December 13, 2018

Close wins in September are just that….wins

Coming into the season Clemson got a decent amount of support as a team that could win the National Championship.

It certainly wasn’t unanimous, but the Tigers got their share of props from the media and coaches in the various polls, prognostications, algorithms and TV and radio shows.

But here we are headed in to game 6 and the Tigers have become almost an afterthought to the SEC and Ohio State.

Some preseason concerns have reared their ugly heads – special teams and the back end of the defense among them, but also some things never even considered preseason – like quarterback depth – have appeared out of nowhere.

Almost all of those supporting Clemson in the preseason have now moved their check marks to Alabama, not without reason I might add, as the Crimson Tide have obliterated every team in their path to date.

Some Tiger fans are in a panic and I admit to moments of doubt, too.

When times are troubled (5-0 and close games are Clemson-world problems), I look back to 2016 and say, what lessons can we learn from that team?

What I learned is when you’re at Clemson’s level close wins in early games don’t mean a thing come January.

2016 2018
Game 1 – at Auburn, win 19-13 Game 2 – at Texas A&M, win 28-26
Game 2 – Edge Troy 30-24 as a 35 point favorite Game 5 – Rally to beat Syracuse as 25.5 point favorite
Game 3 – Blowout S.C. State 59-0 Game 1 – Blow out Furman 48-7.
Week 4 – Solidly defeat Georgia Tech 26-7 Game 4 – Solidly defeat Georgia Tech 49-21

The weeks don’t match perfectly, but the results are amazingly similar to 2016.

This is a different team for sure, but in 2016, the questions started after an early road test (Auburn, a 19-13 win that the Tigers had to bat a Hail Mary down to hold on to win). Then came a much closer expected win over a team the Tigers were heavily favored over (Troy 30-24, with a huge special teams gaff), a comfortable win over Georgia Tech (26-7) and a blowout.

You also might remember all the talk about how Deshaun didn’t seem like he was having fun and appeared to be under immense pressure early that year.

It’s a little eerie.

This year, after a blowout of Furman, there was a close win on the road against an SEC team (Texas A&M), a comfortable win over Georgia Tech and a closer than expected win at home with a huge special teams mistake (Syracuse).

And quarterback drama? Yeah, that exists in 2018, too.

Same story, different order, different year.

It didn’t end there in 2016 though. There was a last second win against Louisville and later a game the Tigers had no business winning – N.C. State – a nail biter in Tallahassee, a loss to Pittsburgh and a close ACC Championship game that the Tigers were highly favored in.

Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow (13) hauls in a pass. Photo: Gwinn Davis

How could that team ever win the National Championship?

By the time the playoff rolled around they were a different team. They would start by blasting and shutting out Ohio State, then follow that up by going toe to toe with the dynasty from Tuscaloosa and coming out on top by being clutch when the title was on the line.

This year, like 2016, there’s an explosive offense and an uber-talented defense that makes it possible to win without bringing you’re “A” game.

It’s true there are issues to be concerned about. The quarterback depth being first on the list, but also inconsistent special teams play, the back end of the defense and pass protection to name a few.

It’s also true that 2016 was led by the greatest quarterback in Clemson history, while this year’s team will be led by a freshman, albeit one that broke some of Watson’s high school records.

On the other hand there are other positions that may be even stronger and deeper than the 2016 team.

College football is unpredictable, but it appears that the Tigers margin of error is smaller this season.

The good news is the Clemson team you saw in September won’t be the Clemson team you see in January.  You won’t recognize this team in January as the one that edged Syracuse and barely beat a middling Texas A&M team in week 2.

The close games aren’t over and if the Tigers trip up it’s likely they won’t make the playoff, but close wins are just that – wins.

The issues the Tigers have won’t be fixed overnight.  But a few closer than expected wins in September, some close games during the season and a little controversy along the way might not be such a bad thing and could even bring this team closer together.

After all, 2016 showed closer than expected wins in September aren’t the way National Championships are decided any longer.  They’re decided on the field by teams that have thrived and survived in close games.

Average Score

Clemson Baseball Metrics – 4 Games

Complete through 4 games.

Metrics for Clemson Baseball Returnees

Gone Fishing

Return TBD.

Kelly Bryant by Distance – Playoff Game & 2017 Season

A look at Kelly Bryant’s numbers by distance of pass (from line of scrimmage) for Alabama and 2017 season as a whole.

Also, I posted the advanced metrics in a free article on ClemsonSportsTalk.com if you are interested in those.

Thanks to everyone that has supported this site and helped make it what it has become.  In the coming days I’ll wrap up the metrics for the season, take some time before baseball season and figure out what the future looks like.

Head to Head: Inside the numbers of Clemson vs. Alabama

Inside the numbers of Clemson vs. Alabama.

Rushing Metrics – 13 Games

A look at the rushing metrics for Clemson through 13 games.

Receiver Metrics – 13 Games

A look at the receiving metrics for Clemson through 13 games.

Kelly Bryant by Distance – 2017

A look at Kelly Bryant’s passing numbers by distance of pass (from line of scrimmage).

Later today, my analysis of this final, and crucial, category should be published on ClemsonSportsTalk.