QUALK TALK BLOG: Is Run Defense a Problem?

QUALK TALK BLOG: Is Run Defense a Problem?

Qualk Talk

QUALK TALK BLOG: Is Run Defense a Problem?

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In yesterday’s blog, we discussed how dominant Clemson has been thus far and the absence of legitimate concerns on the football team. Nevertheless, there are still question marks. For example, some have commented to the Tigers’ inability to consistently stop the run.

To be fair, the numbers don’t look good. Clemson is 12th in the 14-team Atlantic Coast Conference in run defense, allowing 171.2 yards per game through five games. Often times, per-game averages can be skewed if a team’s play count is skewed up, down, or either toward run or pass. That’s not the case here, though.

Only one team (Boston College) is allowing more yards per carry than Clemson’s average of 4.2. In addition, the Tigers are in the middle of the pack in terms of rush attempts against. In short, this means that relative to its peers, Clemson’s run defense simply doesn’t measure up.

In light of these numbers, you might get a puzzled look on your face—as I did—because of one virtually undisputed characteristic of Clemson’s defense: It looks pretty doggone good out there.

The Tigers don’t function like a team getting destroyed in the running game. They don’t look like Texas against BYU, the most convenient example of how a team looks when it cannot stop the run under any circumstances. It just doesn’t seem reasonable to suggest Clemson’s defense has a major Achilles heel that could prove costly in important games down the stretch.

I undertook this project with some skepticism because my eye told me Clemson’s defense was fine, aside from a few scattered chunk plays surrendered on the ground. I wanted to see if Clemson’s defense had been gashed as easily and consistently as the numbers would suggest.

Below is a chart of every rushing attempt against Clemson this season. It includes quarterback scrambles on called pass plays, but it does not include sacks. I wanted the data to reflect times when the Tigers were asked to defend the run, either at the snap of the ball or at the behest of a scrambling quarterback.

The point of the chart is to show what kinds of runs Clemson’s defense is allowing on a regular basis. Venables’s stated goal is to allow 3.3 yards per carry or fewer in each game, so any run for negative yardage or 0-3 yards is considered a win for the defense. The averages at the bottom do reflect sacks, which Venables considers in his final analysis.

GEORGIA

SC ST

NC ST

WAKE

CUSE

TOTAL

>0

2

8

3

5

7

25

0-3

25

25

10

12

20

92

4-6

9

2

10

8

3

32

7-10

1

5

2

1

5

14

11-20

2

3

4

2

5

16

21+

4

0

2

0

4

10

TOTAL

43

(5.4)

43

(1.9)

31

(4.6)

28

(1.9)

44

(6.7)

189

(4.2)

As you can see, roughly 48.6% of running plays against Clemson this season have gone for three yards or fewer. Another 13.2% of runs go for lost yardage, meaning that Clemson’s defense does its job against the run a little more than three-fifths of the time (not including sacks).

There have definitely been some inconsistencies in this arena. Against N.C. State, the Tigers won the battle against the Wolfpack only 13 times out of 31 total running plays. Against Syracuse, the high yardage per carry was a result of a slew of big plays allowed in spite of a high rate of success per snap for the defense.

Against Georgia, the toughest rushing opponent Clemson has faced so far, there were 27 times the defense won the battle on a given snap. That is an impressive rate of per-snap success. Two runs accounted for more than 100 yards, and the per-carry rate skyrocketed as a result. I feel this is a more acceptable result for fans than watching a team run off a string of 6-12 yard rushes over the entirety of a game.

Obviously South Carolina State and Wake Forest were dominant efforts for the rush defense. There were no carries for more than 20 yards, and those were the only two contests in which the Tigers met Venables’ goal of 3.3 yards per carry or fewer allowed.

All in all, Clemson’s defense is not without holes. Big plays can be had against this group, but a success rate of 61.8% is pretty good. The Orange exploited the weaknesses in this department, and I’m sure Boston College will look to do the same. But I would say hand-wringing over Clemson’s perceived inability to stop the run is a bit premature.

God Bless!

WQ

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