April 18, 2014

New O&W Post: Put the Smash Back in the Smash Mouth Spread

CM

In Clemson’s season opening win over Georgia, Rod McDowell ran over, through and around Bulldog defenders on his way to 132 yards on 22 carries as the Tigers racked up 197 yards rushing.

Six games later that 197 yards is still the high for Clemson despite blowout wins over South Carolina State, Wake Forest and Syracuse and the Tigers have thrown more than the 30 passes they threw against Georgia in every game since.

Continue reading at orangeandwhite.com

Trouble on Second

CM

I might be the only one, but the numbers below are interesting to me. What is it about second down that has vexed Tajh Boyd in the first four games of 2013?

My initial thought was that perhaps after a loss on first down the Tigers were “behind the chains” and in an obvious passing situation and there looks to be some of that as second and 15, 18 and 22 are among the yards to go.

On the other hand, there are more second and 2, 3 and 4 than second and 15,18 and 22 so this doesn’t fully explain the dramatic difference between completion percentages on first and second down (or first and third for that matter).

Boyd By Down 5

Avg To Go

Even on third downs, with many obvious passing situations, Boyd completes 2 of 3 passes on average.

One thought is it could be the routes or plays called. For example, perhaps second down is the “take a shot” down. It would require some very detailed research to confirm or dispute this theory, but perhaps just eyeballing what happens Saturday will provide us some insight into the root cause.

If you think through it, it makes some sense:

  • First down is typically short or intermediate routes designed to be successful and gain positive yards with the occasional deep ball thrown in.
  •   Second down is the “take a shot down” after a gaining positive yards on first, with the occasional “behind the chains” type play.
  •   Third down is somewhere in between – getting enough to move the chains, so you are playing more to the exact distance to go than on the other downs.

It sounds logical (at least to me).  Now let’s see what happens in a few hours.

Offensive Efficiency Rankings – Week 4

CM

The numbers below only reinforce what we’ve all seen through the first 3 games – a good, but not elite offense. Being ranked 45th overall (out of 123 teams), tied for 14th in tempo and a disappointing 69th in efficiency makes it difficult to dispute the problems the offense has had.

I get into a little more detail about these issues in my orangeandwhite.com post later this afternoon, but the gist of the story is that the next three games will determine whether what we’ve seen is what we’re going to get or, as Tajh Boyd suggested, once rolling the offense will become a freight train.

Offensive Tempo and Efficiency Rankings

Random Numbers

The metric below is my attempt to measure offenses in a way other than total yards. It’s not a complicated formula and contains only two components that are weighted equally: Efficiency (measured in yards per play) and Tempo (measured by number of plays per game).

The totals are added together and divided by 2 to get the final score and ranking.

What it doesn’t include is strength of schedule, so one would expect the Baylor’s of the college football worlds should come back to earth at some point during the season.

Each of the components is adjusted so that the average is 100.00 in both categories. Anything above that is “above average” and anything below that is “below average”.

Another way to think about these numbers is to say that when the average team runs 100 plays Baylor runs 105.70 or when the average team gains 100 yards Baylor gains 164.25.

There are some interesting numbers contained below. I mean who knew that BYU has the highest adjusted tempo offense in college football? On the flip side of that is that because of their inefficient passing game, the Cougars are only 75th in efficiency.

The mirror opposite is LSU, which is ranked 111th in adjusted tempo and 9th in efficiency.

On to the Clemson-N.C. State matchup, it just so happens that these two teams are next to each other in the rankings, with Clemson at 32 and N.C. State at 33. Both play fast and both are mediocre at efficiency.

Many fans are probably surprised to find Clemson at number 65 in adjusted efficiency, but this has never been an area that the Tigers exceed at under Chad Morris. The Tigers get yards, because they push the number of plays to make up for the lack of efficiency.

The Clemson offense runs a large percentage of pass plays at or near the line of scrimmage and while this is generally successful in gaining yards, it’s not something that lends itself to medium to big gains that passes down the field would likely gain.


