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Blue Chip Depth Chart Analysis: 2017 ACC Championship Preview

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We look forward to the most anticipated ACC Championship game in years!

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

In 2015, the Clemson Tigers were playing their best football in Week 8 when they demolished Miami 58-0. They already enjoyed their Week 4 bye and were healthy and sharp that day in South Florida. Towards the end of the season, the long grind began to take it’s toll on the Tigers. In their 9th game since the bye, they struggled to put away the Gamecocks. The following week, the defense looked tired against the Tar Heels, giving up 37 in an offense-led ACC Championship victory.

This year, Hurricane Irma tragically struck Florida. As a result, Miami cancelled their week 2 road trip to Arkansas State and moved their week 3 game against Florida State to week 6, which was the original bye week for both Miami and FSU. As a result, the Canes have played 10 straight games. Unsurprisingly, they look tired. They look like they peaked in weeks 10 and 11 against Virginia Tech and Notre Dame.

Last Friday, their offensive line got no push as they averaged only 2.0 yards per carry (45 yards) against Pittsburgh’s 75th ranked defense (S&P+). QB Malik Rosier looked terrible in a 15/34 performance. To make matters worse, they suffered some injuries as deep threat, young WR Ahmonn Richards, left the game in the closing minutes. (UPDATE: After returning to practice this week, he was carted off the practice field on Wednesday) He is averaging 18.7 yards per reception. TE Chris Herndon IV who has 37 receptions also left the game and will have season-ending knee surgery - an absolutely devastating blow for the Canes.

Meanwhile, Clemson seems to be peaking at the right time. For the second year in a row, they completely embarrassed their in-state rival. QB Kelly Bryant has put the accuracy issues that plagued him against NC State and Florida State behind him. He threw for a 272 yards in Columbia, his most since throwing for 316 at Louisville.

That’s the set-up for the most anticipated ACC Championship game in memory. The Hurricanes limp in, while the Tigers burst in fresh off claiming the #1 ranking in the country.

Let’s take a look at the recruited talent and some other informative metrics, but first our usual caveat:

We've divided the offense and the defense into three portions each. For the offense, the starting QB, the starting O-line, and the two-deep for the remaining skill positions (WR, TE, RB) are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall offense rating. Similarly on defense, the two-deep at D-line, linebacker, and in the secondary are each weighted to represent one-third of the overall defense rating, regardless of scheme.

This shouldn’t have to be said, but there are always players who over-perform their original star rating (e.g., Hunter Renfrow, Eric Dungey) as well as those who underperform their star ratings. Additionally, there are occasions where the less talented team wins (e.g., 2017 Clemson v. Syracuse), but there are exponentially more examples where the more talented team wins (e.g., 2009-2017 Clemson vs. Wake Forest). As such, we also rely on other traditional and advanced metrics and offer this article as just only one of the analyses we will publish on the upcoming game.

Notes specific to this analsysis

  • Three changes on Clemson’s depth chart depressed the Tigers’ average star ratings this week: Tremayne Anchrum (3*) jumped Sean Pollard (4*), Jamie Skalski (3*) jumped Chad Smith (4*), and Jabril Robinson (3*) jumped Nyles Pickney (4*).

Miami brings several talented play makers into battle this weekend. 3-star RB Travis Homer and 4-star WR Braxton Berrios stand out. Homer became the lead running back after the excellent Mark Walton was lost for the season with an injury. Homer has done a fantastic job filling-in, averaging 6.2 YPC. He ran for 170 yards against GT and 146 in Miami’s big win over Notre Dame. Braxton Berrios is an top-notch slot receiver with more athleticism than folks realize - much like Hunter Renfrow. His numbers are also quite comparable to Hunter Renfrow’s, though he has found the end zone much more frequently: 45 receptions, 583 yards, 9 TDs (Renfrow: 50 receptions, 526 yards, 3 TDs).

