This is another post by me with a lot of information so, feel free to read this in installments. First, I'm going to tell you about my expectations and why I have them, and then, we're going to look at the statistical output of Elite HUNH Teams and see how we measure up.
My expectation is for Clemson to be an Elite Program as defined in the previous articles I wrote called Elite Teams and Elite Programs. We all know we’re not going to win ‘em all. We all know we’re going to have down years sometimes and bad luck other times. However, I think Clemson should be a program that either finishes in the top 5 or finishes in the top 15 and beats an elite level team once every three years consistently. We did the latter in 2012.
This isn’t 1998 anymore. The facilities are there and the administration’s commitment to the program is there. Clemson has a lot to offer both recruits and coaches moving forward.
Clemson is just special. I may be biased about that, but the 2015 Princeton Review just lauded Clemson for a lot of the things that many of us have always believed to be true. If you somehow missed it, the Princeton Review ranked Clemson nationally at 3rd in having the "Happiest Students," 2nd in "Students Loving their School," 2nd in colleges where "students pack the stadium," and 1st in the "college’s relationship with their town." Not only do I think these opinions are pretty accurate, but I think they are big reasons why Clemson is ranked 4th nationally in "participation of alumni giving" according to USN&WR. When you throw in the fertile recruiting area of the southeast, our passion for football, our traditions, and our monetary commitment to football in the past few years, it’s difficult to find a reason why Clemson should not be fielding an Elite Football Program.
You can’t be an elite program without fielding elite teams first. So, I wanted to find some statistical marks that the Elite HUNH Teams are hitting. Let’s look at the statistical output of Elite Level Hurry Up No Huddle Teams and see how our Tigers have measured up.
The teams I used for the basis of my statistical standards are: Auburn 2010, Oregon 2010, Oklahoma St. 2011, Oregon 2011, Oregon 2012, Texas A&M 2012, Baylor 2013 and Auburn 2013. All of the above teams were HUNH teams that had Elite Seasons and finished in the top 20 in "offensive plays run" that year as well.
I decided to use the statistics I felt created a snapshot of effectiveness on both offense and defense. Each side has basic strategic goals for success. The offense’s goals are to "go fast to wear out the defense," which will "increase the effectiveness of the offense" and allow us to score more points. The defense’s goal is to (calling Captain Obvious) prevent scoring and get the ball back to the offense as fast as possible.
In the table below are the offensive stats. At the bottom are the averages. The Elite HUNH Team averages are the ones used to set our marks. In bold will be the areas where each team has performed near or above the averages. Below the Elite HUNH Teams are Clemson teams from 2011-2013 for our comparison purposes. Below Clemson are the premier "muscle teams" we have to deal with on a yearly basis. These are teams that employ the opposite strategy of us and use the "Defense First" philosophy instead of an "Offense First" philosophy (for a deeper explanation of those terms click here).
I think what this table shows is that the gap at the top between good offenses and great offenses is larger than most people realize. Clemson made big news in 2011 for the revamped offense but, as you can see here, the offense was not hitting any of the measurables that the other Elite HUNH Teams were hitting except for "plays per game." 2012 was a different story as we pushed up to a near-elite offensive level hitting 8 marks. In 2013, we regressed back to hitting just 4 marks and operating well below the Elite HUNH Team’s offenses.
You can see above that the culprit for not being able to reach the elite team’s marks is running the football. We are "going fast" but we are over a yard short of even the worst rushing Elite HUNH Team. Notice how this affects the overall offensive output and carries right over to "yards per play." Not being able to run the ball drops us to where we are on a level closer to Georgia Tech and Boston College in offensive effectiveness than on the level of Auburn. With our talent level, this is unacceptable.
We had an NFL starting RB for 2 of those seasons. Therefore, you can hear this broken record one more time…we are soft up front. Go back up now and look at the Elite Team's "Yards per Rush Rank." The average rank of an Elite HUNH team is 4th in the Nation. Somehow in 2012, we gloriously defeated an Elite LSU Team and became the first Elite HUNH team with a "Yards per Rush" rank below 13th. Even if you think we "wore LSU out," you are still left with the fact that we are 1-4 vs. Elite Teams the past two years. I understand that 1-4 is probably acceptable for a lot of fans if we're beating the teams we're supposed to beat. However, the numbers above are telling us that losing to Elite Teams is going to be far more likely than beating them.
