities and “if we had just” scenarios over and over.

Three wins and that wait is not much of a problem. Anything less and many fans will be wondering what went wrong.

Check out detailed breakdowns of Tajh Boyd's passing game and his top targets on SeldomUsedReserve.com

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