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Qualk Talk

It only took a quarter

2016-11-19_21-13-23

Efficiency. It’s the advanced stats buzzword in the 21st century. We have numbers that track it, and those numbers are beginning to seep into mainstream thought and conversation.

Depending on your perspective, Clemson was either incredibly efficient or incredibly inefficient in earning the Atlantic Division title. Let me explain.

The Tigers were “supposed” to win that title last week against Pittsburgh. That didn’t work out too well. For fans who have that mindset—and given Clemson’s regular season prowess up until that point, why wouldn’t you?—it took a week too long to clinch the division crown.

Let’s pretend that perspective doesn’t exist for a moment. Let’s just focus on the Tigers’ tilt with Wake Forest, which ended in a 35-13 victory for the road teaml.

In that case, the Atlantic Division champs needed barely more than a quarter to impose their collective will on a helpless opponent that could do nothing right until Clemson allowed it to happen. That seems pretty efficient to me.

Just taking the first quarter into consideration, the Tigers outscored Wake Forest 21-0. They outgained the Demon Deacons 192-27 and beat them 8-1 in first downs. It was a thoroughly dominant quarter.

If you count only the first four drives for each team, the difference was 240-27. Clemson scored on all four of its possessions, and Wake Forest’s lone first down came on a running into the kicker penalty.

Once that stretch of 17:16 was over, so was the game. Clemson went on to do other things in the remaining 42:44.

People seem quite bothered about this shifting of focus, as if doing so is a sign of weakness. Many fans appeared frustrated during the middle portion of the game that Clemson’s lead was shrinking, not growing, even though strong winds blowing right back into the face of the Tiger offense were dictating a more conservative approach. The margin never got below 15 points, and the lead was never in jeopardy.

This kind of fear is rational in college football. It’s a sport where few leads seem completely secure. In this case, however, the opponent wasn’t capable of matching Clemson’s offensive output—not with a third-string quarterback and no crowd to provide the requisite energy.

Plus, it makes sense to spend time in other ways once the goal has been accomplished, just as it was with Clemson leading 28-0 against an overmatched opponent. Think about this: If you budget an entire day to get something done around the house, and you’re finished by lunch, do you go back to do more of that thing? Or do you find something else to do?

Instead of dwelling on the inconsistency of a team that was obviously looking to build depth after securing a victory, take a look at how the team applied the lessons taken from the Pittsburgh game. The offense averaged six yards per carry and was determined to run the football, even against the same pass looks that caused Deshaun Watson to audible more than a few times last week. Wayne Gallman had perhaps his best game of the season as a result of that persistence.

The defense totally stifled a Wake Forest offense that has sufficiently stopped itself all season long. Six of the Demon Deacons’ 13 series ended with three-and-outs. Only seven passes were completed in the entire game.

It was a championship performance for a team whose doubters suddenly had credible ammunition to hurl its way for the first time since 2014. It was also the kind of performance the Tigers delivered a year ago once the games began to matter more.

It barely took a quarter to clinch a championship…and that’s supposed to be a bad thing? I’m sure all involved will take the same kind of efficient performance next Saturday in the state championship.

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