CLEMSON, S.C. — There is no bigger critic of Clemson’s offense than Chad Morris, and that’s just the way he likes it. The Tigers’ frenetic third-year offensive coordinator is always pushing for bigger, faster and more.
“You want to have high expectations for your program,” Morris said in July at Clemson’s media day. “Here’s the one thing I can say about expectations: There are two things you can do with expectations. We can meet them or exceed them. What are we going to do? That’s our approach.”
A year ago, Morris’ hurry-up, no-huddle offense set the bar for 2013 extremely high. The 2012 Tigers averaged 512.7 yards of total offense (ninth nationally), 41 points per game (sixth nationally) and averaged 321.6 yards passing per game (13th nationally) and 191.8 yards rushing (36th nationally) while running an average of 81.7 plays per game.
Although Clemson’s offense is once again powerful (the Tigers racked up a season-high 59 points at Virginia Saturday, the same as Oregon’s offense did at Scott Stadium in mid-September), Clemson’s numbers appear to have stagnated, if not taken a slight step backward.
Through nine games, the Tigers average 507 yards of total offense (13th nationally), 39.8 points per game (16th nationally), 332.7 passing yards per game (13th nationally) and 174.6 yards rushing (61st nationally). They are running an average of 84.6 plays per game.
But has Clemson’s offense really taken a step back?
It’s worth taking a deeper look into the statistics to decide.
To do so, I compared Clemson’s stats through nine games in 2012 to those through nine games this season (Clemson is off this week before finishing the regular season with home games against Georgia Tech and The Citadel and a road game at rival South Carolina).
Just like last season, Clemson is 8-1, with its only loss coming to Florida State. A year ago, the Tigers finished with home games against Maryland, N.C. State and South Carolina and the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU, if you were curious about how their season-ending numbers developed.
Through nine games, Clemson averaged 522.4 yards of total offense (ninth nationally), 42.7 points per game (seventh nationally), 324.4 passing yards per game (10th nationally) and 198 rushing yards per game (32nd nationally).
Comparing year-to-year, Clemson is averaging 15 yards fewer of total offense per game, 2.9 fewer points per game, 8.3 yards more passing per game and 23.4 yards fewer of rushing per game.
The most significant difference is the rush game. Before the season began, Morris said he wanted to be “more efficient” on the ground and average 226 rushing yards per game.
Three-quarters of the way through the season, the Tigers are 51.4 yards per game short of that goal.
It is worth analyzing the difference between the lead backs in the offense.
A year ago, Andre Ellington averaged 86.6 yards per game through nine games, which included a 26-yard effort at Duke (he left after one carry with a hamstring strain).
Through nine games this fall, Rod McDowell averages 75.2 yards per game. He suffered a minor knee injury against Wake Forest, carrying three times for 10 yards.
Ellington had one 100-yard game through his first nine, rushing for 228 against Auburn. McDowell has two, carrying for 132 against Georgia and 161 against Maryland.
This July, Morris said, “We’ve been balanced the first two years (of my offense) and we strive to be balanced. We can get better. We talked about being the most explosive offense in the country, and we have been. There’s so many hidden yards we left out there. There’s so much more we can do to get better. So much more.”
Through nine games a year ago, the Tigers averaged 6.4 yards per play. This year? Exactly 6.0.
A year ago, Tajh Boyd averaged 297.4 passing yards per game through nine games, with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. This year, he averages 291.1 passing yards per game with 20 touchdowns and six interceptions. However, he had four 300-yard games at this point a year ago and five through nine games this season.
|Clemson's Offense Through Nine Games in 2012 and 2013|
|Year||Points per game||Total yds per game||Passing yds per game||Rushing yds per game|
|Clemson sports information|
2012’s leading receiver, DeAndre Hopkins, averaged 115.2 receiving yards per game with 12 touchdowns through nine games. This fall’s leading receiver, Sammy Watkins, averages 109.1 yards per game with seven touchdowns.
Watkins is plenty explosive: he and Boyd have hooked up for touchdowns of 91 and 96 yards, two of the three longest offensive plays from scrimmage in Clemson history.
But he is not as strong of a red-zone receiver as Hopkins, which could account for part of the reason that he trails Hopkins’ 2012 touchdown pace at this point.
Overall, Clemson has slipped from 95 percent accuracy in the red zone (first nationally) to 83.7 percent (61st nationally). And a year ago, 43 of Clemson’s 56 red-zone scores were touchdowns, a 76.7 percent clip. This fall, 28 of the 41 red-zone scores have been touchdowns, a 68.2 percent clip.
The differences in the passing game are negligible; Clemson’s offense has tilted slightly toward the air this fall, with 65.6 percent of its yards coming from passing as opposed to 62.1 percent a year ago.
As mentioned, the run game could carry a bigger part of the load. But overall, the offense is about the same, which doesn’t live up to the standards Morris set in July.
Boyd thinks the best is yet to come, though.
“Statistically, we’re pretty much dead-even. But again, I really feel like we’re starting to come in and play our best ball right now,” he said. “Last year we were a little more polished early on. But I think that in the time period we’re in right now, November, we’ve progressed over the last two weeks. We’ve made improvements and strides. And I’m looking forward to seeing what these last three games present to us. It’s important as a leader and player to keep working hard.”
Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article were obtained directly by the author.
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