The key to leading the nation in 3rd down defense? Being really good on 1st and 2nd down defense.
It turns out that Clemson’s opponents faced 3rd and 7 or more on 61% of third downs in 2014 and, as the chart/graph shows, there wasn’t much chance of succeeding when faced with that distance – 14.2% to be exact (17/120).
When faced with 3rd and 6 or less opponents approached 50% conversions (37/77 – 48.1%).
It’s not earth shattering to note that the farther to go the more difficult it is to make a first down – that’s intuitive.
Perhaps the takeaway here is as good as the 2014 defense was even that group struggled (to some degree) when the distance to go was 6 yards or less and the key (in addition to a fast, athletic, talented defense) is stopping first and second down thereby forcing a more predictable play call on 3rd and long.