I’ve spent somewhere around 98% of my time here talking about offense, which is quite different from previous years in this blog. At some point over the last year or so I began to realize that, in general, offense was over taking defense as the way most teams win.
Prior to last year the BCS Champion had been ranked in the top 10 in total defense for 10 straight years. Last year was the game changer for me as neither Auburn nor Oregon sniffed the top 10 in defense.
That said, you obviously need a competitive defense to win (see East Carolina) and that’s what Clemson has this year. Is it outstanding? Nope. Is it good? Arguable. Is it competitive? You bet.
The stats below are not meant to be a be all and end all for defensive stats, but more of a starting point. There is much more that goes into playing defense than tackles, but the stats do give you at least one gauge of how the players at the same position are performing relative to their snaps played and that’s all it’s intended to do.
A good example of this is at the middle linebacker position where, prior to his sprained ankle, Stephone Anthony has been seeing more and more playing time. One look at these statistics provides at least one reason why. Anthony is making tackles and assists at a much higher rate than Corico Hawkins. For example, Hawkins is averaging a tackle every 17.1 snaps, while Anthony is averaging a tackle every 7.6 snaps.
Again, this is just one measure of a player’s performance, but it is one we can measure from available information without the inherent biases and short term memories of most fans.
Red Zone Comparison
I’ve been harping on the Tigers red zone woes for weeks now and someone has finally asked Chad Morris about it. Morris pretty much said what I’ve said: Clemson needs to score more touchdowns in the red zone.
I’ll go one step further though and say Clemson needs to get into the red zone more often. Top teams average getting into the red zone around 5.25 times per game. Clemson averages 3.83 red zone trips per game.
Below you’ll find a comparison of Oklahoma State, the nation’s top scoring team, and Clemson the 31st ranked scoring team.
The Cowboys average only 1.6 more possessions per game than Clemson, but the huge difference is that over 48% of Oklahoma State’s possessions reach the opponents red zone while only 29% of the Tigers possessions reach the opponents red zone.
Part of that difference can be attributed to the Tigers big play touchdowns, but the Cowboys have had some of those, too. Part of it is that the Tigers offense has been feast or famine while the Cowboys have taken the slower and steadier approach. Neither is right or wrong, you score any way you can, as quickly as you can, as often as you can.
Even once in the red zone the Tigers are scoring touchdowns at a far lower rate than Oklahoma State. One issue the Tigers have had is running the ball in that area and the 44 Clemson rushes in the red zone have netted only 77 yards or 1.75 per carry. Again, part of the reason for the low rushing average is that the gains, are by definition, limited. No matter how open a play from the opponent’s one yard line is, you can only gain 1 yard. But still, the Tigers have not been successful running the ball in this area despite consistent attempts to do so.
The Tigers appear to go conservative once inside the opponents 20. In the red zone the Tigers have run the ball 64% of the time, a much higher percentage than on the rest of the field.
In addition, Tajh Boyd has completed only 54% of his passes in the red zone, also a noticeably lower rate than in other areas of the field.
Obviously, there is less field to cover in the red zone which makes it easier to defend, either on a run or a pass. However, the difference between a good offensive team and a great offensive team is getting into the red zone and scoring touchdowns once there.
Starting in Opponents Territory
As part of a larger project on expected points, I noticed a disturbing trend – the Tigers haven’t done very well when starting in the opponent’s territory. The Tigers have had 13 such drives in the first 6 games of 2011 and have scored only 4 touchdowns and kicked 3 field goals. Six of 13 possessions that have begun in the opponent’s territory have yielded 0 points. Clemson is averaging 2.85 points on drives that have begun in their opponent’s territory.
To be fair, I don’t know what this means as it relates to other teams as I haven’t done that comparison. What I do know is that Clemson averages 2.62 points per drive they start in their own territory, so 2.85 seems awfully low in comparison.
Clemson has 0 points from drives that started at the opponent’s 46, 33, 31, 28, 20 and 17. You could argue that on 3, or maybe 4, of those drives they didn’t even need a first down to be in field goal position, yet they didn’t score a single point. Stats like this are the difference between being the 31st ranked scoring team and a top 10 scoring team and perhaps, at some point, the difference between a win and loss.