4 Keys to the Clemson/Georgia Game

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Four keys to a Clemson victory on Saturday. They may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make them any less important.

Offensive Metrics and Corrleation to Wins for Clemson

O Keys40 or more rushing attempts
Despite the hype and circus like atmosphere around the Clemson passing game the rushing game is the most important facet of the Tigers attack, or at least the one that correlates the most to victories.

Not only does the number of rushes correlate highly to wins, but there is a definite trend when you look at the number of rushes in wins and losses in the Chad Morris era.

In wins, Clemson averages 45 rushing attempts a game and in losses only 30.

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Does it really matter if you rush the ball because you’re winning or you’re winning because you rush the ball? Either way you’re winning.

Run at least 75 plays
I’ve documented that the number of plays run for college football teams as a whole means very little. Winners and losers run close to the same number of plays on average.

The same is not true for Clemson. In wins the Tigers average 83 plays while averaging only 67 in losses. We all remember what happened in the South Carolina game when the Gamecocks played keep away in the second half on their way to victory.

Contrast that to what happened to LSU in the 4th quarter of the Chick-Fil-A Bowl as the Tigers were on their way to running 100 plays.

If you look up and Clemson has run 15 plays total and it’s the middle of the 2nd quarter it’s time to panic.

Defensive Metrics and Correlation to Wins for Clemson

D Keys

Holding Georgia to under 40 rushing attempts
In wins Clemson holds opponents to 38 rushing attempts, but in losses that number jumps to 49. Holding Georgia to less than 40 rushing attempts would go a long way towards winning, while every rushing attempt over 40 by Georgia will push the Tiger defense further into the danger zone.

Georgia is very efficient on offense, but they’re not a high tempo team and with two outstanding running backs the potential is there for long, sustained, clock-eating drives.

Minimum of 28 Minutes of Possession
For some fast paced offenses time of possession means little, but for Clemson it means quite a bit.  Under Chad Morris the Tigers have averaged 30 minutes and 33 seconds of possession in wins and only 22 minutes and 55 seconds in the 6 losses.

For Clemson the magic number is at least 28 minutes of possession. Under Morris the Tigers are 14-0 (FBS teams only) when possessing the ball for 28 minutes or more and 5-6 when possessing the ball for less than 28 minutes. 

Clemson has never had more than 27 minutes and 6 seconds of possession in a loss with Morris as the OC.

This stat relies on the Brent Venables defense as much as it does the offense.  As mentioned above, if Georgia is able to put togeher long, sustained, clock eating drives the odds of a Clemson victory are slim.

Geek Speak: Starting Field Position and Points Scored

Pearson 3

Almost everyone agrees that starting field position is an important aspect of how many points a team scores in a given game.

But, how important is it for an offense like Clemson and is it more or less important in ACC games?

If you recall our discussion from earlier in the summer on the Pearson Correlation Coefficient, you’ll see from the data below and looking back over the two seasons in which Chad Morris has been calling plays for the Tigers field position has not correlated to points in a significant fashion.

Field Position

That said, field position has been more important in ACC games than non-ACC games (intuitive due to the general level of competition) and correlated to points more in 2012 than it did in 2011 (not as intuitive – you would think field position would have a higher correlation to points in year one of the offense as the players learn a new system).

In general, I would say the low correlation is a good thing – the Tigers can score from any starting position on the field.

But there’s a flip side to that argument, too. A low correlation between starting field position and points also means starting in “good” field position doesn’t necessarily equate to points as much as it might for an offense with a higher correlation.

Is 92 Plays Realistic?

Chad Morris

As Brandon Rink of orangeandwhite.com reported in earlier this month Chad Morris has set a goal of 92 plays per game for the Tigers this season, or perhaps more accurately, believes the Tigers can “get as high as 92”.

How realistic is this? On first blush I would say not very likely. In 27 games under Morris the Tigers have reached 92 plays a total of 4 times (14.8% of the games).

