Clemson OC explains why Tigers struggled on third-and-short last year
Last year, Clemson converted 44.2 percent of its third down opportunities, which ranked 27th nationally. Overall, the percentage was not too bad. However, when it mattered most, in the biggest of games, the Tigers struggled a lot more on third down than the coaching staff would have liked.
In its Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State, Clemson converted just 5-of-14 third down conversions, 35.7 percent. In the national championship game against LSU, it was even worse. In fact, it was the worst performance ever on third down by a Clemson offense under head coach Dabo Swinney.
The Tigers converted just 1-of-11 third downs in the title game, 0.09 percent.
“We weren’t very good in those last two games on third down, in particular third-and-three,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said following practice on Wednesday. “Overall, we were good, but then when you dive down to third-and-three, we weren’t as good as we needed to be.”
Elliott said the Tigers were good on third-and-medium, but they struggled in third-and-three plays and short yardage situations. The offense’s goal is to convert on 75 percent of their short-yardage plays, but last year they were just 68 percent.
What did they learn when scouting themselves in short-yardage situations?
“We were really good running the football, but we took some chances throwing the football,” Elliott said. “So, we learned we probably need to hand the ball to Travis [Etienne] more in short yardage situations if you want to convert.”
Clemson also learned they have to improve in the red zone, too. When they dialed it back, their overall touchdown percentage was good, but they had a turnover in the red zone, missed a couple of field goals and then had a couple of fourth downs that they did not convert when they went for it.
“Those are some of the biggest things,” Elliott said. “Then we had some tendencies that naturally you would when you are pretty good on offense. But we are going to work hard to make sure that we break some of those tendencies. But when you step back, we did not finish the way that we wanted to finish, offensively. But man we accomplished a lot of things.”
Because the offense has been so good the last couple of years, one area where the Tigers have slipped is hitting their goal of 80 plays a game. Elliott said that is something they will work on in the spring.
“The last couple of years we have been around 72. We are a lot more explosive than we were when we were hitting those 80 plays, so we want to find that happy medium to where we can get that snap count up without jeopardizing our efficiency or explosiveness,” he said.
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