Clemson Football: Offensive analysis from the USC game

In the sport of tennis, one statistic will likely summarize how a match was won: unforced errors.  Though not a stat in football, Clemson’s lengthy list of unforced errors tells the tale of their 31-17 loss to South Carolina.

The Tigers turned the ball over six times versus the Gamecocks’ zero, and you could argue that none of them were truly forced.  Certainly not Adam Humphries muffed punt in the first quarter when his own teammate ran into him.  Or Tajh Boyd’s late game interceptions that had more to do with frustration than pass coverage or pressure.  Lastly, Chad Morris may have over thought the situation when he called for a Sammy Watkins pass that USC’s Brison Williams picked off in the end zone to halt a great opening drive.

Beyond turnovers, there were miscues in pass protection, costly penalties, and undisciplined play by the Tiger defense that allowed Connor Shaw to eat them up on third downs.  That said, you have to give credit to the Gamecocks.  They are the better, more disciplined football team and it showed for the fifth straight year.

Now let’s take a look at the Clemson offense and see why they could not get the job done Saturday night.  The chart below shows CU quarterback Tajh Boyd’s statistics in various situations.  Note that I did not count Sammy Watkins fly sweep as a pass, although it was in the official box score.  Also, dropped passes, throw-aways, and spikes do not factor in as attempts (there were five such “attempts” Saturday).

Situation Attempts Completions Yards TDs Int. Sacks QB Rating
Passes < 10 yards 17 14 114 0 0 n/a 94.6
Passes b/w 10-19 yards 4 3 47 0 1 n/a 73.95
Passes > 20 yards 2 1 57 0 1 n/a 56.25
Vs. Blitz 4 4 45 0 0 3 113.5
Vs. 4 rushers or less 14 10 167 0 2 2 71.72
Screens 5 4 6 0 0 0 79.16

Overall, I have Boyd completing 18 of 23 “true” attempts for 218 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions.  This comes out to a quarterback rating of 69.92.  Although Boyd completed a high percentage (78%) of his passes as usual, he was unable to find much success on deep routes.  Clemson completes 4.5 pass plays per game that cover over 20 yards; however, USC limited the Tigers to only two such plays.

Both interceptions fall squarely on Boyd letting his emotions get the better of him.  The picks came late in the game and prevented any chance for a Clemson comeback.  Of course, he faced consistent pressure from USC’s outstanding defensive line and the Tiger receivers struggled to separate.  One cannot put the loss on Boyd, but he definitely struggled once again versus the Gamecocks.

Tajh Boyd

National pundits laud the Clemson receivers for being among the best in college football.   On Saturday, though, South Carolina successfully limited the strength of the Tiger offense.

Player

Targets

Receptions

Yards

Drops

TDs

Int.

Yards after Catch

QB Rating when targeted

Sammy Watkins

10

6

86

2

0

0

44

87.91

Martavis Bryant

3

1

18

0

0

2

0

15.27

Adam Humphries

6

5

45

0

0

1

7

58.33

Stanton Seckinger

2

2

25

0

0

0

11

118.7

Roderick McDowell

2

2

31

0

0

0

27

118.7

Sam Cooper

1

1

4

0

0

0

0

83.33

Mike Williams

1

1

9

0

0

0

0

104.1

By most standards, Watkins had a good game, but number two is not an ordinary player.  He only had one game breaking play and it came in the first quarter when Watkins was able to beat man coverage on a post route off play action.  Clemson implemented a seven man protection scheme, which provided Watkins time to get open deep.  This play brought the Tigers to the USC twelve yard line and set up their first touchdown.

Beyond that, Watkins received ample targets, but could not shake loose against excellent coverage from the Gamecock back seven.  Moreover, Watkins uncharacteristically dropped two passes.

Martavis Bryant, who has 800 yards on the year, was a total non-factor.  His numbers above look worse because Boyd threw two ill-advised balls his way that were intercepted.  That being said, offensive coordinator Chad Morris needs to find ways to get Bryant the ball.  He’s too good to only see one target in the first three quarters.  I would put Mike Williams in that category as well.  The passing distribution was poor to say the least.  Of course, USC controlled the clock, and thus Clemson attempted fewer passes than usual.