But 3 of those games in year 2 of the Morris tenure at Clemson, as the Tigers became more familiar with the offense and continued to develop the requisite skill set and stamina needed.

Having a quarterback of Tajh Boyd’s caliber in his third year with Morris is important to reaching this number, but on the flip side Boyd’s center will be young and untested, no matter who that may be.
Plays

Two teams in particular have vexed the Tigers need for speed during the Morris era, one that will most likely surprise you and one that is likely to infuriate some of you: Virginia Tech and South Carolina.

Virginia Tech is somewhat of a surprise in that the Tigers have had 3 relatively comfortable wins over the Hokies in the last two seasons. However, in those games the Tigers ran a total of 67, 75 and 66 plays (a 69.3 average).

The news against South Carolina is even worse: In two games the Tigers have run 60 and 59 plays in two losses.

In these 5 games the Tigers have average 65.4 plays per game. In the other 22 games under Morris the average is 81.4.

These are two teams that employ some type of hybrid LB/Defensive Back in their lineup – in South Carolina’s case it’s called the Spur, while Tech calls it a Whip.

These two defenses are different from each other, but it’s worth noting that neither is the typical 3-4 or 4-3 defense you see in college football.

Duke also employs a similar scheme with a “Devil” hybrid, but the disparity in talent really makes including the Blue Devils in any comparison counterproductive.

The Hokies aren’t on the 2013 regular season schedule, but theoretically Clemson could see them in the ACC Championship Game, right after the regular season ends in Columbia.

Appreciating #10

TBoyd

A few years back I met a couple of my Texas Longhorn buddies for lunch. They were riding high, coming off season after season of 10 or more wins, BCS Bowl victories a national championship and 6 years straight of great quarterbacking.

I told them to enjoy it while it lasted. They looked dumbfounded. “We’re Texas. We are always going to be good.” Somehow they had forgotten the 20 years of mediocrity that preceded Mack Brown and assumed that Texas would always be good and always have a great quarterback.

Then 2010 happened. Two words: Garrett Gilbert.

Fans don’t always appreciate what they see on the field when it’s happening.

It’s the conundrum of sports. The more you win the more you’re expected to win. The higher your performance level, the more you’re expected to perform.

All of this to say Clemson fans should appreciate what Tajh Boyd is doing and what they are witnessing as Boyd rewrites the Clemson record books.

Players like this don’t come along often.

The next quarterback won’t be the same. He may be better, he may be not as good, but it won’t be the same.

There’s something to be said for being the guy (i.e. quarterback) that pulled your team out of the doldrums into their first ACC title in a couple decades and then on to an 11-2 season, topping it with 4th and 16, and continuing that drive for the game winning field goal.

With that game, that drive and that play Boyd cemented himself into Clemson lore.

Now Boyd is cementing himself in the Clemson record books.

I didn’t check every record that Tim Bourret can conjure up, but in addition to the many Clemson records Boyd already possesses here are a few that Boyd is likely to own and/or add to assuming he stays healthy in 2013:

  • Pass Attempts – Career – Needs 380
  • Completions – Career – Needs 200
  • Passing Yards – Career – Needs 1,613
  • Total Yards – Career – Needs 946
  • Snaps by QB – Needs 781
  • Plays – Needs 335
  • Consecutive Games Started – Needs 11
  • Passing Yards Per Game – Already career leader
  • Touchdowns – Already career leader at 73
  • Efficiency Rating – Already career leader at 149.7

Timing is everything and Boyd’s timing has been pretty darn good, both on and off the field. After a redshirt in 2009 and a frustrating 6-7 season in 2010, Chad Morris and Sammy Watkins stepped on campus and everything changed.

It’s important to remember that things can and will change back again. Maybe tomorrow, maybe next year, maybe 20 years from now. But they will change.

It’s also important to appreciate and realize what you are witnessing while it’s happening, to “enjoy the ride”.

Clemson fans are witnessing the best quarterback in Clemson history rewrite the record book and set records that will stand for a long, long time.

Enjoy.

