Conventional wisdom says Clemson can’t run the ball against South Carolina. That wisdom says the Tigers only chance is for Tajh Boyd to have a great day throwing the ball. After all, there is no Andre Ellington, C.J. Spiller or James Davis in the backfield.
But, what if Clemson could run the ball against South Carolina?
Lost in the aftermath of a fourth consecutive loss to South Carolina is the fact that Clemson actually ran the ball successfully and led at halftime last year. I’m not attempting to downplay the whipping that occurred in the second half, just pointing out that sometimes you don’t see the forest for the trees.
Clemson efficiency (through 11 games)
Excluding sacks from the rushing totals of last year’s game means the Tigers ran for 175 yards on 29 carries, an average of 6.0 yards per attempt. Remember – there was no garbage time – the Tigers had the ball in Carolina territory trailing by 3 in the fourth quarter, so it’s not like those 175 yards were gained when the game was out of reach.
Clemson run game vs. USC
We know Boyd hasn’t been successful throwing the ball against South Carolina in his two starts – a combined 22 of 53 (41.5%) for 266 yards, 2 TDs and 3 interceptions. Two of those interceptions came in South Carolina territory in last year’s game.
Maybe it’s not the running game that’s the problem.
Why does it seem like the Tigers haven’t run the ball well against the Gamecocks? Sacks. Eleven of them in 2 years for minus 64 yards. In designed runs (and scrambles) Clemson has gained 279 yards on 54 carries (5.2 average).
What I’m suggesting is that Clemson can win if, and it’s a big if, they can run the ball. Seems farfetched, I know. From my vantage point it looks like the Tigers have been pass happy and don’t trust the running game, despite McDowell comparing favorably to Ellington of 2012.
McDowell v. Ellington through 11 games
But if you look at the numbers over the last two years Clemson has been more successful running the ball against the Gamecocks than passing the ball.
Boyd needs to be an effective runner (outside of sacks against SC Boyd has rushed 11 times for 56 yards, 5.1 average) and McDowell needs to be on his game, similar to Georgia way back in August.
Running the ball does a couple of things: First, it neutralizes the large negative plays: Five of those 11 sacks came on first downs leading to 2nd and 12, 15, 14, 19 and 11. Secondly, it extends time of possession for the Tigers. Under Morris when the Tigers have the ball for 28 minutes or more they are 20-0, otherwise they are 10-7.
I’m not suggesting the Tigers forget about the passing game, just that they use the run to set up the pass. Run in passing situations, pass in running situations and don’t be predictable.
Tajh Boyd passing by down (11 games)
Most say a big day from Sammy Watkins is required, but Watkins has been ineffective against the Gamecocks – 14 targets, 8 receptions, 0 TDs, 1 explosive play in 2 years. He’ll likely be blanketed and double covered. He’ll get some, but will it be enough?
The X factor in the passing game – or perhaps the M factor – is Martavis Bryant. In two seasons Bryant has been non-existent against South Carolina, totaling 21 snaps and 0 targets across the two games. That has to change. Bryant can stretch defenses and a deep ball or two could open up underneath passes and the running game.
An underused portion of the Tigers passing game is Rod McDowell. McDowell has 23 receptions on 27 targets (85.2%) and 2 touchdowns and we know what happens when McDowell gets in the open field.
The Tigers need to execute a game plan similar to the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU. Remember that game where the Tigers were so balanced that they ran 50 times and passed 50 times and had the ball for 36+ minutes? Balance and ball control. That’s the recipe come Saturday.
The question is do the Tigers have the ingredients and chef to make the recipe work?
Check out more Clemson stat breakdowns on SeldomUsedReserve.com