It certainly seems like the rich are getting richer in college football. Every analyst’s top two programs at the beginning of the season, Alabama and Clemson, appear to be on a collision course for an early January matchup. Clemson is getting better every week and our Tigers’ latest spanking was even more gluttonous than the past 3. In those past 4 games, Clemson has gone from appearing to be a “great team with some holes” to performing at a higher level than the Tiger playoff teams from 2015-2017.
On Saturday, all of this statistical gluttony was achieved while rotating in 2nd-stringers 5 minutes into the game and playing a total of 94 Tigers in the game. I saw guys out there that I didn’t even recognize and even they were doing ok against Louisville’s 1st and 2nd teamers. So shout out to household names like Sylvester “Slym” Mayers, “Flyin'” Ryan Mac Lain, Peter “Tugboat” Cote, “Double J” Josh Jackson, Elijah “The Burner” Turner, Jack “Mad Dog” Maddox, Drew Swinney (wait, there’s more?), “Marvelous” Max May, and Tyler “T-Boom” Brown for keeping the party going.
After the epic beatdown this week, here’s where we stand in the National Rankings. A purple number in the 2018 column shows that it is currently the best ranking of the Dabo Swinney era at Clemson. Purple numbers in the other columns represent the previous highs.
Statistically, this is the best offense in the Dabo era and probably the best statistical offense in Clemson history. Opponent DCs are having to pick their poison every week, stop the run or stop the pass. They’re all choosing to stop the run by the way.
However, when you load the box and still can’t stop the run like Wake and Louisville, you get the high number of big plays that we saw. Clemson is now #1 in the nation in 40+ yard plays with 26 (Alabama has 20). Clemson also has had a whopping 18 50+ yard plays this season. The next closest teams have 13 (Alabama has 12). Even more interesting, 12 of those 18 have come in the past 4 games.
For the past three years, I have been able to relay big-picture football philosophy that cuts through the weekly narratives that are often created in-house by our staff as disinformation for future opponents. From 2015 until just a couple weeks ago, one of those narratives was “Clemson needs a running QB for their offense to work.” We have all seen and heard this used often as the justification for why Deshaun Watson was so effective or why we were starting Kelly Bryant over Trevor Lawrence (and also Hunter Johnson). Even right now, someone somewhere in the Clemson media-verse is parroting that and wondering if that’s going to hold us back offensively. Spoiler: It’s not.
You, on the other hand, read here and already know why Clemson’s statistical numbers are so astronomically high the past 4 weeks. It’s because (drumroll) an elite offense challenges all areas of the field. We see the same exact thing with our elite rival, Alabama. Saban has an elite level passing QB for the first time and it seems to be working out.
Of all the gluttonous stats above, perhaps the most interesting one is that we are #1 in the nation in yards per rush at 6.94 ypc. This, despite the fact that A&M, NCS, and FSU all held us to under 3.70 yards per rush. Now, flip that around and look at passing stats and you’ll quickly see we’re not as efficient throwing the football. Therfore, it would make sense to stop the run and take your chances with our passing game.
We are, however, capable of explosive plays though the air. Since the beginning of October when TL took over, Clemson has had 8 40+ yard passing plays compared to Alabama’s 9.
Let’s look at the passing stats against the teams that shut down our run game (A&M, NCS, and FSU). If you average those three games, you can see the typical game looked like this: 24 of 39 for 360 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 9.1 YPA. In other words, the DCs that have been able to shut down our run have paid dearly for it. While our passing attack may be ranked 30th in yards and 28th in efficiency, it performed like the 4th and 10th respectively against A&M, NCS, and FSU.
So what does that all mean in plain English?
It means that today in week 10, we’re right there with Alabama statistically. I expect to see some of these algorithms start to show that also. This means we might get some national media types jumping on our bandwagon as being “better than Alabama” to get attention. We’re probably going to get hit with a healthy dose of rat poison and that makes me nervous heading to Boston College this week. Statistically, Boston College will be the best defense we have played this year. We’ll know a lot about this offense, and this team, after this game.