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Clemson’s Offense Isn’t Very Efficient Throwing the Football

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NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

All of the data below comes from the Clemson website Seldom Used Reserve. If you’ve never been over there I highly recommend checking them out. the guys do a great job of charting Clemson’s plays and developing some stat based insights from their work. The data in question was specifically derived from their distance passing charts for Kelly Bryant and Deshaun Watson. From there we’ve done a few per game calculations to help get a better idea of how Clemson’s offense is doing in the passing game since we are only 7 games in.

The first chart below is a look at Deshaun Watson’s performance and the second chart is a look at what Kelly Bryant has done this year.

2016 Deshaun Watson Passing

Distance Completions/Game Attempts/Game Comp % Yards/Game Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion TD TDs/Game INT INTs/Game
Distance Completions/Game Attempts/Game Comp % Yards/Game Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion TD TDs/Game INT INTs/Game
BLOS 8.87 9.33 95.00 57.40 6.20 6.50 2.00 0.13 0.00 0.00
0-5 Yards 6.53 9.80 66.70 56.00 5.70 8.60 10.00 0.67 4.00 0.27
6-10 Yards 3.47 5.40 64.20 36.80 6.80 10.60 6.00 0.40 1.00 0.07
11-15 Yards 3.40 5.73 59.30 62.13 10.80 18.30 9.00 0.60 8.00 0.53
16-20 Yards 1.93 3.07 63.00 40.87 13.30 21.10 4.00 0.27 0.00 0.00
21+ Yards 1.67 5.27 31.60 53.00 10.10 31.80 10.00 0.67 4.00 0.27
Totals 25.87 38.60 67.00 306.20 7.90 11.80 41.00 2.73 17.00 1.13

This one is interesting because outside of the short screen game and quick passes outside, Clemson was pretty consistent in attempting passes to different parts of the field each game. That balance forced opposing defenses to avoid keying on the screen game or leaving safeties deep. They had to play honest.

2017 Kelly Bryant Passing

Distance Completions/Game Attempts/Game Comp % Yards/Game Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion TD TDs/Game INT INTs/Game
Distance Completions/Game Attempts/Game Comp % Yards/Game Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion TD TDs/Game INT INTs/Game
BLOS 4.14 5.00 82.90 16.14 3.20 3.90 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
0-5 Yards 5.86 8.71 67.20 50.43 5.80 8.60 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
6-10 Yards 3.57 4.86 73.50 41.43 8.50 11.60 1.00 0.14 2.00 0.29
11-15 Yards 1.29 2.71 47.40 18.71 6.90 14.60 0.00 0.00 1.00 0.14
16-20 Yards 1.14 1.43 80.00 28.71 20.10 25.10 0.00 0.00 0.00 0.00
21+ Yards 1.00 2.43 41.20 41.00 16.90 41.00 3.00 0.43 1.00 0.14
Totals 17.00 25.14 67.60 196.43 7.80 11.60 4.00 0.57 4.00 0.57

Under Kelly Bryant, things are a little different. Most of the passes come from either screens or short throws, with some going down the field. That makes it easier for opposing teams to just leave a safety or two deep and then say, “Go ahead and beat us with short throws.”

Below is a comparison between both QBs. If a number is positive it means that the 2016 season was better by that number. If the the number is negative then the 2017 season has been better in that category so far.

Clemson Passing Comparison

Distance Completions/Game Attempts/Game Comp % Yards/Game Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion TD TDs/Game INT INTs/Game
Distance Completions/Game Attempts/Game Comp % Yards/Game Yards per Attempt Yards per Completion TD TDs/Game INT INTs/Game
BLOS 4.72 4.33 12.10 41.26 3.00 2.60 2.00 0.13 0.00 0.00
0-5 Yards 0.68 1.09 -0.50 5.57 -0.10 0.00 10.00 0.67 4.00 0.27
6-10 Yards -0.10 0.54 -9.30 -4.63 -1.70 -1.00 5.00 0.26 -1.00 -0.22
11-15 Yards 2.11 3.02 11.90 43.42 3.90 3.70 9.00 0.60 7.00 0.39
16-20 Yards 0.79 1.64 -17.00 12.15 -6.80 -4.00 4.00 0.27 0.00 0.00
21+ Yards 0.67 2.84 -9.60 12.00 -6.80 -9.20 7.00 0.24 3.00 0.12
Totals 8.87 13.46 -0.60 109.77 0.10 0.20 37.00 2.16 13.00 0.56

There is a lot to unpack here. One of the things that does jump out is how the 2016 Clemson offense spent a lot more time throwing the ball in general. There were more attempts per game and this more completions. But the actual completion percentage is slightly down.

When looking at specific distances, the big difference seems to come near the LOS. In 2016 Clemson was trying a lot more types of screen passes and succeeding with them, nearly 2 times as often as they are this year. That isn’t too surprising. The WR blocking and poor throws from KB have really killed screens for Clemson and the coaching staff appears to have adjusted by calling fewer.

The one advantage we’ve seen here over last year has been interceptions. Deshaun Watson had a tendency to lock on to WRs for quick routes and threw a fair number of interceptions there. That is down this year.

The second level where we see a real change seems to be in the 11-15 yard area. I like to think of this as the Jordan Leggett distance in 2016. My theory is Leggett caught a lot of his passes around here and I think the big discrepancy between 2016 and 2017 is a lack of a viable pass catching TE.

Now for the deep ball. We’ve talked a lot about the deep ball this year. Kelly Bryant’s ability to throw the deep ball would help determine how successful this offense was. If Bryant could connect then defenses would have to cover deep and that would open up the run game and intermediate passing. Fail and the defense could stack the box.

Well the numbers are interesting. Clemson is actually better in completion percentage in 2017. But the Tigers are throwing fewer balls deep per game and actually completing fewer. In 2016 Clemson threw over 5 balls a game deep, connecting on just show of 2 per game. This year Bryant is only going deep a bit over 2 times a game and completing just one pass. That’s not enough to threaten defenses.

So what does all of this mean? Ultimately Clemson just isn’t throwing the ball as well as last year. And yes, that’s not a big surprise. But the screen game numbers are pretty appalling. Some of that is on Bryant, but some of that is also on how we set up screens. More deep balls could help open up the screen game, as could better WR blocking.

How to fix all of this? Personally I’d try to go deep a bit more. If anything I think Bryant is more likely to overthrow than underthrow which is fine, less of an opportunity for an interception. But he’s shown some nice ability on the deep throw and a few more shots would help everything else. Then teams start playing off Cain, Renfrow, and others. Then the screen game can open up.

Finding a better TE likely can’t happen, and that will hurt Clemson, but a running game, a QB rush, a screen pass, and a deep ball can all give Clemson a more efficient offense than what we see right now