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Clemson Football

Clemson Football Mid-Season Report Card

October 11, 2017
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Clemson’s football season has approached the halfway point and is 6-0. With all the question about the quarterback competition and Clemson’s offense during the offseason, this team has responded and picked up right where they left off back in January. 

The odds of getting through the September gauntlet, including games against three top 15 teams, unscathed were slim, but the Tigers rose to the occasion week after week. 

Clemson didn’t just pick up where they left off; they look better than last year.

Here are some grades for the offense, defense and special team’s performance so far this season:


OFFENSE:

This was supposed to be the downfall of Clemson this year, right? So far, that has not been the case. The numbers for Clemson’s offense have somewhat improved from 2016, and it starts with running the football. After losing Deshaun Watson to the NFL, the Tigers went from a team that would throw the ball around the lot to a run-first team. 

In comparison to 2016, the rushing attack has improved. Clemson averaged 169.5 yards per game on the ground last year and so far averages 237.3 yards per game this year. Granted, the number of carries has increased by 6.5 per game, but Clemson has made it a purpose to be balanced and play to their strengths. 

Their strength lies with Kelly Bryant and the use of his legs. He has shown he is a capable thrower so far this season, but his athleticism and speed running the football have made him more effective on the ground than Watson.  Clemson has 21 rushing touchdowns compared to just two given up to opposing offenses all year. The Tigers had 30 total rushing touchdowns all of 2016. 

For a team to be successful, you have to be able to run the football. Clemson’s ability to run the ball has opened up a lot of plays for Bryant to take shots downfield. A sustained running game has also allowed four capable running backs, led by Tavien Feaster and Travis Etienne, to wear down the defenses weekly.

A few more numbers from the offense: Clemson has converted on 48.9 percent of its third downs this season. The Tigers rank 11th in the country and last year’s national championship team converted 50.2 percent. If Clemson can remain around that 50-percent area, then watch out.

Clemson’s red zone offense has also been superb so far. The Tigers have scored a touchdown on 17-20 red zone trips, which is 5th best in the nation at 85 percent. To compare again to last year’s offense, Clemson had 55 touchdowns on 76 attempts for a 72.37 success rate. 

Although the offense has struggled at times this season in games against Boston College, Wake Forest, and Auburn, their ability to wear down a defense and do what they need to do to win is a big reason Clemson is still unbeaten. 

Watch for this offense to continue to find itself as the season continues.

Grade: B+


DEFENSE:

To give this defense any grade other than an A from their work so far this season would be laughable, so we aren’t going to do that. The Clemson defense has been so dominant, and it is baffling that they seemed to improve after losing key players from last year’s team.

The defensive line has been outstanding, led by Austin Bryant who wasn’t even supposed to be the main “guy” this year, but he has stepped up and played so well. The linebacker unit has been high-flying and hard-hitting. They are led by Dorian O’Daniel who has filled the spot of Ben Boulware nicely. His ability to cover slot receivers in space and downfield has been key for Clemson.

Speaking of pass coverage, the defensive backs and safeties have been all over the place. They have done a better job this year of not committing pass interference penalties, and a lot of their coverages have led to some of those sacks for the defensive line. 

With the way this defense has been playing so far, their biggest concern is that they have not gotten a shutout yet. This group of players is full of guys that had to wait their turn to shine, and they have made the most of their opportunities.

These guys make a 21-0 lead seem like it is 45-0. It’s hard to believe that this defense can get better, but coach Brent Venables believes they can.

That’s scary.

Grade: A


SPECIAL TEAMS:

This was the hardest category. There are so many different phases of special teams, and it seems like some areas have improved while others have been struggling.

Starting kicker Greg Huegel tore his ACL and is out for the season, which brought in Alex Spence for kickoffs and field goal attempts. He has struggled a bit so far, but it has not been terribly noticeable and when the game was on the line. He has a lot of room for improvement as the year continues and he tries to find a groove.

Punting has been a different story. Will Spiers has been excellent for Clemson so far. He’s fifth in the ACC in punting average and top 30 in the country with 44 yards a punt. 12 of his 28 punts have been inside the 20-yard line and his long of the season was a 64-yard punt at Louisville. He has only had three touchbacks. 10 of his 28 punts have been 50+ yards.

With Clemson’s defense, field position is a significant factor. To be able to back opponents up inside their own 20 is a massive asset for the Tigers. Not to mention, Spiers is 1-for-1 passing the football for five yards and a first down.

On the other side of the ball, Ray-Ray McCloud and Hunter Renfrow have done a great job on punt returns. McCloud has 11 punt returns and averages 8.5 yards per return. His long was a 56-yard return, and he said it’s “only a matter of time” before he breaks one loose for a touchdown. 

Most importantly, there have been no fumbles on punt returns yet this season, an area where McCloud has struggled in the past.

With their improvements in the punting game but still some question marks when it comes to kicking field goals, the special teams unit will continue to grow.

Grade: B
 

Discussion from...

Clemson Football Mid-Season Report Card

Orangejack
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R
I give the offense an A-, defense A, special teams B-.

The offense is doing great, but seems like there's been maybe more than normal 3-and-outs. How many total drives have the Tigers had this year that stalled? I know they've punted 30 times but not sure how many drives ended on not converting 4th down. I'd love to find the numbers for total possessions and how many ended with a TD, FG, Punt, TO, and failed 4th Down.

Defense is doing great. Seems most points scored against them is late and/or with backups in.

Special teams are all over the place. Not many touchbacks on ko and a FG kicker that is unproven. But returns looks good - need to work to set up more returns IMO.
Lawton Swann
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Touchbacks have been an issue for a long time. I can't figure out how we can't find one guy and make that his job. I'd hold open tryouts for a "kickoff specialist".

Seeing the lack of overall drop off speaks volumes about the depth of talent at Clemson.
ej10s
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Glad to see somebody post about touchbacks...was beginning to think I was the only one who noticed them/had a problem with them. It's mind-blowing how we habitually don't have somebody who can kick it into the endzone (or through it). It hasn't really hurt us YET, but all it takes is 1 (see Deebo against NCSt and Missouri for how that impacted those games). Hope in the near future, we recruit a kicker with a lead foot (maybe my Mom is available???).

Maybe I'm too pessimistic, but I'd give our Offense a B...left too many points on the field, the deep ball hasn't been there enough and has been missed too many times when it was. Defense an A...not sure how you can find fault with these guys...they're unbelievably tough. Special teams a B-...fairly solid, nothing special. See above comment on kickoffs and having to find a new FG kicker. Hopefully Spence develops some confidence as the season progresses.
Lawton Swann
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One great thing about the offense is that they score TDs in the red zone. That was a huge issue under Spence and Morris. We would hit the 20-yard line and stall.
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