Perhaps the biggest factor in Clemson’s low passing numbers was the Tigers’ struggles on the offensive line.  South Carolina’s vaunted defensive line sacked Boyd five times and added consistent pressure.

Player Total Drop Backs Sacks Pressures Penalties Success Percentage
LT Brandon Thomas 29 1 1 0 93.1%
LG David Beasley 12 0 1 0 91.7%
C Ryan Norton 29 2 0 1** 93.1%
RG Tyler Shatley 29 0 1 0 96.6%
RT Isaiah Battle 29 0 0 0 100%
LG Kalon Davis 17 0 0 0 100%
RB Roderick McDowell 8 0 0 0 100%
TE Sam Cooper 8 0 0 1 87.5%
RB Darrell Smith 6 1 0 0 83.3%

**On Norton’s hold, he still allowed a sack.  Thus, the penalty was declined and is not reflected in his success percentage.

On the surface, the numbers are not overly concerning.  The starters all graded out above 93% and the lowest was left tackle Brandon Thomas who had the unenviable task of lining up across from Jadeveon Clowney.  On one occasion, Clowney immediately beat Thomas inside and de-cleated Boyd, whose pass fluttered incomplete as a result.  The play exemplifies why Clowney will likely be the first pick in the NFL draft.  Other than that, Thomas performed admirably.  In fact, Clowney’s sack was really Boyd’s fault as Thomas forced Clowney upfield and Boyd drifted into him rather than stepping up in the pocket.

Center Ryan Norton struggled mightily against DT Kelcy Quarles.  Quarles does not get the recognition Clowney does, but he’s a great player in his own right.  He simply over powered Norton when the center did not receive help.  Officially, Quarles was credited with 2.5 sacks for a whopping negative 26 yards.

On Quarles’ second sack, there was a total miscommunication in protection.  Clemson actually had eight men in to protect, yet somehow no one picked up Quarles, who quickly got up field and forced Boyd into an intentional grounding penalty.  When Kaiwan Lewis sacked Boyd, he, too, was left unblocked.  Clemson simply cannot make mental errors in pass protection when going against teams with elite athletes in the front seven, as USC certainly has.

The rushing of Roderick McDowell was the highlight for the Clemson offense.  The senior turned in an excellent performance, rushing for 111 yards on only 14 carries.  I’d like to praise TE Sam Cooper for successfully cut blocking Clowney on a couple occasions.  That’s never an easy task for a TE.

Player Attempts Yards Missed Tackles Yards after contact TDs Fumbles
Roderick McDowell 14 111 6 47 1 0
Tajh Boyd 10 62 2 18 1 1
Sammy Watkins 1 7 0 0 0 0

Follow isportsweb on twitter

McDowell waited patiently behind Andre Ellington for three years and has had a really good season.  He may not be the super star like Ellington or CJ Spiller, but he’s a talented back, who doesn’t get the credit he deserves.  On his touchdown run, he took a sweep wide and five yards behind the line of scrimmage, made Sharrod Golightly miss and turned upfield, displaying a nice burst on his way to the end zone.  The play easily could have been a loss.  Hopefully McDowell will run for over 46 yards in the bowl game to put him over 1,000 on the season; he deserves it.

Obviously, the Clemson offense did not perform to the level we have come to expect.  Simply put, South Carolina was the more complete football team.  The Gamecocks controlled the tempo of the game and Clemson’s fast-paced offense never revved up.  It’s always tough to lose to your rival five years in a row, but the season has been far from unsuccessful.  Clemson football won 10 games for the third straight year and may qualify for their second BCS bowl in the Dabo Swinney era.

Read more Clemson rumors, news and opinion on our Clemson football page

  • mark

    Great analysis. Imo Clemson has the ability to defeat any opponent, but as you pointed out, Boyd seems to drift into his emotions at times with a mindset of desperation that plays out self-destructively. I have grown to long for the cool efficiency of Shoudt. Boyd’s weakness seems to flow from his personality and not his ability. His teammates could help him more by exposing him less to his darker side. Thanks again for an honest appraisal of a painful defeat for those who care about Clemson’s continueing improvement.