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Snap Count Review: Clemson vs. Ohio State

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Analyzing both playoff and season snaps

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

First things first - I am especially grateful we got to watch a Clemson football team play 12 full games during a season when many wondered if we should or would have sports at all. While it wasn’t always pretty, this group of athletes battled through adversity, followed strenuous COVID-19 protocols, endured not seeing their families for months on end, etc.

It was an unprecedented season, one that some will likely view with an asterisk. And yet, we fans have been given the joy of watching Clemson compete in the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season. A little perspective may go a long way while analyzing this wacky season we just watched.

I also want to provide some reflections on the season as a whole with regards to how snaps were spread out across players and positions. I won’t dive into an entire season review here but I will compare some expectations pre-season to where things stand now.

Let’s start with the semifinal game against Ohio State:

Clemson Offensive Snaps

Player Name (* indicates start) Position Game Snap Count Season Snap Count
Player Name (* indicates start) Position Game Snap Count Season Snap Count
Trevor Lawrence* QB 72 627
Travis Etienne* RB 55 543
Lyn-J Dixon RB 10 130
Chez Mellusi RB 6 88
Amari Rodgers* WR 69 644
Cornell Powell* WR 68 630
EJ Williams* WR 61 396
Brannon Spector WR 7 180
Frank Ladson Jr. WR 3 261
Braden Galloway* TE 45 463
Davis Allen TE 32 350
Cade Stewart* OL 72 827
Jackson Carman* OL 70 793
Will Putnam* OL 70 790
Jordan McFadden* OL 68 767
Matt Bockhorst* OL 68 753
Walker Parks OL 10 199
Mason Trotter OL 7 147

As is to be expected in a playoff game, very few backups saw action outside of relief snaps for the starters (only 75 snaps for all backups combined). Trevor Lawrence fought until the end, admirably competing for as long as he could in his last college game. What can be said about Sunshine that hasn’t already been said? Trevor’s resume more than speaks for itself as one of the greatest Clemson QB’s to ever do it.

Travis Etienne finishes as arguably the greatest ACC running back of all time, holding a plethora of statistical records unlikely to be broken anytime soon. It is hard to know how he might have performed this season with a stronger offensive line, but his development this season as a pass-catcher certainly added to his skillset. You hate to see two Clemson legends in Travis and Trevor go out on a loss, but their contributions to the program will be remembered for a long time.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Powell putting a clinic on Wade was one of the lone bright spots and was particularly fitting as he finishes a stellar season that has truly vindicated QT’s long-standing feelings about #17.
  • Rodgers finished the game with 69 snaps and 54 receiving yards, just enough to push him to 1,020 yards on the season.
  • With his 72 snaps, Cade Stewart was the only player to have reached at least 800 snaps this season, although Carman and Putnam were close.
  • Losing Tony Elliott’s playcalling clearly had an impact on the offense’s abilities, although how much is difficult to say.

Clemson Defensive Snaps

Player Name (* indicates start) Position Game Snap Count Season Snap Count
Player Name (* indicates start) Position Game Snap Count Season Snap Count
Myles Murphy DE 46 414
Justin Mascoll DE 39 377
KJ Henry* DE 38 384
Regan Upshaw DE 4 166
Tyler Davis* DT 41 196
Bryan Bresee* DT 37 434
Nyles Pinckney DT 37 270
Jordan Williams DT 20 229
Ruke Orhorhoro DT 3 33
Baylon Spector LB 59 517
Kane Patterson LB 30 138
Mike Jones Jr. LB 28 359
James Skalski* LB 27 291
Trenton Simpson* LB 13 271
Derion Kendrick* CB 63 382
Andrew Booth Jr. CB 48 335
Malcolm Greene* CB 42 197
Mario Goodrich* CB 25 237
Sheridan Jones CB 12 300
Joseph Charleston* S 70 502
Lannden Zanders* S 56 394
Nolan Turner S 31 564
Ray Thornton III* S 17 158
Tyler Venables S 6 214
Jalyn Philips S 3 149

Giving up 49 points is never a recipe for success, least of all against Ohio State during a playoff game. While the offense sputtered plenty and could have done more to help keep the game within reach, the fact of the matter is this unit got worked all night by Justin Fields and Trey Sermon.

There are plenty of excuses, explanations, and extenuations for why that happened, but at the end of the day, it simply wasn’t a strong performance from what is usually a formidable defensive opponent.

Strangely enough, Venables seemed unprepared/unable to adjust to Ohio State’s up-tempo approach all night, leading to several obvious moments where Clemson was simply not prepared for the play. This thread highlights a few of those instances:

Obviously losing James Skalski in the first half was a tremendous blow to the defensive gameplan. A captain of the defense, Skalski often is responsible for calling out pre-snap adjustments and directing other players to their proper alignments. It’s hard to sustain that loss, especially when already down by two touchdowns. Thankfully, Skalski has already announced he is returning for another year, so this isn’t the last we have seen of the tackling machine.

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Derion Kendrick got absolutely waxed for many of his 63 snaps. Whether because of poor effort, unfortunate positioning, or some combination of the two, #1 looked lost on the field most of the night.
  • Murphy led all defensive linemen once again with 46 snaps, bringing his season total to 414. He and Bresee (434) were the only defensive linemen to clear 400 snaps this year, an impressive feat for the two first-years. The future is bright with these two.
  • Kane Patterson logged 30 snaps, almost matching his season-high count of 31 (Virginia Tech) after being called upon to replace James Skalski following his ejection.
  • Joseph Charleston logged a season-high count of 70 snaps, in part due to Nolan Turner’s first-half absence because of his targeting penalty against Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game.

