SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
By now, you know who’s not around any more. And like us, you’re wondering what to expect from the next Tigers up.
Before we get into that, here’s the three-year trend under Chad Morris:
Chad Morris offense profile (2011-13 averages)
Clemson has produced a top-10 scoring and total offense each of the past two seasons, totaling 131 touchdowns (five per game) and 13,265 yards (510.2 per game).
The passing figures have increased each season under Tajh Boyd’s leadership, while the running game has been consistent in impact (4.2 yards per carry each year) and fluctuating in frequency (anywhere from 38 to 45 carries per game).
In the wake of DeAndre Hopkins’ and Andre Ellington’s exits pre-2013, the offense was fueled by breakout seasons from Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant and a workmanlike steadiness from senior running back Rod McDowell.
During the player projections, I’ve hinted to the expectations in terms of playcalling and impact this season, but in summary:
• Balanced passing game built on short-to-intermediate throws: Morris has a number in mind usually when it comes to deep shots per game, but I’m figuring that’s a bit lower transitioning from the Boyd era. Cole Stoudt hasn’t had many opportunities to show off his arm, but he’s proven to be accurate and spread the ball around. Clemson’s strength will be more in numbers than any one star among the receivers.
• A consistent running game: I know – it’s the “have to see it to believe it” element of the projection, but I’m buying what Morris is selling on a commitment to the run. With the key losses in pass game and options aplenty at tailback, the question is if a rebuilt-but-experienced O-line opens the lanes to ground-and-pound opponents. Last year, Morris shied away from giving them much of a chance to establish the run.
• Fewer yards, increased efficiency: For all that the Tiger offense did well last season, they were 35th in third down conversions (44.7 percent) and 27th in points per trip inside the 40 (4.7). I don’t see another 500 yards per game effort, but with a better run effort, they should be a little less erratic moving the chains and finishing off drives.
Last year, I underestimated the Clemson offense (or gave ACC defenses too much credit) and Chad Morris. I believed the loss of Nuk Hopkins and Andre Ellington would slow down the Chad Morris juggernaut. By and large, I was wrong as the Tigers approached 508 yards per game.
Problem is, I feel the same way this year with the loss of Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Perhaps it’s the eternal pessimist in me.
My working hypothesis is that the Tigers rely on the “smash mouth” portion of Morris’ Smash Mouth Spread slightly more this season after being fairly balanced in rushing the ball 53 percent of the time (including sacks) and throwing 47 percent of the time in Morris’ first 3 seasons.
More running means fewer plays, fewer yards and fewer yards per play. I don’t expect a monumental shift but rather a small, subtle one.
The second part of that hypothesis is that while the Tigers were able to withstand the loss of Hopkins and Ellington, the loss of Boyd and Watkins is greater.
The Tiger offense will be good, but I don’t expect it to be 508 yards per game good.