Clemson Football: Areas in Which Tigers Must Improve from 2013

Zach GillilandFeatured ColumnistJuly 17, 2014

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Dabo Swinney of the Clemson Tigers looks on during warm ups prior to the Discover Orange Bowl against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Sun Life Stadium on January 3, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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.

The Tigers were really able to limit their mistakes against Georgia, operating smoothly on offense.
The Tigers were really able to limit their mistakes against Georgia, operating smoothly on offense.Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

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.

Tiger fans hope that the senior leadership of Stoudt will keep the offense rolling in 2014.
Tiger fans hope that the senior leadership of Stoudt will keep the offense rolling in 2014.Tyler Smith/Getty Images

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.

Jameis Winston was very impressive in last year's meeting between Clemson and Florida State.
Jameis Winston was very impressive in last year's meeting between Clemson and Florida State.USA TODAY Sports

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.

Braxton Miller was constantly under pressure in Clemson's Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State.
Braxton Miller was constantly under pressure in Clemson's Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State.Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

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.

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.