Editor’s Note: Chris Carman is a South Carolina native and holds BS/MA Economics degrees from Clemson. Chris currently resides in Washington, DC where he performs economics research for the federal government.
Clemson held a 10-point lead in the third quarter at Louisville. For 16 seconds. That’s how long it took for Traveon Samuel to go 100 yards with the ensuing kick off, though it seemed like Samuel was moving faster than that.
One of the story lines early in the 2015 season is the Tigers special teams, specifically kick off coverage. Just how bad is the Clemson kickoff coverage?
Below is a comparison of where opponents start there drives after kicks vs. Clemson, and vs. their other opponents and yards needed to reach the opponent’s end zone.
The sample size is small (teams have played either three or four games), and the quality of opponent should be taken into consideration. Still, the numbers confirm what the eyes have seen: teams have been taking advantage of Clemson’s kickoff coverage.
Even without adjusting for quality of opponent, the difference between starting at your own 26 and 30, is an additional 0.24 points per drive. While 0.24 points per drive* doesn’t sound like much, Clemson is kicking off an average of 7 times a game meaning, on average, the poor kick offs and resulting coverage is costing the Tigers 1.68 points per game. Not enough to worry about against Wofford or Appalachian State, but an amount that could have made a difference in Louisville or in a future game.
In the immediate future, Notre Dame’s average field position after receiving a kick off is their 25, while Clemson’s average defensive position is the opponents 34, a 9 yard difference. That 34 average for Clemson is more than two standard deviations below the mean for FBS teams**, confirming that this unit is performing significantly below average.
Coaches at the Power 5 level will normally tell you that special teams is a function of depth and in certain areas Clemson does face depth issues. Was effort also an issue? Dabo Swinney has indicated personnel changes have been made and kick off coverage has been a focus during the off week and Saturday night we should expect improvement.
** Includes drive charts for FBS vs. FBS only