Before we talk Notre Dame, let’s talk Clemson. Specifically, Clemson’s offensive line. We all dutifully nod our heads when someone says the “the offensive line doesn’t get enough credit,” then turn around and trash them after a sack or tackle for loss. We have to wait for The Kraken to diagram a play where everyone did their job, but the running back, deciding to be a hero, bounces it outside into a negative play. Or, watch carefully to see a QB hold onto the ball too long or tuck and run into a loss on a pass play.
I’ve heard people say the rest of the offense is making the line look good. Talk about modern day epicycles. Look at Lawrence’s sack rate vs. Bryant’s (2.4% vs. 6.9%) or Etienne’s yards per carry vs. Feaster’s (8.3 vs. 5.8). Football is a team sport and it takes all eleven players working together to make it click. Lawrence reading the field and getting the ball out faster cut down the sack rate, as did Lawrence running the ball less.
Offensive Line by the Numbers
Below are the numbers for two of the key aspects of the offense associated with the line: run blocking (Opportunity Rate) and pass protection (Sack Rate). We have the opposing team’s rankings on defense along with their season average and how Clemson did.
Clemson faced two very good defensive fronts in Texas A&M and NC State. We ran close to half a yard better than A&M allowed on the year but 0.68 below average against NC State. The line did a great job in pass protection against both teams. Besides Syracuse, they did a great job all year long and cleaned things up after NC State. Lawrence getting more comfortable in the pocket could have something to do with that.
We faced four good run defenses over the course of the season and ran all over only one. Breaking: we’re not going to run all over Alabama and may have a hard time (3.0-4.0 yards/carry) against Notre Dame. Does that mean we have an average FBS offensive line? Of course not. Georgia, with all their five-star linemen, running backs, and quarterbacks, only ran for 3.9 yards/carry in the SEC Championship. They even allowed 2 sacks (5% sack rate).
Clemson has a very good offensive line at each position. For the first time in a while we have depth and experience. At tackle next year we should have Carman, Anchrum, Pollard, Vinson, Reeves, DeHond, and maybe McFadden. Skip to 2020 and only take away Anchrum and Pollard, then add in 2019 and 2020 commits. At guard and center, you have everyone but Falcinelli, but in 2020 we only have Bockhorst and Stewart. Cervenka, Simpson, and Giella cycle out. That is way better than where we were in 2015 with Mitch Hyatt playing LT as a true freshman. Wait to see how this class finishes before you decide to worry, then we still have 2020 to find tackle depth.
Notre Dame’s Offensive Line
Looking at Notre Dame’s offensive line the same way, they were much less consistent over the course of the season. I highlighted everything in red where it’s below the opponent’s average, same as I did for Clemson, and was a little more generous with green. They outperformed their opponent’s Opportunity half the time and underperformed it half the time. Their pass protection is much worse than ours, ranking 58th. They had a terrible game against Ball State and Pittsburgh and a bad game against USC. They handled Michigan just fine and held up better than we did against the fearsome Orange.
From an Opportunity Rate and Sack Rate perspective, their schedule doesn’t look too different from ours. Both teams have changed a lot since their first game. They have more red on the back half of their schedule than we do. They have a good offensive line.
Next time we will take a higher-level view of their schedule, offensively and defensively, and dive into the advanced stats. Just based on the numbers, I would rather have our offensive line than theirs.