It's a little tougher to find areas that need improvement from a team that won 11 games, but there are certainly areas that Clemson must improve to take its program to the next level. These areas were apparent in certain games such as Florida State and South Carolina, in which the Tigers' weaknesses were exposed to a certain extent.
Turnovers in Big Games
This is the most glaring issue for the Tigers as they head into 2014. How well can they control the ball in contests against teams like Florida State and South Carolina?
In the 2013 season-opener versus Georgia, the Tigers only turned the ball over one time, which was on a fumble. The offense played lights out, scoring 38 points, and Tajh Boyd solidified his Heisman candidacy at the time.
However, against Florida State in October, the Tigers turned it over four times thanks to two fumbles and two interceptions. Florida State's defense constantly had pressure on Boyd, who was a measly 17-of-37 passing.
The South Carolina game was even worse, as the Tigers committed six turnovers in a game they could have won. The turnovers were the biggest reason for the loss in that one, something you couldn't necessarily say about the Florida State loss.
With turnovers being such a disappointment in the South Carolina game, the Tigers realize what they have to do in order to win that game.
Does Cole Stoudt offer more optimism in this category than Boyd did a year ago? In 119 career pass attempts, Stoudt has thrown just one interception. Boyd threw 11 last season in 413 pass attempts. These are merely just numbers to guide your thinking, because I realize they don't mean much.
Boyd played some good defenses, and most of Stoudt's attempts have come in garbage time thus far.
This category could be broken down into various sub-categories, or reasons for the turnovers, such as recognizing blitz packages better, etc. We will stick to the basics for now, though, in today's article.
Getting the Defense Off the Field
The defense took strides in 2013, continuing to improve under the watch of defensive coordinator Brent Venables. The Tigers had the most tackles for loss in the entire country, but consistency is as important as big plays.
Against Florida State, the Seminoles went 8-of-12 on third downs. South Carolina was 10-of-19 on third downs. These two losses were partly contributed to by not being able to keep their offenses off the field.
In an uptempo offense such as Chad Morris', time of possession is an overrated stat, but Florida State and South Carolina were able to sustain drives against the Tigers defense. A notable drive from the Florida State game saw the Seminoles go 77 yards on 16 plays and eat up almost eight minutes off the clock.
One that stuck out to me from the South Carolina game saw the Gamecocks eat up a little over eight minutes of clock time, going 80 yards on 17 plays.
My point is that the Tigers will need to find better ways to get off the field in these big games. Against Georgia and Ohio State, they were excellent in this category. Now on to the stats that bring optimism for the 2014 season, because that's why you're really reading, right?
The Bulldogs were only 4-of-14 on third downs and Ohio State was 2-of-13. Through blitz packages and key turnovers, the Tigers were able to get the ball back to Boyd and the offense in both of these games.
Both Georgia and Ohio State were able to put up a high amount of total yards, but stops on third down were huge.
Predictions for These Areas in 2014
The Tigers should be improved in both of these categories this season. While Stoudt doesn't figure to be as explosive as Boyd was with the big plays, I feel comfortable that he will throw less than 11 interceptions this year.
As for getting off the field, the Tigers front seven played lights-out against Ohio State. Heck, they played lights-out against South Carolina as well, when they shut down Mike Davis, but they weren't able to contain Connor Shaw. I expect this front seven to control the line of scrimmage. Teams will have to go to the air more on third-down situations, and this Clemson secondary is very underrated.
How do you see the Tigers' faring in these two categories in 2014?
With an improving secondary, and a defensive line that is getting scarier for opposing offenses by the minute, getting off the field and not allowing teams to sustain drives will get better this year.