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Clemson 37, Florida State 34: Advanced Box Score Analysis

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Going way inside the numbers

Every week, SB Nation’s Bill Connelly posts his Advanced Box Scores on Football Study Hall. Here is the one for Florida State’s 37-34 defeat against Clemson, arguably the Seminoles’ best performance of the year despite a losing effort.

Some key takeaways:

  • What a great game to watch. Hitting, big plays, two athletic teams going at each other. Well done by both sides.
  • Clemson had a 33-25 field position advantage. Over the course of 14 possessions, that is roughly 110 hidden yards in Clemson’s favor.
  • Clemson had more scoring chances (8 to 6), but FSU did more with them on average (4.62 points/opportunity compared to 5.83)
  • Florida State lost the game in the first quarter, with Clemson having a 62% success rate compared to FSU’s 46%. On the day, the teams were even in success rate. All points and drives count the same, and while most want to focus on the failed last drive, more focus needs to be on the first quarter.
  • Florida State probably wishes it ran the football more, especially on first down. Florida State had a 64% success rate rushing and a 34% rate passing. Florida State tried to throw on first down, which ordinarily would be smart against some of Clemson’s looks, but QB Deondre Francois was wild and erratic, even when not pressured, completing just 47 percent of throws on standard downs (as opposed to long downs). Florida State called 18 passes on first down. Only 8 were completed. 8 were incomplete (including an interception). And two were sacks. On the other hand, the Seminoles actually ran the ball well on first down, with 80 percent of runs gaining three yards or more. It is worth noting that three Clemson pass interference penalties came on first down, which does help Francois’ case.
  • If you didn’t read the above, here it is: Thinking that Clemson would try to stop the run on first down, FSU threw a lot on first downs, because those are usually favorable looks without much pass rush. What actually happened is that Francois missed a ton of easy throws on first downs, and Clemson actually did not do a good job of stopping FSU’s runs on those downs. At the end of the day, Florida State gave Dalvin Cook 19 carries and is left wondering what would have happened if he had a few more.
  • FSU’s run blocking was great ... Creating a 50% opportunity rate, compared to Clemson’s 32%. Its 3.39 line yards/carry was also excellent. And Dalvin Cook maximized those blocks for the most part, hitting a high percentage of correct holes and showcasing his speed.
  • ... but its pass blocking on 2nd/3rd-&-long was awful. There were an unacceptable number of plays where Francois had no shot. This was largely expected, however, as Clemson’s defense was and is one of the best in the nation on obvious passing downs. On third/4th and 6+, FSU converted just 3 of 11. That’s what Clemson’s defense does to opponents in those situations. FSU simply did not stay out of those long downs enough. Of the six sacks, four that were definitively the fault of the offensive line came on 3rd-13, 3rd-16, 3rd-20, and 4th-32. Clemson’s defensive line dominates everyone in those spots, as FSU fans saw Saturday night.
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  • Florida State’s defense was also excellent on passing downs (long downs), just not as wildly dominant as Clemson was (30% success allowed compared to 26% allowed by Clemson).
  • Florida State faced only 13 third/fourth downs. Clemson faced 19. But FSU’s were an average of 14.6 yards-to-go, while Clemson’s were an average of just 7.3, literally half as far to gain. The median 3rd/4th down faced by FSU was 13, while for Clemson it was just 5. That is a huge difference.
  • Deshaun Watson was not always great, but he made some big throws. Watson converted four of ten throws on third/long, and had two more that were just a yard short, setting up very makeable 4th down attempts (Clemson converted both).
  • After safety Trey Marshall was ejected for targeting, forcing FSU to play with its No. 4 and 5 safeties (Derwin James and Nate Andrews were already out with injury), Watson went 5-8 for 105 yards (an incredible 13.25 yards/attempt, compared to 7.8 before ejection). Clemson scored 17 points on the three drives after the ejection.