Clemson Is Very Good, And It's Time Everyone Noticed

Nine weeks through the college football season, who predicted Florida State would already have its first loss, to 3-6 Georgia Tech no less, and the Clemson Tigers would be leading the ACC? Not too many, I would guess.

The Tigers, fueled by a high-powered offense and a great defense, are arguably the most complete team in the nation. Week after week, they have completed victory after victory on the back of a fast-paced, diverse offense and a balanced defense. Their great all-around play is why I think the Tigers are a serious contender for this year's National Championship.

The Offense

Clemson, the No. 3 team in the nation, is a very balanced, fast-paced team on the offensive side of the ball. Throughout their 8-0 start, the Tigers have displayed great versatility on offense thanks to their ability to effectively run and pass the ball. Their 19th ranked offense averages 218.1 ypg on the ground, 267 ypg through the air, and 40.6 ppg.

For the Tigers' offense, everything begins and ends with quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson, in his sophomore season, has played brilliantly so far. At 6-foot-2, 205 pounds, Watson possesses the ability to hurt opposing defenses both with his arm and his legs.

Through eight games, Watson has thrown for 1,936 yards, 20 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions. He doesn't complete too many huge passes downfield, averaging only 8.8 yards per completion, but his accuracy in the short-to-intermediate passing game is something to be reckoned with. Watson completes a solid 70.3 percent of his passing attempts per game. However, that number should be much higher. Watson's completion percentage is negatively skewed by two bad games this year, a poor outing against Notre Dame that saw him complete only 47.6 percent of his passes and mediocre production against a great Boston College defense in which he completed only 65.9 percent of his passes (Clemson won both games, anyway). In the other six games, his completion percentage never dipped below 70 percent. He even surpassed 80 percent in a game earlier this season — in Week 1, Watson completed 81.8 percent of his passes in a 49-10 rout of Wofford. 

His accuracy delivers the ball right into the hands of his playmakers and, as a result, opens up the more explosive part of Clemson's offense — the run game. 

Watson's ability to hurt defenses with his arm has created ample opportunity for the Tigers to effectively run the ball. When a defense has to worry about a quarterback that can accurately distribute the ball, the defense has to be weary of the pass, creating holes and lanes for both Watson and sophomore running back Wayne Gallman to exploit. 

The successful rushing tandom of Watson and Gallman has been most demonstrative in Clemson's use of the zone-read. The zone-read, one of the more popular plays of the spread offense, is an option play that utilizes the rushing cabilities of the quarterback and the running back. When the quarterback receives the snap both players will cross paths, and, depending upon his quick analysis of the defense's reaction, he will either keep the ball and run or hand the ball off to the running back.

The video clip below is from Clemson's 58-0 beatdown of the Miami Hurricanes in Week 8. The clip perfectly illustrates Clemson's use of the zone-read. 


Clemson's offense is set up for the inside zone-read and after the ball is snapped, Watson has to decide whether to hand the ball off to his running back or keep it himself. It all depends on what Miami's defenders do. Seeing that Miami's linebackers and defensive backs bite on the inside handoff, Watson is able to properly utilize the zone-read and capitalize with an explosive play. 

The Tigers have abused the zone-read all year. Gallman is the team's leading rusher, blasting through defenses for a whopping total of 874 yards and seven touchdowns, including five games rushing for over 100 yards. And Watson, the team's second leading rusher, has rushed for 386 yards on 78 attempts (a 4.9 yards per carry average) and four touchdowns.

As I stated before, everything in Clemson's offense begins and ends with Deshaun Watson. His accurate passing keeps defenses honest and allows the offense to exploit opposing defenses with the effective use of the zone-read. If Watson manages to keep up his stellar play, he may soon find himself in consideration for the Heisman. 

The Defense

If you thought Clemson's offense was good, you may be shocked to find that they're actually much better on defense. The Tigers are ranked fifth nationally in total defense, allowing 109.1 rushing ypg, 169 passing ypg, and 17.6 ppg. 

Except for a game in which they allowed 41 points to 5-3 NC State in Week 9, the Tigers' defense has been fantastic at keeping opposing offenses away from the endzone. They have held three opponents to 10 points or under, including holding Miami scoreless in Week 8. 

Just as everything starts with the quarterback on the offensive side of the ball, the success of Clemson's defense hinges on the play of the defensive line. The d-line, spearheaded by the likes of Carlos Watkins, Scott Pagano, and Christian Wilkins, is the main reason behind the Tigers' defensive success, carrying on the tradition of great Clemson defensive lines.

Clemson's D-line does a great job in both passing and running situations.

In terms of pass defense, the Tigers' d-line exceeds at applying pressure to the quarterback. Clemson is No. 15 nationally in team sacks with 24 (an average of three sacks per game). The amount of pressure the line puts on the quarterback makes defending easier for the safties, cornerbacks, and linebackers.  Because the opposing quarterback has often been forced into difficult situations, either having to take a sack, throw the ball away, or make a poor throw downfield, Clemson has been able to amass 10 interceptions on the year, including two that were returned for touchdowns. 

Although this defense relies heavily on defending the pass, it also does a great job at stopping the run. The defensive line, again, is the main reason for Clemson's success in this department. All season, the Tigers' d-linemen have done a great job of sealing gaps and hitting the opposing running back in the backfield, totaling 72 tackles-for-loss on the season (fifth nationally), 66 of them solo tackles and 12 of them assisted.

Clemson's overall ability to stop both the run and the pass is evident in their third-down completion percentage. Clemson is No. 1 in the country in this category, allowing opposing offenses a third-down completion rate of only 21.2 percent. The Tigers, because of great defensive line play, have been able to stop the run and force offenses into difficult third-down conversion scenarios, keeping the opposing team from scoring and allowing their potent offense to get back on the field more quickly.

The Clemson Tigers are the most well-rounded team in all of College Football. They have a great offense, led by stellar quarterback Deshaun Watson, and a powerful defense, buoyed by an even more powe rful defensive line. I'm not saying they are going to win the National Championship this year, but they certainly have a great shot.

We'll know more about this team after Week 10. The Tigers face No. 17 Florida State Saturday afternoon in Death Valley. 

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