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Clemson’s Offensive Check In

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More than good enough for now

Florida State v Clemson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Welcome to the offensive version of yesterdays checkup. We’re going to focus on a few areas of concern for the Tigers going forward.

Clemson’s offense has performed well this year despite operating extremely differently than the unit that won the national championship last year. The Tigers are running the ball significantly more, with Kelly Bryant having emerged as the primary running threat. This years team is efficient, doesn’t turn the ball over often and is generally allowing the Tigers to win the time of possession battle.

The strength is the running game, whether with Bryant, Feaster, Etienne, Choice or Fuller. The jet sweep, despite being used heavily as a decoy, hasn’t been used as often this year. The Tigers have run primarily inside zone, power and counter. QB counter off a faked jet sweep has been a go to play on third & short and the goal line.

Clemson is running the ball well, with the 17th highest success rate in the country. Five players have had at least three rushing touchdowns. All but one of them (Choice) is averaging over five yards per carry, provided you don’t count sacks against QB’s rushing totals.

There are two main issues with the running game. One, Clemson is extraordinarily reliant on Bryant carrying the ball. Given his tendency to get hit in the passing game, it’s troubling he’s third among non triple option quarterbacks in total carries. Two, the Tigers cannot seem to generate explosive plays against good defenses. The Tigers only have seven runs over forty yards and all but two of them came against bad defenses. Etienne accounts for four of these runs. Etienne and Feaster’s scores against NC State and BC are promising signs, but as of now the Tigers struggle to produce big plays.

The passing game has regressed significantly, which is understandable when the best QB in school history graduates. Kelly Bryant is a limited passer, but has been able to maximize his strengths. The passing game is generally based around quick passing concepts. Whether tied to RPO’s or simple drop backs these are where Bryant is at his best.

Clemson likes to run a different quick passing concept on each side of the field and let Bryant choose which to throw based on his pre snap coverage read. From there Clemson relies on its receivers to get yards after the catch.

Screens might be what Clemson is worst at right now. Some of this is due to bad blocking in space, some of it is due to bad timing, some of it is inexplicable. Situations like these should end in routine gains, sometimes in explosive plays. The below gif ended in a forced fumble.

Screens where the offensive line has to block in space have gone even worse. They reliably result in negative plays.

Combined with the odd but marked decline of the QB draw ScElliot relied on last year this doesn’t leave Clemson a lot of ways to handle opposing pass rushes. Bryant is getting sacked quite a bit, and doesn’t always do himself a lot of favors.

Bryant is solid on roll out passes, but this leaves him exposed to more hits. Bryant also has a tendency to sail passes over his receivers’ heads.

The passing game shares the same big play woes as the running game. Deon Cain is being targeted a lot. At times fade and comeback routes on the sidelines are the only big plays the offense seems able to muster. Even those are inconsistent.

Passing over the deep middle of the field has not gone well at all. Milan Richard just isn’t close to the threat Jordan Leggett was, and it shows. Bryant has not thrown these passes particularly well either.

For most of the year Clemson was able to avoid throwing too far downfield entirely. Now they’re doing it more and worse than ever.

ESPN

The lack of explosiveness has left Clemson reliant on marching downfield, where they become one dimensional. The offense has nine total passing touchdowns and few of those came in the red zone. Though Clemson is finishing well, being as dependent as they are on red zone rushing is a problem. Especially for a team that can’t rely on field goals. The Tigers’ offense is good enough to have gotten them this far. With that said, right now this is a unit with pronounced weaknesses elite defenses will be able to capitalize on.