We are currently an "offense first" program and our offense has a major deficiency. If we cannot improve on running the ball, we are going to be limited as to what we can accomplish offensively. Therefore, we will also be limited as to how much better we can get as a program. This is the "ceiling" that was referenced by STS at the end of last season.
The LSU win, often used to dispute said ceiling, was a "happy aberration" that was awesome and extremely enjoyable. In that game, we were just close enough to the elite level offensively to hang around. We benefited from a superhuman effort from our QB and their multiple coaching mistakes. This left us close enough to be able to convert a 4th and 16 with the game on the line. This is not the blueprint for consistent success on the Elite Level. Running the football very effectively and being better than average passing the ball is the blueprint.
Let’s move to defense. This table shows the same teams except with defensive markers that show effectiveness in creating synergy to better allow our HUNH strategy to win games. The defense's job is, again, to prevent scoring and to get the ball back to the offense as fast as possible.
As you can see, Oregon is producing very dominant defensive football teams. Their offense gets all the press (until draft day), but defensively, they are consistently salty. You can also see here that our defense performed better than most of the Elite HUNH Team’s defenses in 2013. We hit 11 of 13 marks in 2013. The only area of improvement we need is in the red zone.
Again, red zone defense is a lot about toughness. The field is shorter and there is no deep third to cover. The windows are tighter for the QB to throw into and players are bunched closer together. A team that can physically open holes in the opponent's Front 7 is going to be successful in the red zone. This is why Wisconsin 2011 was the best redzone TD team in the past 7 years at over an 85% TD rate. In 2013, our defense was ranked 83rd nationally in "Opponent TD Conversions in the Redzone." So basically, we’re not as physically tough as we think we are up front on defense (ranked a disappointing 53rd in "Opponent Rush Yards per Carry") but, the numbers also show that we are either very athletic, very well coached, or some combination of the two.
As you can see, the theory that "going fast" increases offensive efficiency holds water here. Those "Elite HUNH Teams" are consistently in the top 11 in "yards per play." Clemson has not cracked the top 20 in "yards per play" under Chad Morris. The reason for that is clear. We can’t run the ball at anywhere near the level of these Elite HUNH Teams. We are weak up front and the stats back that up. With all of the elite level skill talent we have had, Clemson is closer to Georgia Tech and Boston College in offensive effectiveness than we are to the Elite HUNH Teams.
Conversely, the theory that "going fast" on offense hurts your defense also holds water. I’m sorry, but Georgia Tech’s defense was not equal to ours even though we gave up roughly the same amount of points last year. Couple that "eye test" with the fact that we hit 11 of 13 marks of the Elite HUNH Teams' defenses, and it looks like we arrived last year as a formidably Elite HUNH Team Defense. Hopefully, with another year of strength training under our Front 7’s belt, we can improve in the red zone and field a totally dominant defensive unit like Oregon used to get to the 2010 National Championship Game.
An important number listed above is that Auburn made the National Championship game twice with a defense that ranked 56th and 95th in "Opponent Yards Per Play." Auburn runs a near identical offensive system as us. We do everything better than them except run the ball. So if someone tells you offensive efficiency led by running the football isn't the most successful way to become an Elite Program, you can confidently say, "that's what the best teams do."
This will be a fluid document and we’ll track our Tigers progress and revisit this during the season (and at the end of the season) to see how we are doing. I'll also build on some of the information here in other posts.
I’ll leave you with the combined list of offensive and defensive "Total Marks Hit" of the teams charted above. See if you can tell what I’m trying to show you with the bolding of certain teams below. Hint: Every National Champion since 2008 has finished in the top 11 of this statistical category and it's not "yards per play." What category is it?
Florida St. 2013 - 24
Oregon 2012 - 24
Baylor 2013 - 19
Oregon 2010 – 18
Oregon 2011 – 18
Texas A&M 2012 – 17
South Car 2013 - 14
Oklahoma St. 2011 – 13
Auburn 2013 - 12
Auburn 2010 – 11
Clemson 2012 – 10
Clemson 2013 – 8
Georgia Tech 2013 -7
Clemson 2011 – 3
Boston College 2013 -2