Prior to the season I wrote about the importance of the metrics in the table below (with a slight change to the red zone metrics). I believe that these numbers provide insight into odds of success or failure of a team and can help identify issues that may haunt a team as the schedule gets tougher.
At the quarter season mark there’s an argument to be made that the numbers below are skewed one way or the other for one reason or another (strength of schedule, injuries and the like) and it’s for this reason I included the ACC averages and the average for the FBS teams as a whole. Some of the numbers below stand out and I don’t mean that in a good way.
Clemson efficiency (through week four)
In particular, it appears that the college football world (not necessarily defenses) may be catching up with Clemson’s offense. Two years ago 70 plays was the gold standard for offenses. Now the FBS as a whole averages almost 72 plays per team per game.
Make no mistake, the Tigers are still good with the ball, but it’s becoming more difficult to call the unit elite when they are ranked 45th in yards per game and a pedestrian 69th in yards per play.
Some of that can be attributed to the schedule – not Clemson’s schedule, but the schedule that has other teams playing 3 weeks of cupcakes while Clemson has played an SEC team and an ACC team in the first three weeks.
Some of it has to do with personnel. Three of the Tigers skill players from last year are in the NFL and it’s not an easy task to replace an All-American wide receiver like Nuk Hopkins.
Perhaps one of the biggest losses isn’t playing in the NFL – Brandon Ford. While the tight end by committee has done relatively well, there have been missed blocking assignments and a lack of explosiveness from this position that we’ve seen in the last several years with the trio of Michael Palmer, Dwayne Allen and Ford.
And by now everyone, including his offensive coordinator, realizes that Tajh Boyd has been just a little bit “off” on some plays, missing easy passes and open receivers that were big gains or touchdowns last year.
Boyd left 2 or 3 completions on the field against N.C. State that could have turned a close game at into a route. It didn’t hurt the Tigers last Thursday, but that doesn’t mean it won’t haunt them down the road.
For all of these reasons this team has not shown the explosiveness of recent Clemson offenses. However, it’s still relatively early and Boyd and the Tigers offense still has time to make a mark in 2013.
The next three games should tell us a lot, especially with two of the three in the friendly confines of Clemson Memorial Stadium and Frank Howard Field and in Tuesday’s presser Boyd stated that when the Clemson offense finds its groove it will be “like a freight train”.
It’s certainly possible to make it to 6-0 with the schedule ahead and numbers similar to those above especially with an improved defense, but marked improvement in these categories heading into the Florida State game would give Tiger fans some comfort that the offensive train is picking up speed and headed in the right direction.