Inside Clemson football: Opportunity knocks again with national stage

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd walks to the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter.

Photo by Nathan Gray

Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd walks to the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter.

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.

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

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Comments » 7

Jimm writes:

Marty: Your statistics are probably as under-appreciated as the movie "Moneyball" portrayed in baseball. But the 3 'needs" for Clemson-FSU are glaring and open to see. Win 3rd downs, 80+ plays, and 28 minutes. The probability of losing in such a scenario is <1/10,000.

waran writes:

Why do I love this article?

We all want Clemson to win. More importantly, another championship in my lifetime.

But being blind to how we have played recently is not the answer to winning. I like candid assessments and comments about how we have played and what is needed for us to improve. We need to perform better if we are going to beat FSU and then USC and Bama. I hope and pray we do. I know we will all be wishing and cheering Clemson. But lets not pat them on the back and accept mediocre performance from Champions. Go Tigers.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

Thanks, waran. I appreciate the comments and attempt to be balanced in the analysis.

Another opportunity for the Tigers to prove themselves.

mclaurin writes:

Great article. I'm getting a little worn about hearing about crowd noise being a decisive factor. When it's 4th and 16 and a team is down by 2 with 2 mins left....I think that these teams are so evenly matched, the real factor is the experience at QB.

Tahj has been there...VT and Auburn in 11, LSU in 12 and Ga this year.

It's been an awesome 7 weeks. I've been a Tiger for nearly 45 years. My Dad would buy a gen admission ticket for me when I was 8 in 1972 with instructions to meet him at the rock after the game. I went to all home games and most games in NC through high school til I joined the Air Force and left in 86. I left my sons 15YO birthday party in 2008 because I was afraid I'd miss the start of the Alabama game in 2008. I picked them up at half time and have an ex-wife now for such behavior. The only times I remember crying was when Danny Ford got fired and when we beat Miami in OT in 2009. Last year, I left my Dad's ashes on the paw after the Carolina game...well...not all of him. Since we lost, I saved half for a better ending

Point being....I've never experienced Clemson being the main topic on Sports Radio and continually in the discussion about the Championship.

I'll be happy with 11-1...But I don't won't this to end yet. We gotta win this game.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

in response to Jimm:

Marty: Your statistics are probably as under-appreciated as the movie "Moneyball" portrayed in baseball. But the 3 'needs" for Clemson-FSU are glaring and open to see. Win 3rd downs, 80+ plays, and 28 minutes. The probability of losing in such a scenario is <1/10,000.

Absolutely obvious...but that doesn't mean it wasn't appropriate to mention them :).

And I narrowed it to three...there could be 5 or 6 or 7...block, tackle, don't turn the ball over...

Why these three? They're all tied together in my mind. Converting on third down (and stopping FSU on 3rd) means more plays for Clemson, which means more time of possession.

The Tigers record when hitting 80 plays and 28 minutes of possession speak for themselves.

Hitting these numbers doesn't guarantee a win, but it sure makes it more likely....

Appreciate the comments....

waran writes:

in response to mclaurin:

Great article. I'm getting a little worn about hearing about crowd noise being a decisive factor. When it's 4th and 16 and a team is down by 2 with 2 mins left....I think that these teams are so evenly matched, the real factor is the experience at QB.

Tahj has been there...VT and Auburn in 11, LSU in 12 and Ga this year.

It's been an awesome 7 weeks. I've been a Tiger for nearly 45 years. My Dad would buy a gen admission ticket for me when I was 8 in 1972 with instructions to meet him at the rock after the game. I went to all home games and most games in NC through high school til I joined the Air Force and left in 86. I left my sons 15YO birthday party in 2008 because I was afraid I'd miss the start of the Alabama game in 2008. I picked them up at half time and have an ex-wife now for such behavior. The only times I remember crying was when Danny Ford got fired and when we beat Miami in OT in 2009. Last year, I left my Dad's ashes on the paw after the Carolina game...well...not all of him. Since we lost, I saved half for a better ending

Point being....I've never experienced Clemson being the main topic on Sports Radio and continually in the discussion about the Championship.

I'll be happy with 11-1...But I don't won't this to end yet. We gotta win this game.

Great comment. Many similar experiences. My wife is visiting her family this Saturday. I will be sitting at home with beer and Pizza and watching the game with occasional comments on this website. I hope we win and have another memorable game - like so many with the Tigers. Yes, "we gotta win this game".

f8thwlk writes:

This game will be about who has "heart". We will see if Clemson has the heart for a game like this. Personally I think the tigers have heart...They have shown it all year in finding ways to win every game. Clemson has something in reserve that the college football world has not seen. Whether it will be enough against FS...we will see. I like what Dabo say, "Nobody will skin us." That is good enough for me. If we play as we are capable of playing...I for one am satisfied to let the scoreboard speak for itself at the end of the game. This Tiger team has "something" that no other Tiger team since the '81 team has had. The don't flaunt it, but I think it is there. What they have is what champions are made of...You can tell because win or lose they will walk off the field the same way...With their heads held high. It will be the talent of FS vs. the "heart" of the Tigers. This will be a great game. Let's let destiny decide the winner.

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