As Clemson comes off its first loss of the season and its bye week, now is the perfect time to reflect on the first half of the season.
Using our advanced stats, let’s take a look at some key areas on both sides of the ball where Clemson has excelled, and also where it could improve down the stretch.
Simplified Offense for Kelly Bryant
Clemson’s offense hasn’t changed dramatically from a season ago, thanks to Kelly Bryant‘s skill set being comparable to Deshaun Watson. But there are some noticable differences in the types of throws Bryant is attempting.
The chart below shows the rate at which Bryant and Watson have attempted passes, broken down by distance the ball travels through the air:
Bryant, understandably, is taking the short, easy throw within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage at a much higher rate than Watson a season ago. This is likely a combination of a game plan designed to simplify things, and the fact that he has less confidence throwing downfield compared to a veteran like Watson.
As Bryant becomes more comfortable in the offense and improves his ability to read the defense, the Clemson offense should gradually shift more towards the balance it displayed under Watson’s leadership.
Kelly Bryant Excelling Under Pressure
There are lots of reasons to be excited about Bryant’s development, but his performance under pressure may be the most encouraging sign for his future.
Excluding throw aways, Bryant has competed 16 of his 29 pass attempts under pressure with just one interception. And he isn’t strictly living off check downs either. On passes under pressure of at least 10 yards, he’s 7-for-15.
If Clemson returns to the College Football Playoff, it could face teams such as Alabama or Ohio State with dangerous defensive fronts. So Bryant’s ability to stay cool under pressure could have a significant impact on how the Tigers season plays out.
Where is Dexter Lawrence?
As expected, the Clemson defense line has been the best unit on either side of the ball. Clelin Ferrell (24 QB pressures) and Austin Bryant (22 QB pressures) have led the way, and there have been contributions from many others. But what happened to Dexter Lawrence?
After a dominant freshman season in which Lawrence led the team with 37 QB pressures, he’s been limited to just six pressures in seven games.
Lawrence also hasn’t been the same player against the run. Only three of Lawrence’s 21 tackles have been made at or behind the line of scrimmage (14.3 percent). That’s a substantial dropoff from a season ago when 28.8 percent his of tackles were at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Lawrence is an incredible athlete for his size, and he’s made some splash plays here and there, but the consistency just isn’t there this season. His ability to turn it on down the stretch could be the determining factor in whether or not this Clemson defense can reach its championship ceiling.
Ryan Carter Continues to Exceed Expectations
After Mackensie Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley dominated the ACC in the Clemson secondary in recent years, Ryan Carter had big shoes to fill. But he’s lived up to the expectations set by his former teammates.
The chart below shows how Carter’s performance on targets at seven or more yards downfield stacks up with Alexander and Tankersley in their final years at Clemson:
Impressively, Carter’s completion percentage allowed on these targets is actually lower than both of his predecessors. However, it is worth noting his substantial dropoff in contested target rate.
Contested target rate is typically the best indicator of a cornerback’s ability to sustain success on downfield targets, so this will be an area for Carter to focus on down the stretch.