May 26, 2018

Play Counting

In general, I have not been a proponent of the “80+ plays = a win” club.  My own tracking of statistics for college football as a whole over the course of multiple seasons show that the average number of plays between winning teams and losing teams is small.  Many teams that reach 80 or more plays lose.

I did, however, think that the number of plays Clemson ran against South Carolina was important enough to make it my “Keep An Eye On” topic and for once I hit the nail on the head. 

The inability to sustain drives doomed Clemson on November 24th.  Clemson had the ball 4 times in the second quarter with the lead and had “drives” of 5, 5, 5 and 4 plays and 0 points. 

Clemson ended up running 59 plays in a 27-17 loss against the number 11 defense in the nation.


Play Counts

The Tigers have been prolific against defenses ranked outside of the top 25, averaging 88 plays per game.  When faced with more talented opposition Clemson averages only 70 plays – 20% less. (Only FBS defenses used in averages)

The numbers drop similarly when comparing wins and losses – Clemson averages 84 plays in wins and only 68 in losses – a 19% difference.

When Clemson runs 80 plays they are 7-0.  When they don’t they are 3-2 and more importantly 0-2 against top 11 defenses.  LSU is ranked 8th in total defense.

These numbers make it imperative that Clemson approaches 80 plays on New Years Eve.  This is not an impossible task as the Tigers ran 77 plays against a pretty good Florida State defense in Tallahassee in game 4.

It’s not unusual to see a dip in plays run against better ranked defenses. To the contrary, that’s part of how the lofty ranking was obtained. But the difference in the South Carolina game was pronounced.

It’s true that the defense had trouble getting off the field in the second half as South Carolina dominated in time of possession and plays run.

On the other hand – if Clemson could have extended just one of the 4 drives in the second quarter when they had the ball and the lead, they very easily could have gone up by two scores at the half and the second half may well have been different.

The numbers are pretty clear for this years Clemson Tigers. The closer to 80 plays they get in Atlanta, the better chance they have of winning.


  1. […] theory was partially validated by the numbers we posted earlier in the week showing the difference in the number of plays that Clemson runs vs. non-top 25 defenses and top 25 […]

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