Projecting Clemson’s 2013 Offensive Numbers

Morris and Boyd

How is the Clemson offense like stock in Apple? It’s tough to live up to the expectations that you have set for yourself and what others expect of you when you’ve been better than you’ve ever been.

You’re still very, very good, but fans expect more and more and more. At some point you become a victim of your own success.

Clemson fans thought they had reached nirvana in 2011 when the Tiger offense rolled up 75 plays, 440 yards and over 4 touchdowns per game.

And compared to what we saw under the Mad Scientist and Billy Napier, it was nirvana.

Little did we know that was just the beginning as 2012 turned into 81 plays, 513 yards and nearly 5 ¼ touchdowns per game.

The CEO (Dabo) is back, the VP of Offense is back (Chad Morris), as is the Director of Offense (Tajh Boyd), so naturally one thinks that it’s a given that the numbers will increase in 2013.

The problem is Boyd lost two of his top Lieutenants in Nuk Hopkins and Andre Ellington (not to mention Dalton Freeman). They’ve been replaced by capable understudies for sure, but things won’t be the same. They may be better, they may be worse, but they won’t be the same.

As with business, it takes a while for the new guys to set their own tone. There’s some rough spots, some unknowns, some uneasiness, some ruffled feathers. At the first sign of trouble the questions will start.

The important thing is how those questions are answered. Will Sammy Watkins be able to reproduce what Hopkins provided last year? Will Rod McDowell be able to approach Andre Ellington numbers in the rushing game? Will the Tigers avoid major injuries?

It’s for these reasons the Clemson offense takes a slight, tiny, miniscule step back, statistically speaking. Nothing major, nothing disastrous, probably not even noticeable to most.

A couple less plays a game, a few yards here and a touchdown there. Tajh comes out earlier in blowouts. McDowell doesn’t make the cuts that Elllington did. A few of Hopkins’ circus catches fall incomplete this year.

It’s that simple – the product is still top notch and among the best of the best, but not quite as good as 2012.

How I Got There
I used the average of two seasons with Chad Morris at OC and Tajh Boyd at quarterback and ran the numbers for 12, 13 and 14 games.

2013 Projection

Summary
Chad Morris, Tajh Boyd and the Clemson offense have set the bar impossibly high in two short years in Tiger Town.

The 2013 version of the Clemson offense will be very good, perhaps even top 10ish good. However, replacing Hopkins, Ellington and Freeman leads me to believe this group takes an ever so slight step back in terms of numbers.

The real question comes with the red zone (5.69 points per possession in 2012) and short yardage efficiency (24 of 28 on 3rd and 1, including goal to go) that the 2012 team showed.

Can this group duplicate or improve upon those numbers?

Here is what I projected for each of the individuals profiled in our dualing series with orangeandwhite.com:

2013 Returning Experience: Quarterback

Tajh Boyd Passing

With the return of Tajh Boyd the only major question at quarterback in 2013 is who will back Boyd up.

Junior Cole Stoudt will participate in his third spring game in April and has two full seasons and 171 mostly meaningless snaps under his belt.

Not listed is redshirt Chad Kelly, who many expect to beat out Stoudt for the backup job and seems to be more suited to the Chad Morris offense than the tall, lanky Stoudt.

This will be an interesting story line to follow during the spring, summer and into the fall to see whether the staff opts to continue to prepare and develop Stoudt or begin the process of initiating Kelly to assume the starting position in 2014.


2012 Quarterback Experience Final -

The backup battle also may have long-term consequences on whomever loses the battle. After two years at second team, how would Stoudt take being demoted to 3rd team and face being a backup throughout his career? Not having used his redshirt year to date, there are multiple options available to Stoudt if this scenario developed.

On the other hand, one would suspect that Kelly didn’t come to Clemson to be a third string quarterback and assuming he doesn’t see significant time in 2013 how would Kelly feel about going into 2014 competing with Stoudt and any other quarterbacks in camp? By that time it would be more than 2 years since Kelly saw meaningful snaps in a game and 20 year olds are rarely known for their patience.