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Inside Clemson football: Tigers' big-play passing game grounded

Sammy Watkins catches a pass in the first quarter

Photo by Mark Crammer

Sammy Watkins catches a pass in the first quarter

Editor's note: In this week's blog, Marty Coleman analyzes some of the early trends from the Clemson offense...

Two games into the 2013 season the deepest route run by Sammy Watkins (that didn’t involve a penalty) has been 13 yards.

Last Saturday, when Martavis Bryant and Germone Hopper were seen going long Watkins furthest target from the line of scrimmage was 6 yards. True, Watkins played less than half the game, but out of the 4 times he was targeted 3 were behind the line of scrimmage and the other the aforementioned 6 yards downfield.

Even Adam Humphries, the possession receiver of all possession receivers, caught a ball 20 yards downfield Saturday, but not Watkins.

It’s early, but 50% of Watkins targets have been at or behind the line of scrimmage and while Tajh Boyd explained Tuesday that teams are playing the Tigers in a way that limits the ability to throw the deep ball that hasn’t stopped other receivers from going deep on occasion.

I like to think of the short passes as an extension of the running game. They’re high percentage, low risk, get the ball in the hands of your playmakers and let them do their thing. I get it, it works, many times to perfection and you want the ball in Sammy’s hands as much as possible. The short passes are easier to complete and there’s always the chance that Watkins will break a tackle and score (see Georgia game).

Tigers turn focus to N.C. State

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But occasionally I’d like to see Sammy go long, or at least longer than 6 yards, and you have to believe that a shot or two downfield to Watkins would affect the chances of defensive backs playing No. 2 tight at the line.

We all remember the failed fourth and 1 failure against South Carolina State, but how many of us remember that on the third and 3 on the prior Boyd hit Watkins with a short pass and Watkins was stopped short of the first down by a defender playing right on him, seemingly not worried about Sammy doing anything but catching a short pass.

Obviously that play didn’t impact the outcome of the South Carolina State game, but a similar play may impact a game at some point this season.

Success Means Elevated Standards

Pre-Chad Morris Clemson fans would have been thrilled to average 5.7 yards per offensive play, but success creates new standards and the standards have risen for the Clemson offense over the last three seasons.

Clemson has been successful in improving the number of plays through the first two games thanks to a 95 play barrage against South Carolina State, but one area where the Tigers are not keeping up is yards per play. While 5.72 yards is nothing to sneeze at, it’s noticeably lower than last year’s 6.28 mark and that was good for only 24th place in my efficiency rankings.

There are several reasons for this drop, most notably dropped passes and inconsistency from Boyd leading to a 60% completion rate through 2 games. It also shows that perhaps the Tigers are missing DeAndre Hopkins a bit more than anticipated.

Boyd has also not been as crisp in the first two games as he was last season and his best games of 2013 are ahead of him. Assuming Boyd is on his game on the September 19th this is good news for Tiger fans.

Despite perhaps not performing up to the standard he himself has set, Boyd’s refusal to lose is still there, strong as ever.

When Tajh plays his last game at Clemson and all the touchdowns, highlights and records are tallied the thing I will miss most about having #10 at quarterback is Boyd’s heart. While we repeatedly measure quarterbacks in endless categories with seemingly endless numbers, one thing not on any stat sheet shines through at the end of the day: Tajh Boyd is a winner.

Check out more on Boyd's year thus far here.

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Comments » 9

Bleedsorange writes:

Stats mean little compared to wins, first of all. Second they cleared the bench Saturday to build depth and (this is often over looked) to reduce film on starters. The staff knows what they are doing.

BrandonRink writes:

in response to Bleedsorange:

Stats mean little compared to wins, first of all. Second they cleared the bench Saturday to build depth and (this is often over looked) to reduce film on starters. The staff knows what they are doing.

I don't think anyone disputes winning is the goal, but this is a look on the whole season. It's not like they were holding back the gameplan against Georgia.

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

No one is suggesting that the coaches don't "know what they're doing". These are observations, not criticisms.

I believe Swinney and Morris have both indicated that some improvement is needed in multiple areas on the offensive side of the ball and in my opinion some of that is coach-speak and some is fact.

Xander5000 writes:

In every gameplan you have a Plan A and a Plan B or C. If they do this we are going to do do that. I like the fact that every one of our receivers are extrodinary to decent deep threats. That also includes Adam Humphries to even our tight ends if need be. The thing is opposing defenses know that, so we get and take what we can. Its Sooo early in the season and nothing to worry about. We have gotten this far without the big bombs, so there is really no need to have this article have Clemson's offense trying to force things and get themselves in trouble they shouldn't even be in. Like I said its Sooo early in the season and somebody's defense is going to make a mistake and then its bombs away to our guys once again. If not, then chuck it down 6yds, or drill it for 15yds, and let our blessed and talented group do their thing. What ever is defended, something else has got to be open.

Clemorange writes:

I said earlier this year that I am more worried about our offense than our defense and everybody looked at me like I was crazy. But then again they did it when I said we would win the acc in 2011 before the season had even kicked off and then again before this season when I said we would go to national championship. And of coarse nobody but Clemson really thought we had a chance against Georgia.

TrevorT writes:

Why would we be chucking deep balls against Georgia when Hot Rod was running over them at the line of scrimmage, or against a team like SC State who can only stay in it if you turn the ball over? Your observation is valid, but just because you don't use a weapon at a given time doesn't mean you don't have it. I think we'll see plenty of deep passes in the weeks to come. GO TIGERS!

rsb8931#286014 writes:

Did happen to catch the Georgia game? That's why he is just as dangerous 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage as he is 50 yards passed the line of scrimmage. The boy can run. And run real fast. And when he catches the ball, no matter where he is, he runs away from those ole boys trying to hurt him. Sammy fast. Behind the line, on the line or halfway to the goal line, just get him the ball.

rsb8931#286014 writes:

I think you saw the game. I jumped the gun with my comment, but I stand by what I said. I sort of implied you were maybe a "kook" but clearly, you are not. I feel sure he would go deep all the time if they thought he could get open. I still like the idea of him having his hands around the ball and just let him run

seldomusedreserve#284867 writes:

The play he scored on in the Georgia game was 13 yards downfield - his longest route (not counting the pass interference)- which sort of makes my point, don't you agree?

He's scored one time - on a pass downfield -the ONLY time he was targeted more than 6 yards past the line.

The other 13 times Sammy's been targeted within 6 yards of the LOS and hasn't come close to scoring.

When anyone catches a pass within 2 or so yards of the LOS he's probably got 5 or 6 guys around him and is not in the "open field".

The one time Sammy caught a ball in the open field with one person around him he broke a tackle and went 77 yards.

Appreciate the feedback and discussion. Everyone has their point of view and thats what the comment section is for!

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