October 4, 2015

Do The Math: How much is kickoff coverage hurting Clemson?

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.

Kick Return Issues

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.


*http:// www.bcftoys.com

** Includes drive charts for FBS vs. FBS only

Podcast: Clemson vs. Notre Dame

I’m joined by the Killer B’s, Brandon Rink and Brad Senkiw of orangeandwhite.com to talk Clemson football. With no previous week’s game we focus on Clemson/Notre Dame with a side trip to our ACC picks of the week including the undefeated Miami Hurricanes.

Some of the topics we traverse:

  • Clemson defense vs. Notre Dame offense
  • Clemson offense vs. Notre Dame defense
  • Special Teams
  • Pick and score

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

Podcast artwork courtesy Eargle Design.

Figure The Odds: Clemson/Notre Dame

The probabilities below are derived from an algorithm based on 2,967 college football games between two Football Bowl Subdivision teams and includes 18 metrics for both the winners and losers of those games.

The algorithm endeavors to identify metrics that are statistically relevant to winning and losing (a few of which are included in the graphic below), estimate the statistics each team will accumulate in a game (based on opponent) and use those estimates to derive a win probability.

Over the course of those nearly 3,000 games a few statistics stand out, namely yards per play, total yards differential and turnovers. 78.9% of the time the winning team averages more yards per play than the loser and 77.5% of the time the winner has more total yards than the loser.

The turnover stat is a little more nuanced in that turnovers are often equal (22% of games), which means instead of saying “We have to win the turnover battle” a coach might be more accurate saying, “We can’t lose the turnover battle.” Winners are even or + in turnovers 80.2% of the time.

CLEMvsND Prob 15 4

The estimates show that Clemson is likely to gain more yards than Notre Dame and have a tiny advantage in yards per play. Given the statements above why does Notre Dame have a win probability of 52.1%? In a word, turnovers. The Tigers are projected to have 2 and Notre Dame 1, leaving the Tigers -1 in this crucial metric.

As currently constructed, the algorithm reduces a team’s win probability by 8.8% for each turnover. If the Tigers were able to stay even in the turnover battle the win probability would flip to 56.7% in Clemson’s favor.

Footballs take funny bounces sometimes and it’s a tough proposition to realize that a year (or more) of preparation, work, sweat and tears could come down to a tipped pass or whether a ball rolls out of bounds instead of into the arms of the opponent, but that very well could end up being the case Saturday.

The model has worked decently in 2015 to date. For the games with a win probability between 50.1 to 59.9% the algorithm has picked the winner 54.8% of the time. One measure of a model is getting results that align with the probabilities generated and that has happened for this range over the first 4 weeks of the season.

Take heart Clemson fans, both the ESPN FPI and FEI Game Projections predict more favorable outcomes for the Tigers.

Notre Dame Preview and Prediction

Who: #6 Notre Dame (4-0) vs. #11 Clemson (3-0)

What: American Football

When: 8:00pm, Saturday October 3rd

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

Line: Pick’em


Series: Tied 1-1

Last Matchup: Clemson-16 Notre Dame-10 (11/17/79)

Previous Game: Clemson over Louisville 20-17, ND over UMass 62-27

2014 Records: Clemson 10-3 (6-2), Notre Dame 8-5

They Said It:

“I watched the Louisville game. I saw some weaknesses in that game for sure. I saw some strengths as well. They are a good team. I think Deshaun Watson manages the game well. I’ve played against quarterbacks better than him, I’ve also played against quarterbacks that weren’t as good as him. He’s not overly superior, I don’t think he’s a top five quarterback in the country. I think he manages the game extremely well, and does what the offense asks of him.”Notre Dame CB KeiVarae Russell

