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What to expect from Billy Napier’s offense (Part I)

Posted by cuorange on August 10, 2009

One of the big unknowns for Clemson this year is offensive coordinator Billy Napier and what type of offense the Tigers will run. Complaints abounded last year, especially during the first 6 games with Rob Spence running the offense.

With this in mind I decided to take a look at the information we do have on Napier to determine what we might be able to expect in 2009. Napier (and/or Dabo Swinney) called 465 plays from scrimmage in the last 7 games of the 2008 season. I’ve put these into a database that enables search on a number of different variables including down, distance, yard line, quarter, home/away/neutral, score, grass/artificial, opponent and a few others.

We’ve heard that Napier believes in establishing the run and Napier did run slightly more frequently than Spence did (47%* of the time to 44%), but, the big difference comes in where the ball went under Napier when it was thrown. In the first 6 games under Spence C.J. Spiller caught 9 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown. In six games under with Napier at the helm Spiller caught 25 passes for 329 yards and 2 TDs.

And it wasn’t just Spiller. James Davis caught 4 passes in 6 games under Spence and then caught 10 in 7 games under Napier, though 5 of those came in the Georgia Tech game in which Spiller didn’t play. What this shows is that Napier is going to throw to the backs no matter who is in the game.  The pass to a running back is a staple of the Napier offense.

For the plays under Napier that I was able to document** a receiver or intended receiver, the pass to the RB was an important part of the Tigers offense: 37/50 (74%), 417 yards, 15 first downs, and 2 TDs. That’s 11.3 yards per reception, and 8.3 yards per attempt.

With this in mind and assuming he stays healthy, I expect Spiller to catch 55-60 passes this year and the other backs to also play a larger role in receiving out of the backfield, especially with the general youth and inexperience of the wide receivers.

Another trend that I found is that Napier continued the Spence tradition of ignoring the tight end. Of those 465 plays, the tight end was thrown to only 20 times (4.3% of plays) and of the 247 plays where passes were called, those 20 throws to the tight end means the TEs were the target on 8.1% of the passes (roughly 1 of every 12 passes).

Other things that stick out to me: 2nd and 8 and 2nd and 9. Both of these are 50/50 pass/run under Napier, which is interesting considering the number of 3rd and longs the Tigers faced in 2008. Theoretically, you’ve run on first down and gained a yard or two. Running 50% of the time on second and 8 or 9  tends to lend credence to the notion that Napier is committed to the run.  

Of the 22 plays in second and 8 or 9, 7 gained a first down (31%).  Of the 11 rushing plays called 2 (22%) netted first downs.  Of the 11 pass plays called 5 (56%) resulted in first downs.  It will be interesting to see if these trends continues in 2009.

Also, the Tigers faced 2nd and 3 four times under Napier. Each time a pass was called (2 to WRs, 1 to RB, 1 sack). Interesting. Each of the 3 passes were complete, but only the one to a RB (Spiller) was converted for a first down. Two passes complete to WRs on 2nd and 3 and you don’t get a first down on either? Can anyone say downfield passing game?

The tables below show the tendencies of Napier based on down and distance only. This is a good place to start, but in order to truly understand Napier’s play calling we need to dig deeper and include field position as part of the criteria, as coaches tend to make different calls on third and 3 from their own 9 as opposed to third and 3 from their opponents 9. Over the next few days I’ll do just that.

*For our purposes play is considered a “pass” if it is a complete or incomplete pass, interception, sack, or other play (such as a “scramble”) that can be identified as a called pass from the official scorer report.

**There were 16 plays that did not indicate an intended receiver. Typically these are balls that are “thrown away” out of bounds by the QB.

Down To Go Rushes Rush Pct Passes* Pass Pct Total Plays
1 5 1 50% 2 50% 2
1 10 105 59% 73 41% 178
1 15 1 33% 2 67% 3
1 20 0 0% 1 100% 1
1 22 0 0% 1 100% 1
1 Goal 9 64% 5 36% 14
Totals 117 59% 82 41% 199
Down To Go Rushes Rush Pct Passes* Pass Pct Total Plays
2 1 4 80% 1 20% 5
2 2 4 100% 0 0% 4
2 3 0 0% 4 100% 4
2 4 9 82% 2 18% 11
2 5 2 40% 3 60% 5
2 6 9 60% 6 40% 15
2 7 7 58% 5 42% 12
2 8 5 50% 5 50% 10
2 9 6 50% 6 50% 12
2 10 12 41% 17 59% 29
2 11 1 14% 6 86% 7
2 12 2 100% 0 0% 2
2 13 1 50% 1 50% 2
2 14 2 67% 1 33% 3
2 15 2 50% 2 50% 4
2 16 1 100% 0 0% 1
2 17 0 0% 3 100% 3
2 18 1 100% 0 0% 1
2 19 1 50% 1 50% 2
2 20 0 0% 1 100% 1
2 21 0 0% 2 100% 2
2 22 0 0% 1 100% 1
2 24 1 100% 0 0% 1
2 Goal 7 58% 5 42% 12
Totals 77 52% 72 48% 149
3 1 3 60% 2 40% 5
3 2 2 67% 1 33% 3
3 3 2 40% 3 60% 5
3 4 3 33% 6 67% 9
3 5 2 20% 8 80% 10
3 6 2 17% 10 83% 12
3 7 1 17% 5 83% 6
3 8 1 13% 7 87% 8
3 9 0 0% 4 100% 4
3 10 0 0% 11 100% 11
3 11 0 0% 3 100% 3
3 12 0 0% 2 100% 2
3 13 0 0% 3 100% 3
3 14 1 33% 2 67% 3
3 15 1 25% 3 75% 4
3 17 1 33% 2 67% 3
3 18 0 0% 1 100% 1
3 19 0 0% 1 100% 1
3 20 1 50% 1 50% 2
3 23 0 0% 2 100% 2
3 24 0 0% 2 100% 2
3 Goal 1 14% 6 86% 7
Totals 21 20% 85 80% 106
4 1 2 100% 0 0% 2
4 3 0 0% 1 100% 1
4 4 0 0% 1 100% 1
4 6 1 50% 1 50% 2
4 7 0 0% 1 100% 1
4 8 0 0% 1 100% 1
4 10 0 0% 1 100% 1
4 22 0 0% 1 100% 1
4 Goal 0 0% 1 100% 1
Totals 3 27% 8 73% 11
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