Inside Clemson football: Tiger running game an 'afterthought'

Football - Roderick McDowell

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football - Roderick McDowell

In Clemson’s season opening win over Georgia, Rod McDowell ran over, through and around Bulldog defenders on his way to 132 yards on 22 carries as the Tigers racked up 197 yards rushing.

Six games later that 197 yards is still the high for Clemson despite blowout wins over South Carolina State, Wake Forest and Syracuse and the Tigers have thrown more than the 30 passes they threw against Georgia in every game since.

Chad Morris came to Clemson talking about his “smash mouth spread” offense. The offense was intended to feature the running game despite “spread” being in the moniker. Theory being that a sound running game would eventually open up the passing game.

I’m not sure when it happened, but Clemson appears to have forgotten the run. Over the first seven games of the season the Tigers have had 299 running plays to 277 passes. When you include sacks, taking them out of the run category and add them to passes (they were obviously called passes, but the NCAA includes sacks as “rushing attempts” in official statistics) that means the Tigers have had 294 passing plays and 282 rushes.

Of course, there could be various reasons for this including injuries to McDowell, depth at running back, offensive line play, game situations, defensive alignment and quarterback decisions among them.

But the eyeball test tells me that the Tigers have largely abandoned the run when the game is in doubt. Last Saturday night on the first play of the first seven drives against Florida State before the game got out of control, the Tigers passed the ball four times and had three runs. Every single run was by Boyd.

In the first seven series of the biggest game of the year a running back never carried the ball on the first play of a series.

I first noticed this trend during the Syracuse game. After that Syracuse game Morris mentioned that the Tigers took what the defense gave them and the Tigers continued throwing the ball even when well ahead.

Up 35-14 starting the second half at Syracuse the Tigers threw passes on the first play of their first two possessions of the half. On the third series McDowell had rushed for eight yards on the first two plays before Boyd was sacked on third-and-2.

Since the beginning of that game the Tigers have had 122 rushes and 123 passes. Add in the 8 sacks and those numbers change to 114 rushes and 131 passes.

The running game has become an afterthought.

As mentioned above, there could be logical reasons for this shift, but my eyes tell me the quarterback and/or offensive coordinator have fallen in love with the pass and/or they don’t trust their running backs or offensive line to run block.

Games situations could force Morris’ hand later in the game, but on early series of the game it would be nice to see a running back get the ball. Then get it again.

And if come the third quarter it’s third-and-2 and the Tigers are up by 21 similar to Syracuse, I expect McDowell or Brooks to run for a first down.

This week I’m looking for the Tigers to get back to the basics and put the smash mouth back into the smash mouth spread.

Check out Coleman's detailed look at Tajh Boyd's passing game this season here

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Comments » 10

clmtgr92 writes:

The lack of a run game shows me two possible reasons. The first being we have no good running backs. I think the staff went "all in" on recruiting Marshall and Gurley and felt they would get at least one. Since they lost both to UGA, the cupboard was left desolate, and it is showing this year. The second could be that Morris "the Tinkerer" shifted the offense to feature Tajh in an effort to get him the Heisman.
Either way the staff needs to invest more time in recruiting top O-line prospects and add more depth to running backs (just ask UGA about that this year).

Xander5000 writes:

Boyd is doing most of the running. A little too much.

O-line needs to make holes to run through more consistently. I saw flashes of it Saturday but we kept getting away from it. We should have and I don't see why we couldn't have gotten at least 4yds. per carry. FSU was more worried about our wideouts and Boyd more than anything. We could have baited FSU's defense to have to come up then burn them when we start flowing the pass in the mix.
We had and have enough weopons to do all of that. We could have slowed things down some, when it got 10-0 just to get a faster rhythm going on a drive and then get faster and faster and faster. Once our coaching staff see we are breaking them up and and moving the ball consistently that game would have been closer.
But ofcourse, by all means we have to catch and hold on to the ball, when we have it.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

McDowell and Brooks are both averaging 5.0 yards per carry. True, the running game has been uneven during the season and I don't expect to run the ball when down by 20 in the third quarter - that's why I specifically looked at the first 7 drives...a running back never carried the ball on the first play of any of the 7 drives and I'm sure Florida State was smart enough to notice.

One other note that I probably should have included: 14 first and goals this year = 12 passes and 2 runs. Very telling.

TigerNE writes:

The fact that Boyd is second to McDowell in the number of carries this season tells a lot of the story to me. The only defenses that may have required a lot of runs from Boyd were UGA and FSU, but he ran the most against WF. I think Morris lacks confidence in Howard, Davidson, etc., and isn't solid on McDowell or Brooks. Weird in a way.

33dtb writes:

Coach Ford never had as little O-Line as Dabo and the "late/great" TB....... That's basically what got TB fired.

Ask Saban if he thinks he's too smart to need a top-notch O-Line. ask Saban what he thought of TB's O-Line.

CUNo1Fan writes:

Amen, it all begins in the trenches. If you can't at a minimum hold your own on the LOS then you can't run the ball and if you are losing the LOS, you won't be able to pass the ball either.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

Didn't Clemson start the season with 4 of 5 starters returning on the OL? There's been a couple injuries, sure..but is it that the line is missing Dalton Freeman that much or did Ellington mask the issues?

rsb8931#286014 writes:


rsb8931#286014 writes:

We have a running game it’s just not as good as our passing game. If we handed the ball off to a tailback 30 times a game we would run for 250 yards a game and then people would wonder why we don’t throw the ball more. When you get beat all the complaints and suggestions start flowing. That’s what we, as fans, are best at doing…complaining and suggesting. I’ve been doing it for 60 years almost. Look folks we run the kind of offense that requires a quarterback to run a lot. If you think Tajh runs it too much wait till next year and see what you get. Maybe. Rod McDowell and all the other tailbacks are plenty good. We have maybe the best receiver in the country out there and it seems to me you should try to throw him or one of his little friends the ball on a lot of occasions. The best laid plans don’t work a lot of times and our plans have not always worked out like we wanted. But let’s not give up on them. If we handed the ball to Rod McDowell 35 times this week off tackle he would rush for 200 yards or more. Maybe we will do that. The days of watching Kenny Flowers catch the pitch on the corner and take it 65 yards down the sideline are over. There is no more option offense. I liked it better than this spread but we have to evolve or die. After we win our next 2 games by 60 points and come back home for a big Thursday night game, maybe all will be forgiven and forgotten. We got beat but let’s not keep on beating ourselves from Monday thru Friday on the social media or whatever this is. We had a bad day but we got a running game we just have a better passing game. And wait till next year if you want to see a running quarterback cause we show nuff gonna have one.

YabbaDaboDooDoo writes:

Well, Clemson's #1 in the ACC in total offense and #21 in D1. If I was Chad Morris I would tell all of you where to stick it. He clearly knows what he's doing. You wouldn't be talking about this if it wasn't for the fact that FSU molly-whopped you. The reason you lost wasn't because you didn't run the ball enough. You lost b/c Dabo got outcoached and outrecruited by Jimbo Fisher. You're probably always going to be outrecruited by Jimbo b/c no state produces better talent than Florida. He's got a built-in advantage. The problem Clemson has is that Jimbo is a far superior coach. FSU jumped on Clemson early and Dabo spent the next 3 and a half quarters trying to figure out what just happened. For those of you who couldn't make it to the Orange Bowl, all you had to do was make it to Memorial stadium on Saturday. Same story, different venue.

I'm trying to help you guys out to see the light. You've got the wrong coach.

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