They’ve been a bit chippy, talking a lot to the media and things like that. I just hope the refs let us play football. Just know it’s going to be a chippy game. I’m definitely going to be chippy, so they can expect that from me. They can expect some trash talking. I’m ready to go up against Will Fuller and give those guys what I got. Obviously they don’t know what we do down here in Death Valley. I’m just looking forward to this, looking forward to meeting the running back in the hole or catching Will Fuller on a post. Whatever it takes, I’m ready for it.”Clemson S Jayron Kearse

Key Players:

#14 QB DeShone Kizer: 44-65 541 yards 5 TDs 2 INTs, 18 att 75 yards 1 TD

#20 RB CJ Prosise: 74 att 600 yards 6 TDs, 5 rec 31 yards

#33 RB Josh Adams: 23 att 203 yards 3 TDs

#7 WR Will Fuller: 22 rec 454 yards 6 TDs

#78 LT Ronnie Stanley: 30 career starts

#90 DE Isaac Rochell: 16 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 QBH

#91 DT Sheldon Day: 9 tackles, 4 TFL, 2 sacks, 9 QBH

#9 LB Jaylon Smith: 29 tackles, 4.5 TFL, 1 sack, 3 PBU

#6 CB KeiVarae Russell:: 22 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1 sack

#41 S Elijah Shumate: 25 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU

What to watch when Clemson has the ball?

The high-powered Clemson offense appeared to be stuck in 2nd gear for the better part of their last appearance against Louisville. Perhaps the lone bright spot in that game came in the form of sophomore RB Wayne Gallman, who displayed a newfound physical presence on his way to an impressive 139-yard performance.

This week, the competition ramps up once again when an extremely talented Irish front 7 rolls into town. If you’re looking for one Irish defender to keep an eye on it’s going to be LB Jaylon Smith. As a 2014 Butkus Award finalist, Smith can pretty much do it all and the Tiger offense will need to account for his whereabouts every snap. Watson has full control of the offense so expect him to make several reads at the line of scrimmage based on where Smith is positioned.

The Irish secondary appears to be the weak link after allowing 300 yards passing last week to UMass and nearly another 300 to UVA, who looks to be the laughing stock of the ACC once again this year. That should tell you all you need to know about Clemson’s plan of attack this weekend. A heavy dose of Watson to Scott will likely be the simple, yet effective recipe for success. Speaking of Watson, I anticipate we’ll see a much sharper Watson than the one we saw in Louisville. Even though the staff has applauded Watson’s play so far, he has looked pretty average in the eyes of this viewer. KeiVarae Russell is back in the secondary after sitting out last year due to an academic issue, and based on the comments made above I get the feeling we’ll see the Watson target him right away.

Perhaps the biggest area for concern Saturday night will surround the Clemson offensive line. Can they handle a massive Irish front long enough for Watson to make his throws? More importantly, can they stay healthy? Ryan Norton has already been ruled out, and both right tackles are less than 100% coming into this week. There is one advantage the Tiger OL has that could be their trump card…tempo. We’ve let to see the offense really get rolling, and if you paid attention in Spring/Fall camp you would know that Elliot and Scott want to go even faster than Morris did. We’ve seen what tempo can do to a defense as the game wears on, and Clemson would be foolish not to get back to their fast-paced ways this weekend.

Lastly, another plus to the bye week falling before this monumental matchup is the implementation of true freshmen wideouts Deon Cain and Ray Ray McCloud into the offense. We’ve gotten a small taste of what both bring to the table, but the offense has yet to highlight their abilities. That will change Saturday night. Cain and McCloud both have the vaunted “it” factor and possess the ability to create separation that Orange clad fans are so used to seeing from the likes of Spiller, Watkins, and Bryant. If the Irish key in on Scott, then you can expect the Sunshine state stars to shine.

Players to watch on offense:

QB Deshaun Watson

How can you not be excited about Watson’s first start against a ranked opponent inside the friendly confines of Death Valley? DW4 has endured a lot of success at home during his brief career, but has yet to face an elite opponent. That changes on Saturday and all eyes will be on the sophomore signal caller as he aims to take down a Top 10 opponent. After a subpar previous performance per his standards I’ll be looking forward to seeing how he responds. A big game, and the Heisman chatter will pick back up. A poor game, and more doubt begins to creep in.