Despite both teams having great slot receivers, this will be a clash of teams with very different offensive profiles. The S&P+ advanced stats are a bit wonky this year (Ohio State and UCF ranked above Clemson and Oklahoma is laughable), but their advanced metrics are still very useful. One such metric is isoPPP (isolated points per play). This metric measures an offensive’s explosiveness by measuring their points scored per play after adjusting for field position. In this metric, Miami ranks 18th (they were 11th before their dud performance at Pittsburgh) while Clemson is well behind at 49th. Kelly Bryant averages 11.0 yards per completion compared to Malik Rosier’s 14.1 yards per completion.

Clemson’s offense is more about staying on schedule. Another S&P+ metric, Success Rate, is useful in demonstrating this. It measures how often plays are successful (defined as 50% of to-go yardage on first down, 70% on second down, and 100% on third and fourth downs.) Clemson is very efficient and ranks 6th in this metric while Miami is less reliable and ranks 45th. Clemson has converted 46.4% of their third downs while Miami has only converted 30.7%. Only Kansas and Maryland rank worse than Miami on third down conversion percentage (among P5 teams). Despite impressive star-ratings for their starting offensive line, they must strike fast because they struggle to hold up in the trenches and convert several times on a drive.

Before we delve into the defenses, let’s look at how Clemson and Miami fared against their four common opponents:

Clemson/Miami Common Opponents

Common Opponent Clemson Miami Notes
Common Opponent Clemson Miami Notes
Virginia Tech Road Win 31 - 17 Home Win 28-10 Both Clemson and Miami dominated VT
Syracuse Road Loss 24-27 Home Win 27-19 Both struggled with Syracuse, but on the road on a short week with an injured QB, the Tigers lost while Miami eeked out a victory
Georgia Tech Home Win 24-10 Home Win 25-24 Clemson was far more dominant. Miami won on a late pass that ricocheted off a helmet.
Florida State Home Win 31-14 Road Win 24-20 FSU ran for 203 yards on Miami, but managed just 21 rushing yards against Clemson.

Contests against Georgia Tech and Florida State highlight where Clemson has the most decided advantage in this matchup - stopping the run. The Tigers stopped the powerful Auburn rushing attack. They bottled up GT’s triple option and shut down the dynamic Cam Akers of FSU. They are 14th in rushing yards allowed per game (114 YPG, 3.1 YPC) and rank 11th S&P+ rushing defense (#3 overall S&P+ defense). Miami ranks 47th in rushing yards per game allowed (152 YPG). Now, let’s look closer at the defenses:

Miami is right in line with Clemson at linebacker and in the secondary, but Clemson’s two-deep on the defensive line is elite and hard to match. Despite that, quality defensive line play may be the biggest difference from this Miami team and the Miami teams of the Al Golden era. They’ve always had good talent, but the coaching wasn’t making the most of it and they lacked depth. Now, they have high-end talent, depth, (recruited by Golden), and most importantly production. Former five-star Chad Thomas is a difference maker at DE. Trent Harris, his backup, is the sack leader with 8.5 on the season and the Hurricanes are tops in the nation in sacks per game, averaging 3.55.

While the Tigers’ defense is known for an extremely aggressive style and dominating at the point of attack, the Hurricanes defense is best known for...

NCAA Football: Virginia at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

THE TURNOVER CHAIN!

Miami has been excellent at creating turnovers. They have 17 interceptions on season (5 more than Clemson). Michael Jackson and Jaquon Johnson have 4 INTs each. They’ve also recovered 12 fumbles (8 more than Clemson).

Pressuring QBs and and giving great effort to jump on fumbles are huge parts of this, and they’re excellent at both. Luck is also a factor. You need your opposition to make bad decisions and have poor ball security. This is why getting turnovers can be a fickle mistress. We saw their turnover luck start to turn a bit against Pittsburgh as an interception slipped through their fingers and Pittsburgh recovered their own fumble.

Clemson’s offensive is vastly different the past two seasons - less dynamic, but also less error-prone. The Tigers utilize a run-heavy offense and have a conservative QB at the helm. They’ve thrown only seven interceptions on the season, two coming in garbage time in Columbia. Miami won’t be able to rely on turnovers to beat this Clemson team. They’ll have to line-up and beat the Tigers if they are to replace them atop the ACC, and to that I say...

COME AND TAKE IT.

Clemson 28, Miami 17


For more, check out the video preview Mark Rogers and I recorded: