September 4, 2015

Deshaun Watson: Difference Maker

It took only 2 passes for Deshaun Watson to make his mark in college football.  The bullet Watson threw to Charone Peake in the 2014 opener in Sanford Stadium zinged by the ear of a Georgia linebacker and into the arms of Peake for a touchdown.

As the season went on the difference that Watson makes became apparent.  With Watson in the game the Tigers averaged 6.8 yards per play, 2 yards more than with Cole Stoudt running the team.

Simple math would seem to indicate that by adding 2 yards per play under Watson that the Tigers would end up with about 150 more yards (assuming 75 plays) per game and about 12 or 13 additional points.

However, that equation doesn’t take into account the defensives Watson faced – an average ranking of 97 (Stoudt’s average was 49).

The numbers below are calculated using an “average” (61st ranking) and they show the difference a tougher defensive can have on Watson’s yard per play average.

Watson Difference

Without Watson Clemson would have a 44.7% win probability and gain 380 yards and an “average” FBS offense would have likely been enough to get over the hump at 51.1% win probability.

With Watson in the lineup the Tigers would be projected to average 6.16 yards per play, more than a yard more per play than without him, but far below Watson’s 6.8 yard per play average in 2014 – that’s the difference between facing a 97th ranked defense and a 61st ranked D.

With Watson the Tigers would be projected to gain 76 more yards, 7 additional points, and perhaps more importantly, increase their win probability to 58.6%.

If that increase seems low to you, remember competition matters.  In the S.C. State, North Carolina and South Carolina games Watson was electric, but those defenses were not competitive in 2014.

That 61st ranked defense in 2014?  It was Florida State, a game in which Watson played the majority of snaps.

Deshaun Watson is likely improved over last season, but that doesn’t mean we should expect 6.8 or more yards per play because the defenses he faces, assuming he plays a full season, are likely to be better on average, too.

Podcast: Depth chart, players to watch, picks & more

Brad Senkiw and Brandon Rink join me to talk all things Clemson, including:

  1. Depth chart intrigue and surprises
  2. Players to watch on Saturday
  3. Fun prop bets
  4. ACC picks
  5. Clemson pick and score

and more….

You can download and subscribe via iTunes here or at the bottom of page for iTunes or Android, play in this window or play in a new window.

Podcast artwork courtesy Eargle Design.

Figure The Odds: Wofford at Clemson

Editor’s Note:  The probabilities below are derived from an algorithm developed over the last several years that includes a database of over 2,800 college football games over 4 seasons and takes into account the teams relative strengths and weaknesses and on field performance.  While in its infancy, the algorithm acquitted itself well head to head with the ESPN FPI measure during last year’s bowl season.  A version of this post appeared on SUR on July 22.  Wofford is the only game where the preseason probabilities will not change from the game week probabilities.

Typically, I wouldn’t include FCS teams in a win/loss probability analysis because they are not part of the 2,800 game database used to derive these probabilities.

However, adjustments can be made by looking at historical games to determine what 366 yards per game against an FCS schedule is likely to translate to when playing a FBS team the caliber of Clemson.  Similar adjustments were made to the defensive side for Wofford.

The Terriers gave the Tigers all they wanted in game 2 of the Chad Morris era back in 2011, when the Tigers eventually roared to an 8-0 start and have 19 starters back.  But this is a different Clemson team and, perhaps more importantly, a different Wofford team, one that hasn’t had the same success in recent seasons.


Since the time of the original post on this topic the Tigers have suffered the losses of Korrin Wiggins, D.J. Reader and Korie Rogers on defense.  That’s bound to have some effect, but the question is how much.  Because these probabilities are based on what has actually happened on the field and not what I think will happen, my probabilities will remain the same.  Since the original post ESPN FPI dropped Clemson from a 99.7 win probability to a 98.8 win probability, only .1 off of the SUR number.

With a healthy Deshaun Watson there’s no question who wins, but rather what the final score will be.  The expected points per yard gained chart published back in April suggests a score of 38-18, but again this was calculated using historical data of two FBS teams and may not exactly correlate in an FBS vs. FCS matchup.  To double check myself to an extent I also applied the 2014 Clemson yards gained per point scored and yards given up per points given up and came up with….38-18.  Many will scoff at the score (and many will be unhappy it is even close to correct), but remember a team with Sammy Watkins, Andre Ellington, Tajh Boyd and other NFLers led Wofford a mere 28-27 before scoring on the second play of the 4th quarter in a 35-27 win.