Season Snap Count Review

To prevent this from getting too long, I will simply take a look at each position group and note anything interesting compared to what was expected pre-season. Beware, lots of stats ahead.

OFFENSE

QB

The Trevor Lawrence show (627 snaps) was full steam ahead this year outside of the two games he missed due to a positive COVID test. This forced poor Clemson to turn from its generational quarterback and call upon the aid of another 5-star quarterback in DJ Uiagalelei (235 snaps). All he did was lead the largest comeback victory in Death Valley in his first start followed by throwing for the most passing yards ever allowed by Notre Dame the next week.

Safe to say Clemson is in good hands next year, although depth may become a concern, especially if Taisun Phommachanh (43 snaps) elects to transfer elsewhere for more playing time.

RB

Much like the QB position, Travis Etienne (543 snaps) was the clear starter all year long. Behind him, however, things shuffled a bit unexpectedly when the highly-touted Demarckus Bowman (11 snaps) decided to transfer out after two games. Backup snaps were split mostly between Lyn-J Dixon (130), Chez Mellusi (88), and Darien Rencher (62) this season.

WR

After Justyn Ross was announced to miss the 2020 season, the expectation of many for the season was that either Joseph Ngata (122 snaps) or Frank Ladson Jr. (261 snaps) would step up and fill that hole, alongside presumed starters Cornell Powell (630 snaps) and Amari Rodgers (644 snaps). Unfortunately, injuries and an inability to take the next step for whatever reason limited both sophomores from really taking over, although Ladson showed flashes.

This did however allow freshman EJ Williams (396 snaps) to find more playing time come his way, and his emergence was encouraging to watch. His one-handed grab during the Notre Dame game was one of the best catches this season from Clemson receivers.

Backups Brannon Spector (180 snaps), Will Swinney (127 snaps), and Ajou Ajou (113 snaps) logged most of the remaining backup snaps.

TE

Braden Galloway was the clear starter this year, logging 463 snaps. Davis Allen (350 snaps) contributed plenty as the primary backup and actually became a nice compliment to Galloway. Beyond those two, J.C. Chalk (123 snaps), Jaelyn Lay (76 snaps), and Sage Ennis (27 snaps) cleaned up.

OL

85% of all offensive line snaps went to the starting lineup. Walker Parks (199 snaps), Mason Trotter (147 snaps), and Paul Tchio (80 snaps) filled in as the primary backups. In a season when injuries seemed to plague the defensive side of the ball incessantly (more on that in a moment), this unit was fortunate to never really sustain any serious setbacks.

DEFENSE

DE

The defensive line suffered perhaps the most limitations of any position unit on this team, particularly at the DE position. Justin Foster was expected to start and anchor one side of the line but instead missed the entire season due to an unspecified injury, while Xavier Thomas spent most of the year recovering from COVID-19 and strep throat earlier in the spring. While Thomas worked his way into the lineup midway through the season to contribute modestly with 3.5 sacks over his 119 snaps, it seemed as though he never reached his full strength.

Enter Myles Murphy, stage right, left, and honestly every direction from which you can attack a QB. Murphy was expected to contribute in the two-deep but instead became the premiere DE for Clemson, tallying 414 snaps to finish fourth in total tackles. His play this year was crucial and without him, this position would have been a major weakness.

K.J. Henry (384 snaps) and Justin Mascoll (377 snaps) interchangeably filled the other spot, with Regan Upshaw (166 snaps) and Greg Williams (67 snaps) serving as the primary backups.

DT

With Tyler Davis battling injury much of the year, the star sophomore was only able to accumulate 196 snaps. Much like Murphy, freshman Bryan Bresee exceeded expectations and as mentioned above led all DL players with 434 snaps. Bresee won ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year and has a bright future. Nyles Pinckney (270 snaps) and Jordan Williams (229 snaps) carried the remaining significant snaps. They have since announced their plans to transfer.

LB

Baylon Spector topped all linebackers with 517 snaps and led the team in both tackles (65) and sacks (4.5) with his new starting role. Mike Jones Jr. (359 snaps), Jake Venables (319 snaps) James Skalski (291 snaps), and freshman Trenton Simpson (271 snaps) carried most of the remaining load. Injuries hit this unit at various points, most notably for Notre Dame Part 1 when Skalski was held out with a groin injury.

CB/S

The DB positions saw the most shuffling and resulted in 13 different players logging at least 100 snaps. Nolan Turner led DB’s with 564 snaps and was second in total tackles on the team. Although physically limited when matched up against top-tier talent like Ohio State, Turner has become a steady veteran and helped guide the secondary this year.

Derion Kendrick (382 snaps) at times played like his head was stuck in the NFL draft rather than on the college field, and his play certainly left something to be desired toward the end of the season. Here’s hoping he returns for another year to refine his technique.

Andrew Booth Jr. (335 snaps) often looked like the most athletic player on the field, making several spectacular plays this season. QT correctly predicted he would log over 300 snaps, and he looks to continue making splash plays next season as a starter.


Well, that’s more than enough from me - thanks for reading and following this series all season. The statistical information in these articles always comes straight from Clemson’s official reports, which you can read for yourself here. It’s been a pleasure joining the team here at STS this year, and I look forward to plowing through the off-season with you all until next season!