WR Artavis Scott

Scott has emerged as the go to option in the Clemson passing game, totaling 7 more receptions than any other receiver. Most of his catches have come via screen passes or jet sweeps, and that’s perfectly fine considering he’s consistently hammering out solid gains each touch. So far this season the Tigers have had virtually no presence over the middle in the wake of Mike Williams injury, but Scott could potentially fill that void if needed. He has excellent hands and is physical enough to sustain shots from linebackers or safeties. McCloud, Cain, or Hopper are more than capable of catching the designed screens or sweeps, leaving Scott free to roam downfield. Not sure if we’ll see it, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

C Jay Guillermo

With Ryan Norton out of the mix due to a knee injury, Robbie Caldwell will put all his chips in Jay Guillermo’s basket. Dating back to last season, many have thought Guillermo should be the starter and he will have his chance to make a statement against a talented Irish front four. Saturday night he will be tasked with taking on either a 6-1 315lb sophomore Daniel Cage or a 6-7 307lb freshman Jerry Tillery, who are both vying for the start at NG. If Guillermo, Crowder, and Mac Lain are able to handle the Irish interior line, then the Clemson offense will be tough to stop.

What to watch when Notre Dame has the ball?

Mackensie Alexander versus Will Fuller. I could probably stop right there and call it a wrap. This will be a matchup featuring two players that are at or near the top of their positions. Fuller isn’t going to blow you away with size (6-0, 180lbs), but he more than makes up for it with ability to quickly get out of breaks and he possesses excellent vision when the ball is in his hands. For Alexander, his number one job will be preventing the ball from ever getting to Fuller. (Insert Captain Obvious joke here). With that said, Mackensie has proved time and time again that he is capable of erasing opposing receivers from start to finish. Saturday’s test may very well be his toughest to date.

Looking elsewhere, Clemson’s defensive line will be up against an extremely large Irish front that returns 3 veterans with a combined 79 career starts. This week we’ll get to see just how NFL ready Shaq Lawson is and if Kevin Dodd can handle a bump in competition. Matching up against Lawson will be seasoned LT Ronnie Stanley, who is a projected 1st round pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Getting pressure on a freshman QB in a hostile environment could force the Irish into becoming one-dimensional.

In the running game, you would be stunned to know that CJ Prosise was the 3rd string running back coming into Fall camp and he also played slot receiver in ‘14. Well all he’s done so far this year is rattle off 600 yards to go along with 6 touchdowns in his first four games. For Clemson to slow him down, the interior rotation of Watkins, Pagano, and Wilkins will be called upon to clog the inside gaps and the linebackers/secondary will have to take good angles to avoid getting burnt by Prosise’s elite speed. Look for Venables to stack the box in hopes of eliminating the run, and forcing a freshman signal caller to beat Clemson with his arm.

Players to watch on defense:

DE Shaq Lawson

Getting pressure on freshman DeShone Kizer is essential for the Tigers against a talented Irish attack. A couple early hits from Lawson could set the tone for the rest of the game. If Clemson allows the youngster to gain some early confidence he’s more than capable of producing big numbers. Rough him up early, and he’s more than capable of falling apart. Lawson believes he’s got 1st Round talent…we’ll see this weekend.

CB Mackensie Alexander

Safe to say that plenty of eyes will be on the boundary this weekend in Death Valley. In a rare interview this Fall, Alexander stated that he was without a doubt the top corner in the country. We’re about to find out if he was right or not. If Alexander is able to shut down Fuller, Clemson odds to win increase exponentially. Enjoy this matchup.

