Advanced outlook: Clemson football profile through seven games


by - Staff Writer -
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TFL numbers for both Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are down, but the Tigers are still among the nation's best in the stat.
TFL numbers for both Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are down, but the Tigers are still among the nation's best in the stat.

The bye week gives Clemson a chance to assess where they’re at as a team going into a crucial stretch to the postseason.

Here’s how they profile by the numbers through seven games…

Tigers by the numbers:

* Clemson’s offense has been solid overall, but lacking some of the big-play punch of past years. The Tigers rank 25th in success rate* (46.8) but 113th in Football Outsiders’ explosiveness** metric. Overall, they're hitting about one less 20-yard play a game than last year (4.7 down from 5.9), and how they break down situationally is interesting.

With the game within seven points, Clemson averages a chunk play on passes (15+ yards) 16.9 percent of the time and on runs (10+ yards), at a 15.3 percent rate (22.4 rate on passes, 11.8 on runs in 2016). When leading by eight-plus points, the Tigers aren’t stepping on the gas in the passing game, averaging a chunk play at only a 7.4 percent rate (18.1 rate in 2016). On runs, that moves up to 15.9 percent thanks much to late-game displays from freshman running back Travis Etienne (15.2 in 2016).

Backed into passing downs***, Clemson ranks 122nd in explosiveness and 90th in sack rate (9.1).

On third down, Kelly Bryant has averaged 9.1 yards per pass with a 51 percent conversion rate on throws, hitting chunk plays 24.5 percent of the time. Sample-size small, but his backups have averaged 6.2 per pass with a 16.7 percent conversion rate, hitting one chunk play in six attempts (a Hunter Johnson 18-yard pass to J.C. Chalk versus Kent State in the opener).

Etienne has been an obvious bright spot when it comes to big plays. On only 17 percent of the total carries, he’s totaled 21 percent of Clemson’s chunk-play runs (10). Tavien Feaster is averaging a chunk play every 6.6 attempts (15.2 percent rate).

* Last week’s performance at Syracuse was an exception to the rule for Clemson’s defense this season.

They rank sixth overall in Football Outsiders’ efficiency rating, first in sacks per game (4), sixth in scoring defense (13.6 PPG) and also top-15 in tackles for loss (9), total defense (11) and rushing defense (15).

Clemson is second in opposing success rate passing (27.3) and overall efficiency versus the pass.
Brent Venables’ group ranks No. 1 in sack rate on standard downs (5.1) and fourth in containing big plays on passing downs.

Kendall Joseph leads the Clemson defense with 10 run stuffs (tackle at or behind the line of scrimmage). Upfront, opponents are being held to a 16 percent success rate on Dexter Lawrence stops. In the secondary, Ryan Carter has posted two run stuffs, four pass breakups and has contained opposing offenses to a successful play at a 52.9 percent rate****.

Lawrence is 2.5 TFLs off his 2016 pace with only a 0.5 TFL in his last four games. Wilkins is 5.5 TFLs off his pace last year (3.5 in 2017), but that can be attributed somewhat to less play on the edge this season.

* Inconsistency at QB has made for some different stat-lines at receiver.

Hunter Renfrow leads the group with a 65.9 percent success rate, followed by Diondre Overton (63.6), Milan Richard (61.1), Ray Ray McCloud (54.3), Tee Higgins (50) and Deon Cain (47.6) among receivers with double-digit targets.

Cain has had some hard luck on getting open deep without an accurate pass, but he’s also had some drops with a unit-low 57.1 catch rate on targets (min. 10 targets).

With limited opportunities, Overton and Richard lead in yards per target (10.1).

Renfrow has more third down catches (12) than all but three Clemson receivers have total.

In the ACC last season, the Tigers had Mike Williams at second overall (90.7 YPG), three total receivers in the top-23 and four in the top-30 in receiving yards per game. Currently, Renfrow leads Clemson at 20th in the conference (49.4) with McCloud right behind him (44.9) and Cain also in the top-25 (23rd; 42.7).

* The special teams numbers have been pretty ugly all season long. Football Outsiders ranks them 122nd as a unit and ESPN FPI, 99th. By unit, Clemson ranks in the triple digits by FO in field goal value (118), kick return success rate (109) and punt success rate (107) – making the top-40 in kickoff success rate (37) and punt return success rate (39).

Redshirt freshman punter Will Spiers has placed 45.5 percent of his punts inside the 20 (third-best in ACC) with three touchbacks.

* Clemson coach Dabo Swinney identified tempo as an emphasis going forward this week. Clemson finished eighth nationally in adjusted pace last year, but sits in 35th going into this weekend.

* By Football Outsider’s efficiency rating (S&P+), the ACC has eight teams rated in the top-30 nationally, which doubles up the Big 12 and PAC-12 and is three more than the SEC and Big 10. Clemson is the highest-placed team in that group (94.3 percentile, No. 30 offense, No. 4 defense, No. 122 special teams), but only narrowly over Miami (94 percentile, No. 11 offense, No. 24 defense, No. 28 special teams).

Clemson’s upcoming schedule by efficiency (FBS teams)
Georgia Tech - 76.2 percentile, No. 27 overall, No. 33 offense, No. 35 defense, No. 84 special teams.
NC State - 79.6 percentile, No. 23 overall, No. 15 offense, No. 53 defense, No. 100 special teams.
Florida State - 78 percentile, No. 25 overall, No. 68 offense, No. 16 defense, No. 17 special teams.
South Carolina - 54.3 percentile, No. 63 overall, No. 86 offense, No. 38 defense, No. 96 special teams.

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* Success rate is determined by gaining 50 percent of the necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down and 100 percent on third and fourth down.
** IsoPPP metric, which Football Outsiders defines as looking at only the per-play value of a team's successful plays to separate the explosiveness component from the efficiency component.
*** Passing downs are defined as second down with eight or more yards to go or third or fourth down with five or more yards to go. All other situations are “standard” downs.
**** With how success rate is calculated, the percentages will go up by where defenders play. For reference, Trayvon Mullen’s is 64.7 and K’Von Wallace’s is 71.4.

(Stat credits: 2016 and 2017 from Football Study Hall; FPI data from ESPN; Situational stats from CFBStats)

Tags: Ryan Carter, Milan Richard, Kendall Joseph, Hunter Renfrow, Kelly Bryant, Deon Cain, Dexter Lawrence, Tavien Feaster, J.C. Chalk, Trayvon Mullen, Diondre Overton
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