Back Virginia’s Glimmer of Hope

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Virginia’s Glimmer of Hope

By Jim Johnson
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How has Clemson fared against dual threat quarterbacks in recent years?

If Clemson’s recent history against dual-threat quarterbacks is any indication, the ACC Championship could be a lot more competitive than anyone expects.

Over the last five years, including this season, eleven ACC quarterbacks have thrown for at least 2,000 yards and rushed for 500 in a single season: Deshaun Watson (2015 & 2016), Marquise Williams (2015), Thomas Sirk (2015), Lamar Jackson (2016 & 2017), Jerod Evans (2016), John Wolford (2017), Daniel Jones (2017), Eric Dungey (2017 & 2018), Kelly Bryant (2017), Bryce Perkins (2018 & 2019), and Quentin Harris (2019).

Of that group, four played against Clemson in the same season they hit those respective marks -- Williams, Evans, Jackson, and Dungey -- and the latter two played them twice.

As a matter of fact, the first two each took their shot at the Tigers in the conference championship, just as Bryce Perkins will have an opportunity to do on Saturday.

Here’s how each of those QB’s fared in the matchups:

The OAYP scores are a combined measure of efficiency and value in a given game presented marginally, or relative to the mean. So, 0.0 is an exactly average performance, while +2.0 or higher would be considered elite and, correspondingly, -2.0 or lower would be a red flag in the opposite direction. However, the above scores are not opponent adjusted, so considered that Clemson was absolutely elite defensively in each of those seasons, these are are all solid outings, particularly the three above 1.0.

Against Marquise Williams’ Tar Heels, in the 2015 ACC Championship, Clemson surrendered the more points than they had in all but one contest prior to that matchup. Alabama would surpass that mark in the National Championship, as well, but it would still go down as one of the three highest scoring games against that defense.

The next season, Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals would average the third most yards per play and the second most points that Clemson would allow in 2016. Jerod Evans’ Hokies, later on that season in the ACC Championship, would come just one point shy of Jackson and Louisville’s 36.

The rematch with Jackson in 2017 turned out to be the only truly lopsided victory among this six game sample size, but the reigning Heisman Trophy winner still led his offense to the highest yardage per play average and the third highest overall yardage total that Clemson would allow that entire season, while joining Alabama, NC State, and Syracuse as the only teams to at least 20 points on the Tigers. That aforementioned Syracuse team had the third highest yard per play average versus the ‘17 Tigers and remains the most recent team to have beaten them in the regular season.

Last year’s highly anticipated Syracuse rematch saw Clemson get revenge, but only just. It wasn’t as efficient an offensive performance as the year prior, but the Orange were still one of merely four teams to cross that 20 points threshold against the national champs.

On just a six game sample size, spread out over five years, it’s hard to say with great conviction that there is a strong positive correlation between dual threat quarterbacks and playing Clemson close. There’s probably not even enough there to call it a trend, but this has to be more than sheer coincidence.

Granted, Clemson is not unique in this respect. Defending eleven on eleven will always be more challenging than defending ten on eleven and that holds true pretty much across the board. Still, in an era of complete and utter dominance within the conference, where Clemson has been played to within a score by an ACC opponent just eleven times in 44 games, for five of those instances to have come against the aforementioned four quarterbacks constitutes an outlier.

Of course, it’s also worth noting that the quarterbacks in this sample are neither equal to each other, nor to Perkins. Lamar Jackson is clearly head and shoulders above the rest of the group, and Marquise Williams is probably a notch above Virginia’s signal caller, but Bryce Perkins likely falls somewhere in between Williams and Evans, albeit more closely aligned with the latter, yet still solidly above Dungey.

And it’s not as if these games were played in a controlled environment, either. Some of the more notable variables include an injury to Clemson’s quarterback both times they played Syracuse.

Nevertheless, given the curious history of Clemson vs dual-threats, Bryce Perkins offers a glimmer of hope against the nation’s best defense where there is otherwise very little.

No one expects Virginia to beat the Tigers in Charlotte, but, if they keep it close, that may not be such a surprise after all.

Jim Johnson - Editor of Southern Pigskin, Producer of "Three & Out", and host of "Explosive Recruiting" on the Southern Pigskin Radio Network. E-mail: Twitter: @JimJohnsonSP