In Depth Wofford Preview and Prediction

Editors Note: All images courtesy

Wofford Preview & Prediction

Who: Wofford Terriers vs. Clemson Tigers

What: American football

When: 12:30pm, Saturday September 5th

Where: Memorial Stadium (81,500) Clemson, SC


Series: Clemson leads 11-3

Last Matchup: Clemson-35 Wofford-27 (9/10/11)

2014 Records: Clemson 10-3 (6-2), Wofford 6-5 (4-3)

They Said It:

“If we would have played Clemson tonight we probably would have been beaten by 100 points. We lacked intensity and focus from the beginning. We did not do a good job of preparing them for playing on a night like tonight. I don’t know if part of it was that we went to a thud mode on defense and did not do any live blocking. I don’t know if they thought that meant it was a day off, but it was very disappointing.”-Wofford HC Mike Ayers following a Fall Camp scrimmage

“If we play crappy and we don’t play Clemson football Wofford could put up 60 on us. They’re not losing really any starters at all. Wofford, like App State, has the chance to beat us. So we go into playing Wofford like we’re playing South Carolina. If we were playing Alabama we’d go in like we were playing Wofford. We’re not changing our game plan or how we prepare just because it’s Wofford. They have a chance to beat us by 50 or 60 if we don’t play Clemson football.” –Clemson LB Ben Boulware 

Wofford Key Players (’14 stats):

#7 RB Lorenzo Long: 942 rush yards 15 TDs

#22 RB Ray Smith: 613 rush yards 3 TDs

#3 QB Evan Jacks: 399 pass yards 3 TDs, 450 rush yards 5 TDs (Suffered season ending injury after 6 starts)

#11 S Jaleel Green: 58 tackles, 2 INTs

#16 LB Terrance Morris: 49 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks

What to watch on offense?

Artavis Scott runs for a 68-yard touchdown pass at Wake ForestGone is Chad Morris, but returning is his prodigy quarterback in sophomore Deshaun Watson. The preseason accolades have steadily accumulated to stack up for a player who has a mere 4 starts in his college career. In his defense Watson may has displayed glimpses of elite level talent that cannot be denied . Oh, he also has a pretty good supporting cast at his disposal as well. The skill positions may be as deep as they’ve ever been at Clemson thanks to a boost in recruiting over the last few years. At running back it will be interesting to see how the rotation shakes out behind Wayne Gallman, who seems to have locked down the #1 spot. At wide receiver Clemson may very well sport the country’s best starting unit. Lining up for the Tigers will be Mike Williams, Artavis Scott, & Charone Peake. Clemson fans have a good idea about what both Williams and Scott bring to the table, but have yet to see what former 5-star recruit Charone Peake is capable of due to a bevy of setbacks over the course of his career. At tight end it certainly sounds like Jordan Leggett is ready to take the next step, but he’ll have to prove it on the field because we’ve heard this story the last two off-seasons as well only to be mistaken when the season rolls around. Perhaps one of the bigger headlines of the offseason surrounds true freshman TE Garrett Williams wClemson vs S.C. State football - Mike Williamsho will avoid a redshirt this Fall at a position that is loaded with depth. The staff believes Williams is one of the better blockers at the position and he has also shown uncanny athleticism from the receiving end as well. Another likely cause for Williams playing this season is the question marks that surround the bookends on the offensive line. The early departure of LT Isaiah Battle has thrust the young phenom Mitch Hyatt into a starting roll in his first ever college game. Opposite of Hyatt will be RS senior Joe Gore, who has yet to make much of an impact during his career. Pushing Gore is yet another true freshman in Jake Fruhmorgen and he will likely log several snaps come Saturday. If Clemson wants to endure any sort of success this season it starts with the O-line controlling the line of scrimmage against a smaller, less talented Wofford team.

Players to watch on offense:

QB-Deshaun Watson

Is Watson fully recovered from the ACL injury that he suffered last November? All the returns tell us yes, but seeing is believing. It will be interesting to see how much Watson is involved in the running game and how deep he plays into the game if it gets out of hand.

WR-Ray Ray McCloud

A former RB in high school, McCloud should be all over the field come Saturday. I’ll be watching to see how Elliott & Scott utilize his abilities to keep defenses off balanced. Having McCloud and Deon Cain, who played QB in high school, sure does open a lot of doors for this offense. McCloud could also be a factor in the return game.

LT-Mitch Hyatt

A true freshman offensive lineman hasn’t started at Clemson since Barry Richardson back in 2004. But Hyatt isn’t you’re average freshman and his “mean-streak” has led to quite a few scuffles during practice this Fall. Clemson will need Hyatt to grow up quickly as his development will go a long ways in keeping Watson out of harms way.

