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Clemson Advanced Stats Preview

Taking an in-depth look at the stats behind this weekend's matchup

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

This game had a lot more intrigue at the start of the season than it does now. Originally I had assumed this game would be a contest between two high flying offenses, both led by star quarterbacks but having completely different identities. The season, as always, hasn't quite played out as I thought it would and all of a sudden we are in for a tough defensive struggle while the teams attempt to figure out what is stalling their respective offenses.

Computer Ranks

Model GT NCAA Rank Clemson NCAA Rank
S&P+ 35th 4th
FEI 23rd 2nd
FPI 22nd 13th
MELLS 54th 24th

All the computer models favor Clemson, and I think they absolutely should. While none of the models above care about actual Win-Loss records at all, Clemson has yet to blow a game and, for the most part, has taken care of business. Georgia Tech has struggled more against similar competition, but is still ranked relatively high considering their frustrating performances to date. Here are the predictions from the models and vegas.

Model GT Points Clemson Points Clemson Win Probability
Vegas* - -7 74%
S&P+ 16.9 34.1 84%
FEI 17 30 81%
FPI* - -6 66%
MELLS 22 33 67%

(*) Models only project a point spread

Vegas and FPI are relatively conservative compared to the other computer models, and so far those two are the most accurate of the five.

When Georgia Tech Has The Ball


  • So Clemson's defense is pretty good. I have them at 7th and 8th in rushing and passing defense, respectively, and that may be underestimating them. S&P+ has their rushing defense as number one in the nation, but 29th through the air. What makes them so good? They basically don't give opposing offenses anything. Nearly a third of their opponent's runs go for 0 or less yards, while the national average is 18%. And they are 4th in limiting big plays on the ground. So, not only is it tough to gain any yards, even when you do gain some yards they don't let you break a big run.
  • Their pass defense has been good, not great, but they have some fly DBs back there, led by Mackensie Alexander. Mackensie Alexander is right there with Kendall Fuller, before his injury :(,  and Jalen Ramsey as the best DB we will face all season. They have the 6th highest havoc rate among defensive backs in the country. Havoc rate is basically a measure of how much FSU defense you play, FSU obviously being F*** S*** Up defense. It tracks your tackles for loss, sacks, pass breakups, forced fumbles, and interceptions.
  • Meanwhile our offense is struggling. It's still a good offense, maybe even very good, but nothing like what I expected at the start of the season. I believe there are two main reasons. The first is that we aren't hitting any big plays on the ground. We rank 89th, out of 129 teams, in explosive rushing plays. I don't have the numbers on just rushing plays but the last three years we have the 3rd, 20th, and 34th most explosive offense overall. And the second is that we are all the sudden incapable of getting the necessary short yardage to move the sticks. We rank 108th in getting a first down on 3rd or 4th and 2 or less to go. Small sample sizes abound but man, are we going to turn that around?

When Clemson Has The Ball


  • I'm just as perplexed as you are about Clemson's Offense. I expected Deshaun Watson to come out firing on all cylinders last year after his incredible performance as a freshman, but his stats just aren't there this year. Honestly I think his stats aren't as good because of the same reason Jameis Winston "struggled" last year. They both attempt throws that very few other quarterbacks can make by throwing into very tight windows on very NFL-type throws, back shoulders fades over the tops of linebackers and corners but under the safeties. Without Chad Morris creating awesome one-on-one matchups for their great skill players Deshaun has had to push the envelope more. That's my totally biased and un-analytical opinion, I'm allowed a rant every once in a while.
  • But honestly his stats still aren't bad, Clemson ranks 19th in S&P+ passing and 11th in passing success rate. They just aren't hitting as many big plays as I thought with an arm like Watson's. Meanwhile Tech's passing defense has been pretty good, ranking very well in my own metric and 31st in S&P+ passing defense.
  • On the flip side both Clemson's rushing offense and Tech's rushing defense have been pretty average. This is a matchup of strength on strength and weakness on weakness and I'm not sure which is going to break our way.
I'd like to wrap up with some game prediction about *the stats don't matter* and Tech can easily win. They may win and I wouldn't be shocked, I just don't expect it. I'm going in to this game knowing we are the underdog for a reason and that without some breaks we don't leave Death Valley with a win. But, I'm always happy to be proven wrong.