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Taking a Look at Clemson’s Substitution Pattern in 2017

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One of the things we spent a lot of time talking about this year was substitution patterns. It seemed to a lot of fans that the Clemson coaching staff was subbing with more frequency than previous years. It was especially noticeable in some games like against Boston College or Wake Forest where the games may have been closer for a lot longer than fans would like.

Because of this we wanted to look into just how much the staff was subbing this year. And more importantly, was the substitution rate really that much different than previous years. To do this we compiled the total snaps at each position for the 2014-2017 seasons and then compared the 2017 season to each year in the table below.

Clemson Substitutions

Position 2014 Starter Snap % 2015 Starter Snap % 2016 Starter Snap % 2017 Starter Snap % Percent Diff from 2016 Percent Diff from 2015 Percent Diff from 2014
Position 2014 Starter Snap % 2015 Starter Snap % 2016 Starter Snap % 2017 Starter Snap % Percent Diff from 2016 Percent Diff from 2015 Percent Diff from 2014
QB 94.74% 88.81% 88.35% 81.93% -6.42% -6.88% -12.81%
RB 45.65% 66.79% 62.78% 35.58% -27.20% -31.20% -10.07%
WR 65.20% 55.81% 53.72% 58.23% 4.51% 2.42% -6.97%
TE 31.47% 64.31% 69.29% 55.19% -14.10% -9.13% 23.72%
OL 79.44% 80.02% 71.71% 68.62% -3.09% -11.40% -10.82%
DE 57.82% 75.76% 71.20% 74.90% 3.70% -0.86% 17.08%
DT 53.77% 53.00% 67.61% 59.61% -7.99% 6.61% 5.84%
LB 59.32% 81.34% 65.19% 68.59% 3.40% -12.75% 9.27%
CB 85.01% 59.94% 60.21% 67.98% 7.76% 8.03% -17.03%
S 82.26% 81.21% 83.19% 58.92% -24.27% -22.29% -23.34%

One thing that really stands out to me is how some positions, such as RB, TE, and CB really don’t sub when we have a dominant player at the position. Using RB as an example you see 2014 and 2017 as years where there was more of a RB by committee feel but in 2015 and 2016 Wayne Gallman got a majority of snaps because he was the guy. If you forget how a season went at a position you can look at this and recall the team had some real studs starting at those positions, guys who you couldn’t take off the field because they were so dominant relative to the backups.

But the big areas we saw a lot of complaining about was with the OL. But compared to 2016 we only saw a decrease of 3% in the starter’s snaps played. With an offense averaging around 77 plays a game that is only an extra 2-3 plays where we saw a sub at a single OL position. That also doesn’t even account for differences in blowouts against scrub teams and blowouts against “good” teams like Miami, VT, or Louisville. That said, in 2016 and 2017 it is fair to say the coaching staff either feels confident in the 6th man on the OL, or they don’t feel they had 5 dominant OL that were head and shoulders above the backups. But I’m not sure that they subbed enough that we could really complain, especially since we weren’t doing it in 2016.

Defensive back was another area we saw some substituting or other unusual playing time breakdowns. And when we look at the numbers we see that Clemson starting Cs actually played a higher percentage of snaps at CB than last year, and the most since 2014.

At safety the numbers are bit unusual. The starters seemed to rarely play this year compared to previous years. But some of this happens because of how Clemson classifies safeties as well as how Brent Venables uses the roster. For our purposes I considered safety to only have 2 starters. But in addition to Tanner Muse and Van Smith the Clemson roster lists K’Von Wallace and Isaiah Simmons as safeties even if they don’t always get snaps at that position. But even removing one or both of them we only see safeties getting 60-70% of the snaps at the position, still below what we’ve seen in previous years. But ultimately I think that comes down to quality depth, something we haven’t always had at Clemson.

The bottom line here is that when you factor in injuries, the score of the game, and the talent we had in 2017, it is hard to say that the coaching staff was really subbing too much in situations when they shouldn’t have. Maybe we can find individual points where we’d argue a specific substitution was a bad idea, but there wasn’t some sort of systemic issue with substitutions this year.