What to watch on defense?

Shaq Lawson

Goodness, where do I even start? With several key playmakers from last season’s top ranked defense now suiting up on Sundays (11 to be exact) and numerous defections during the offseason, Clemson fans will have a lot of new names to learn. Not all has been lost though, as junior DE Shaq Lawson, junior S Jayron Kearse, and RS sophomore CB Mackensie Alexander are all poised for breakout campaigns. The secondary should be one of the nation’s best as long as the corner on the field opposite of Alexander can hold his own. At the #2 corner spot junior Cordrea Tankersley will finally get his opportunity to contribute, but he will likely share reps with two RS sophomores in Ryan Carter and Adrian Baker. Look for Jayron Kearse to play up closer to the line of scrimmage and use his added size (up to 224lbs) to aid in stopping the run. Both linebacker and defensive line depth are not where DC Brent Venables would like for them to be, and a handful players who were starring for their high school teams at this time last year find themselves thrust into the 2-deep for the season opener. It will be interesting to see how the freshmen respond to a triple option attack, as their discipline and technique will be put to the test right out of the gate. One newcomer to watch is true freshman DT Christian Wilkins. With Reader’s departure the former 5-star recruit now finds himself vying for a start position opposite of Carlos Watkins. The returns have been through the roof on Wilkins and many have him pegged as the second coming of The Fridge. As of late Venables has faired pretty well against the triple option, but I ‘m not sure if he has ever coached a defense as inexperienced as this one. On the opposite side of the ball, Wofford returns virtually every player from a team that rushed for 297 YPG in ‘14, which was good enough for 3rd in the country. If I had to guess I’d say the Terriers will present a good test for this Venables & company.Players to watch on defense?

Players to watch on defense?

Clemson linebackers

In last seasons disappointing defeat at the hands of Georgia Tech, five of Clemson’s top six tacklers were linebackers. While Clemson lost a lot from last year, three of those five backers return this year in Dorian O’Daniel, Ben Boulware, and BJ Goodson. Their gap integrity and form tackling will be crucial in keeping the Terriers from getting into the open field. Travis Blanks is back healthy and should give the Tigers a solid 1, 2 punch at SLB with O’Daniel. As for the other two positions, Clemson fans will get their first look at RS freshman Kendall Joseph (MLB) and true freshman Jalen Williams (WLB). When the dust settles in Death Valley on Saturday, a clean bill of health for this unit may be the best possible outcome.Boulware B

Prediction: After four consecutive seasons of +10 wins, you can bet Clemson will get every opponent’s best shot. Look no further than the last meeting between the Tigers and Terriers in ’11 if you think this FCS team can’t hang with the big boys. If Clemson just comes out and plays their game then we should be watching the backups play the 2nd half. I expect both starting units for the Tigers to have their way, but the 2nd/3rd string will likely give the coaching staff some headaches.

On offense, Deshaun Watson should have no trouble distributing the ball around to his arsenal of weapons. The 5-deep running back rotation should also get plenty of work as the game progresses. The backs know that playing time is on the line, so I expect to see those guys best effort from start to finish. Also, Wofford won’t have an answer for Clemson’s talent when they lineup in 4 or 5 wide sets meaning you can expect the annoying day game fireworks to get rolling early and often.

On defense, it’s reasonable to expect the young players to have missed assignments against the triple option. But you know what? That’s okay. The only way the young guns are going to get better is experience and this game should present an opportunity for these guys to get plenty of reps. Over the last couple years, Venables has drawn up solid game plans for Georgia Tech, who runs a similar offense with superior talent. This unit will eventually come around, but don’t be quick to give up on them after a couple mediocre performances. Remember the 2014 unit gave up +35 points twice in their first 4 games last season before clamping down. Hopefully the “get-back” guy has enjoyed his off-season.

Clemson’s quest for an ACC Title begins Saturday. The Tigers roll.

Clemson-48 Wofford-20

Podcast: One week from Wofford we talk DL, cupcakes, make or breaks, traps and more

I’m joined by Brad Senkiw and Brandon Rink of to talk about the loss of D.J. Reader, make or break games, potential traps and more.

You can download and subscribe via iTunes here or at the bottom of page for iTunes or Android, play in this window or play in a new window.

Podcast artwork courtesy Eargle Design.

Tigers led nation in 3rd down D in ’14 and the reason is…

The key to leading the nation in 3rd down defense?  Being really good on 1st and 2nd down defense.

It turns out that Clemson’s opponents faced 3rd and 7 or more on 61% of third downs in 2014 and, as the chart/graph shows, there wasn’t much chance of succeeding when faced with that distance – 14.2% to be exact (17/120).
3rd Down D Graph3rd Down D Chart

When faced with 3rd and 6 or less opponents approached 50% conversions (37/77 – 48.1%).

It’s not earth shattering to note that the farther to go the more difficult it is to make a first down – that’s intuitive.

Perhaps the takeaway here is as good as the 2014 defense was even that group struggled (to some degree) when the distance to go was 6 yards or less and the key (in addition to a fast, athletic, talented defense) is stopping first and second down thereby forcing a more predictable play call on 3rd and long.

3rd & short

One of the driving forces of Clemson’s mediocre third down performance (ranked 50th with a 41.9% conversion rate) was the inability to convert in short yardage (3rd and 3 or less for purposes of this post).

The Tigers converted only 60% of 3rd and 1’s and only 58.3% of the time when running the ball. That has to change.


*Passes includes 1 sack

One thought is to change the play calling that was very consistent under Chad Morris – run the ball on almost every 3rd and 1, whether you have the personnel to be successful or not.  This wasn’t just a 2014 thing, but was consistent over Morris’s 4 years in orange.

Another, perhaps less palatable, option is buried in the numbers below – Deshaun Watson was 6 for 7 in converting 3rd and short into first downs (Clemson statistics do not delineate between scrambles and designed runs).image


Converting on third and short would be one way (in addition to scoring more often when starting in opponent territory) for Tony Elliott to make this offense his own, whether it be through the traditional smash mouth approach Morris repeatedly attempted or a different method that occasionally involves the right arm of Watson.

The importance of starting field position & an area with room for improvement

I don’t think it surprises anyone to find out that teams tend to score less points the farther they have to go and the Tigers are no different.

2014 Pts Per Starting Field Position ClemsonI’ve put specific numbers to Clemson’s starting field position in 10 yard increments in the chart below for the 2014 season and what it shows is expected through the midfield point.

What happens when Clemson began on the opponent’s side of midfield is the surprise.  The Morris offense was really good in open space with lots of room in front and not so great when starting in opponents territory.

The Tigers averaged only 0.1 points less when starting between their 21 and 30 than when starting 30-40 yards further down field between the opponents 49 and 40 and only 2.3 points per drive when starting between the opponents 39 and 30.

The question is why?  Is it a natural result of a HUNH offense?  Is it the result of the inability to run the ball consistently at times?  Play calling? Mental lapses?  Your guess is as good as mine and without data for the rest of FBS to compare these numbers to it’s of limited value.

That said, it does point to an area where there is plenty of room for improvement and the Tigers need to take advantage more often when starting in opponent’s territory.

Tony Elliott’s only called plays in one game so the sample size is tiny, but the Tigers fared no better than the first 12 games of 2014.  Two drives started in Oklahoma territory and resulted in a missed field goal (started at OU 20, 4 plays -5 yards) and a punt (started at OU 45, 3 plays -3 yards). Two drives, 7 plays, -8 yards, 0 points.


For a chance to win a Ghost Monkey Brewery Founders package and support a good cause visit:

Tiger sports, great beer & supporting a good cause

Seldom Used Reserve (SUR) and Ghost Monkey Brewery (GMB) have teamed up to provide one lucky person a Founder’s package from GMB.

GMB is a Charleston based Nano-brewery that will open in the fall of 2015.

The Founder’s package includes:

• Vacuum insulated stainless steel growler
• Four growler fills over the year (one fill per day)
• Pint glass, koozie, and 2 t-shirts
• $1 off pints any time/card holder only
• Early access to special release beers
• Invitation to pre-opening private tour, lunch, and tasting with the owners
• Invitation to Founder’s and Premier events

The entry is $5 and you can enter as many times as you like.  Any funds received above cost of the package will be donated to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Many thanks to Clemson grad and Ghost Monkey partner Jim Leonard for making this happen.

For complete details, rules, contest entry and to learn more about Ghost Monkey Brewery visit

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Podcast: Clemson fall camp take aways, Q&As & much more

I’m joined by Brandon Rink and Brad Senkiw of, to talk Clemson football, including:

  • Depth at LB given Korie Rogers walking away
  • Camp update/News/Takeaways
  • Offensive standouts
  • Defensive standouts
  • Buy/Sell/Hold from Coach Speak
  • Progress of position battles – RB, OL, DL

…and more.

You can download and subscribe via iTunes here or at the bottom of page for iTunes or Android, play in this window or play in a new window.

Podcast artwork courtesy Eargle Design.

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