The Clemson offense has been on a hiatus the last two weeks, but how bad have things really been?
By Will Vandervort
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney says his offense has been on a hiatus the last two weeks.
The ninth-ranked Tigers, who play at Maryland on Saturday (3:30 p.m.), did very little in a win against Boston College and then in last week’s collapse against second-ranked Florida State it seemed as if they did nothing at all.
Knowing he has had red zone issues as well – 6 for 9 the last three games – Swinney asked Sports Information Director Tim Bourret to go back and compare the offensive numbers from the first seven games last year to this year’s first seven games. What Bourret unraveled was a little surprising.
“We were almost identical to where we were after seven games last year and we are better in several areas, including in the red zone,” Swinney said. “We are scoring more points there. It is crazy.”
The Tigers (6-1, 4-1 ACC) are actually averaging 5.8 points per game when it gets inside the red zone. This time last year they were averaging 5.6 points. Why? Surprisingly, the Tigers are scoring more touchdowns in the red zone than it did at this point last year.
The 2013 team is also averaging more first downs, more passing yards, has a better passing efficiency rating and has thrown more touchdown passes.
“It kind of shocks you because we have not done anything the last two weeks, offensively,” Swinney said.
The discrepancy, though, has been in the running game where the Tigers are down in almost every category. The 2012 team was averaging 26.3 more yards per games than this year’s team and scored five more touchdowns.
Former running back Andre Ellington—now with the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals—at this point last season led the Tigers with 693 yards and had seven rushing touchdowns. So far this year, Roderick McDowell and Zac Brooks have gained only 644 yards and scored two touchdowns combined in the first seven weeks.
The Tigers are averaging 3.9 yards per carry through the first seven weeks of the 2013 season, down from the 4.4 it had this time last year. This is just one reason why the Tigers have struggled more in the red zone as of late.
“We are not doing a good job in the red zone, period. It is a combination of things,” Swinney said. “I don’t care who scores really. As long as we score, I don’t care if it is the quarterback, the wideout, the tight end, the running back, that does not matter to me. I just want to score.
“That’s something we have been really, really good at. Last year, we led the nation in red zone scoring, but now we have missed some really good opportunities.”
Clemson was 53 of 56 in red zone scoring opportunities last season, including 30 of 31 the first seven weeks of the year. Through the first seven games this season, the Tigers are 21 of 24.
Though Swinney might not care who scores, it would not hurt obviously to see the Tigers become more productive in the running game, especially in the red zone. Quarterback Tajh Boyd leads the Tigers in rushing touchdowns with five this year, which is one more than he had through the first seven games last year. However, last year Boyd did not score his four touchdowns until games 5, 6 and 7 when defenses started to key on Ellington more in the red zone.
So far this year, it is the exact opposite. Defenses are now focused more on stopping Boyd and daring someone else in the running game to make a play. So far, no one has stepped up and that has put pressure on Boyd and his wide receivers to have to make plays in the passing game, which can lead to more incompletions, dropped passes and turnovers.
“It does not necessarily put pressure on us, but you do have to go out there and focus on the details, especially in the red zone,” Boyd said. “It is a little bit different down there because things get a little tighter. There is not much room for error.”
As Clemson hits the home stretch of the season, with a possible at-large berth in the BCS at stake as well as other goals that are still on the table, there isn’t any room for error right now. And though the Tigers are doing some things very well on offense, there is obviously a lot of room for improvement, too.
“We just have to trust in the call and trust in the play and just go out there and play,” Boyd said.
Comparison of Clemson Offense: 2012 vs. 2013.
(Through 7 Games)
Category 2012 2013
Record 6-1 6-1
National Rank 14 AP, 13 USA 9 AP, 10 USA
Total Offensive TDs 35 32
Passing TDs 17 20
Rushing TDs 17 12
Rushing Yards/Game 191.7 165.4
Rushing Yards/Attempt 4.4 3.9
Passing Yards/Game 301.1 322.1
Passing Yards/Attempt 8.33 8.14
Passing Yards/Comp. 12.5 12.4
Completion % .664 .657
Pass Efficiency 153.0 155.0
Total Offense/Game 492.9 487.6
Yards/Play 6.2 5.9
Points/Redzone Possession 5.6 5.8
Turnovers/Game 1.14 1.43
Average Starting Field Pos. Clem 31 Clem 31
Third Down Conv. .522 .427
First Downs/Game 24.6 24.9
Note: Better in 2013 in bold