S Jayron Kearse

There hasn’t been a more productive player on the ’15 defense than Clemson’s version of “The Freak.” Kearse’s rare blend of size and athleticism allows Brent Venables the luxury of sliding him all over the field. We’ve seen Kearse play up at the line of scrimmage more often this season, leaving TJ Green as the lone safety over the top. Expect more of the same this week, as putting pressure on the quarterback and stuffing the run game will likely be the focus.


Let’s flashback to Wednesday February 1st, 2012. That was the day that Deshaun Watson verbally committed to Clemson. And ever since that day the hype surrounding his presence has continued to build. Well, Saturday night he will have a chance to bring the hype to fruition. I believe Watson is healthy, hungry, and poised to make a statement, not only for himself, but for this program. Look for DW4 to come out of the gates guns ablazin’ with a bunch of quick hitters, before the playbook and downfield passing game is finally utilized. Gallman will get his due, but this game comes down to the most talented player on the field and that’s #4.

On the other side of the ball, is there any doubt that this unit isn’t going to bring all they have on Saturday night? This defense has taken on the personality of their defensive coordinator, in that, they play with their hair on fire. Notre Dame has enough talent to do some damage on the scoreboard, but I question how a freshman QB and new starting RB will perform in their first trip to a racous environment. DeShone Kizer may very well make me eat my words, but I believe he’s in for a rough night in Death Valley. Oh, and Will Fuller? Hope you enjoyed reading about him here, because you won’t hear his name called very much when Alexander locks him down.

Don’t fool yourself thinking this is going to be an easy game. Notre Dame can play, there’s no doubt about it. But Saturday night, with 81,000 fans rocking the Valley and millions more watching at home, it’s about Clemson.

Rest up Tiger Nation because this weekend Clemson takes the next step. Let the playoff whispers begin.


Notre Dame-24

Clemson D bringing it every down

We’ve looked at the success rates for the Clemson offense with Deshaun Watson at quarterback and now we flip that to look at how the defense has fared so far.

It sounds so obvious to say it, but I feel compelled to state the reason Clemson is so good on 3rd downs: They’re good on first and second downs, leaving opponents facing an average 3rd and 7.8 yards to go.  Good luck with that.

Defensive Success Rates 15 3

Successful plays are a way of measuring each play as a success or failure.  The concept is pretty basic: Not all 3 (for example) yard gains are the same.  Gaining 3 yards on third and 2 is a “win” for the offense, while gaining 3 yards on 3rd and 4 is failure.  The measure will also provide information about how the offense is operating: Effective offenses will tend to have higher successful play ratios. Conversely, better defenses will tend to have lower success rates against them.

To be classified as successful a play has to meet the following criteria:

  1. 1st down plays must gain 50% of yards needed for a first down, gain a first down or score a touchdown.
  2. 2nd down plays must gain 70% of yards needed for a first down, gain a first down or result in a touchdown.
  3. 3rd and 4th down plays must gain a first down or result in a touchdown.

I would expect the numbers to trend up a bit over the coming weeks as the Tigers face Notre Dame and Georgia Tech.  How much they trend up may be the difference in winning and losing.

Swinney’s record by team and conference

Updated through the first 3 games of 2015.

DS by Team & Conf 2015 3

2015 offensive tempo trending slower

Below is a graphical representation of Clemson’s seconds of possession per play run for the first 3 games on 2014 and 2015 and in two of the three games  the Tigers have played slower than in 2014.  I have previously noted that in 2014 the Tigers were slower with Deshaun Watson at quarterback than Cole Stoudt.

A second here or there may not seem like much, but if a team is running 70 plays a game an extra second would add up to 1:10 additional time and the potential for another 3 or 4 plays per game and with an with the 5 second differential between games 2 and 3 even more.

TEMPO 2015 3

The Tigers did intentionally slow down on the last few plays at Louisville, so that accounts for some of the difference, but doesn’t fully explain the relative slowing of the offense with Watson at quarterback in 2014 and Chad Morris at OC.

