Back in late August I suggested that if Clemson responded to the opportunity that Georgia represented the Tigers would benefit from six weeks of positive press, a top-five ranking and improved perception of the program.
The Tigers edged Georgia and now the second major opportunity of the season presents itself Saturday night in the form of No. 5 Florida State. The good news is that just like with Georgia the opportunity comes in Death Valley and at night, which provides the optimal atmosphere to fuel the Tigers.
On the other hand, a loss means most, if not all, of the goodwill and positive media attention the Tigers have garnered this year will be gone, especially with a pedestrian victory over Boston College in the immediate past. The media will move on to other teams and other matchups that impact the national title picture and Clemson’s opportunity will be lost.
For elite teams the stakes get higher with each game and that’s the case here. Stakes were high with Georgia, but they’re higher now as both Clemson and Florida State enter undefeated and the game has both national and ACC implications.
For the last several weeks I’ve written that given the competition (Wake, Syracuse and Boston College) that if Clemson simply had “average” offensive games and didn’t turn the ball over that the odds of the Tigers coming out ahead approached 100%.
That proved true, but the recipe needs to change this week as the competition ramps up.
Over the last 3 weeks the Tigers have struggled with third downs on offense going a collective 16 for 46 (34.78%) including a putrid 4 for 17 (23.53%) against Boston College and have fallen to 5th in the ACC and a mediocre 50th in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS).
Third down conversions are important for any offense, but particularly for Chad Morris’ offense that thrives when the play count is 80 or over. Converting third downs leads to longer drives and more plays.
Why are plays important to Clemson? The Tigers are 16-0 under Morris when running 80 or more plays and 11-6 when under 80 plays.
Clemson efficiency (through six games)
It’s not just offensive third downs that are important this week as the Tigers enter the game leading the nation in third down conversions on defense, while Florida State’s offense is 12th in the nation and converting 51% of the time. Something has to give and whichever unit gains the upper hand has an advantage.
Because Florida State doesn’t run an up tempo offense another key will be time of possession. The magic number for Clemson is 28. The Tigers are 18-0 under Morris when possessing the ball for at least 28 minutes and 7-6 otherwise.
Those three things are my key ingredients for a Tiger victory this week:
1. Win third downs on both offense and defense
2. 80 plays or more on offense
3. Time of Possession of 28 minutes or more
The Tigers proved they belonged in the conversation that late August night in Death Valley and this week is their chance to polish their credentials and accomplish something that no other team has done this season: Beat two top-five teams.
Back in late August I wrote that elite teams are not judged by the pounding they hand out to Duke or Wake Forest. Elite teams are judged on their performance in big games and the Tigers will be judged by what happens Saturday night in Clemson.
Opportunity knocks once again. Will the Tigers answer?
Check out more from Coleman on Clemson's and national offensive efficiency here