Today we are going to do something different than what I normally do. Instead of a film review for the UGA vs. Clemson game (something total_footba11 already did well) I am going to use advanced statistics to help us quantify exactly how bad the damage is. I’m going to do this using a statistic called expected plays added, or EPA, provided to us by the website gameonpaper.com.
Bear with me as I explain math, I majored in history for a reason. EPA is an attempt to quantify offensive performance relative to how many points we would expect an “average” team to score from the same position based on historical data. This is done by taking your expected points (how many points an “average” team would score in the same down and distance) from the last play and comparing it to your expected points on the next play. It is thus entirely possible for plays that gain yards to have a negative expected points added, think of a one yard gain on first and ten. In many ways it is just a different way of getting at what success rate is trying to quantify.
This game was not lost by the defense nor the special teams. They both had positive numbers, and they played UGA to a 3-3 draw. Now the offense? I’m not going to mince words.
Clemson began the game with a play that resulted in negative offensive EPA and never again climbed into the black. Michigan and Northwestern were able to spend a handful of plays in the black on offense, as were Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, in games that became famous for mutual offensive failure. But Clemson? We slipped the second we got out of bed, fell down the stairs.
The Tigers offense ended the game with negative thirty two points. Thirty-f@#*^ng-two of them. They happened in massive chunks (-10 or so on a pick six thrown on an inexplicable option route mistake) and in consistent chipping away. Negative .1 here, negative point .8 there etc etc until the flood is at your door. Each and every time the Tigers lined up on offense they lost an average of a half point.
The running game, while largely and understandably abandoned, actually performed better than the passing game on a per play rate. The running game had exactly two yards, but didn’t turn the ball over, and that is enough to be “better” for the day. As Spencer Hall noted over at Channel 6, “that’s six feet, deep as a grave. I don’t make the metaphors here”. The Tigers had exactly seven runs go further than four yards. The silver lining here is still getting your head bashed in by Jordan Davis and Co. to eke out a successful play every other time.
For large portions of the game Georgia’s front ransacked Clemson’s offensive line like bears wandering through an unprepared campsite. Neither I, the Clemson offensive line, nor DJ Uiagalelei could tell you how many linebackers are on the field but it seems like it can’t be any less than seven and they are all so angry. The secondary bounced with ambient menace, looking like a boxer moving around the ring pre snap, and counter punched viciously to bring the game home for the Bulldogs. The University of Georgia dropped one of the best defensive performances I’ve seen in my lifetime onto the Clemson offense and the numbers back it up.
Am I doom and gloom on Clemson’s possibilities this year? No, this was a week one loss to an elite team. But the same issues that reared their head against Ohio State came up again and frankly the numbers from that game make what happened on 9/4 look like a picnic. The interior offensive line is the exhaust port in the Death Valley Death Star, just like last year. It’s possible this is fixable, the Tigers have weeks before they face another front I’d even consider very good, much less elite, but it has to be fixed if this team is going anywhere in the postseason.