As far as 2015 goes, that may just be a preference of Tony Elliott and there’s a lot of football left to play.  I did suggest we’d see a slower tempo in 2015 and, at least for the first 3 games, that seems to be the current trend.

Podcast: Open Date? Not for this podcast

Open date? Brad Senkiw and Brandon Rink of orangeandwhite.com are working late into the night and then take time to discuss Louisville, grades for first 3 games, early MVPs, ACC picks and quick hits on Notre Dame.

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

Podcast artwork courtesy Eargle Design.

Updated Rushing Metrics: Gallman’s the horse, Watson is an important piece

Considering the complete picture from his freshman year, Wayne Gallman is having a breakout season in 2015. Yes, we saw glimpses in 2014, but we’ve seen 3 complete games this season, the latest against one of the nations perennial top defenses last Thursday.

Gallman’s “worst” down is better than any down last season and a 54.7% success rate means that over half the time Gallman is gaining at least 5 yards on first down (assuming there is 10 yards to go).  In addition, after losing yardage or gaining 0 on over 1 of 5 rushes in ’14, Gallman’s is doing so on only 1 of 13.3 rushes in 2015.

When the Tigers take the field against Notre Dame it will be the first in at least 9 consecutive Saturday’s of football.  There are no more off weeks to heal and a patsy is at least a few weeks out.  Someone needs to fill the void and make sure Gallman isn’t run into the ground come November. Davidson? Dye? Brooks? Fuller?  What once appeared to be a deep and talented pool of running backs, deep enough to redshirt Adam Choice, now seems shallow and questionable.

The debate rages about the use of Deshaun Watson in the running game, but the fact is he was needed last Thursday and may be needed going forward.  How much is anyone’s guess and deciding is one reason coaches make the salaries they do.  If Watson gets injured on a designed run the critics, not just local or regional ones, will be out in force.

On the other hand, if Clemson had lost last Thursday because they refused to run Deshaun Watson when needed the critics would already be out.

Rushing Metrics 15 3

Successful Play Percentages with Watson at quarterback

Below is a breakdown of successful plays with Deshaun Watson at quarterback.

Successful plays are a way of measuring each play as a success or failure.  The concept is pretty basic: Not all 3 (for example) yard gains are the same.  Gaining 3 yards on third and 2 is a “win”, while gaining 3 yards on 3rd and 4 is failure.  Perhaps 2 running backs have similar yards per carry numbers, but one always seems to “get the first down” – that’s where this metric would come in.  It will also provide information about how the offense is operating: Effective offenses will tend to have higher successful play ratios.

To be classified as successful a play has to meet the following criteria:

  1. 1st down plays must gain 50% of yards needed for a first down, gain a first down or score a touchdown.
  2. 2nd down plays must gain 70% of yards needed for a first down, gain a first down or result in a touchdown.
  3. 3rd and 4th down plays must gain a first down or result in a touchdown.

First we look at successful plays by game and see what we figured we would see.  Progressively smaller successful plays as the competition improves.

Succ by Game 15 3

Next a look at successful plays by play type.  The running game has improved and while Wayne Gallman (and the line) deserve most of the credit, you can’t overlook Watson’s part in the running game.Succ by Type 15 3

* Pass totals include sacks.

Now we take a look at successful plays by down.  The Tigers have been fairly consistent across downs, but most successful on first down.Succ by Down 15 3

Finally, we look at success by quarter.   It appears the second quarter numbers are skewed by the outburst against Appalachian State.  Either way, the sample size for quarters 3 and 4 are small because Watson did not play in the fourth quarter in either of the first two games.

Succ by Quarter 15 3

There’s only one defense of note the Tigers faced in their first 3 games and they did fairly well, as 401 yards of offense would suggest. Also, the rushing numbers suggest an improvement in that part of the Tigers game.

While I contemplated comparing these numbers  to last years offense I’m not sure how much would be gained from that exercise.  From my point of view it would be better to benchmark where Clemson is now and see how that shifts as the season plays out.