Clemson Dominates the Middle Eight

Zach Lentz

CLEMSON—During its current run of four consecutive College Football Playoff appearances dating to 2015, Clemson has frequently won one of the hidden "games within the game." SportSource Analytics tracks the "Middle Eight," the section of the game defined as the final four minutes of the first half and the first four minutes of the second half. 

Clemson has outscored opponents in that time window 44 times since 2015, posting a 43-1 record in those contests. Clemson was historically strong in that category in 2018, outscoring opponents 132-10 in the middle eight, an average margin of +8.1 points per game. That per-game differential was the largest by any program in the country since 2013. 

"I think part of it is being able to make adjustments both in the first quarter and beginning of the second quarter and to be able to communicate to to those guys," co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott said. "And you get 20 more minutes at half to make adjustments and communicate."

One striking example of the importance of the middle eight came in the 2018 Cotton Bowl, as Clemson and Notre Dame played a tightly contested first half that saw Clemson holding only a 9-3 advantage with four minutes left in the first half. A touchdown with 1:44 remaining pushed Clemson's lead to 16-3, and Head Coach Dabo Swinney's decision to attack on a drive originating from Clemson's 20-yard line with 48 seconds remaining resulted in another score with two seconds to play in the second quarter, giving Clemson a 23-3 lead at the break. 

The importance was also on display at Florida State in 2018, as after a scoreless first quarter, Clemson held only a 14-0 lead entering the final four minutes of the first half. Clemson scored two quick touchdowns in the final four minutes of the second quarter and opened the second half with another touchdown 58 seconds into the third quarter, giving the Tigers a commanding 35-0 lead in an eventual 59-10 win.

"I think one of the things that our players do a really good job of is they're able to make adjustments. It's one thing as a coach to make adjustments and communicate, but for them to understand what you're saying and take those words and put into action, that doesn't always just happen. That comes from really good communication during the week and putting in extra time to study the opponent and being engaged in our meetings."

Self-Scouting After 11 Games:

"I think the biggest thing is after 11 games you start to have certain tendencies with certain formations, motions, third downs, so it's really studying what are they looking at when they're studying us on third down or 10-personnel, 11-personnel, 12-personnel, and then taking some time to come up with plays to combat that," Scott said. "I think that was probably what we tried to do more than anything with the self-scout this time."

That self-scouting ability will come in handy this week, and in the future, for the Tigers' offense, as they look to see their competition increase.

"(South Carolina's front four) has played well all year," Scott said. "Physical guys, move very well. They've created issues for most everybody that they have played this season. No. 3 (Javon Kinlaw) has had an outstanding year and definitely a guy you always have to know where he is. He requires a lot of double teams and that opens some things up for other guys to make plays. I think it's definitely the best South Carolina defensive front that we have played in the last four or five years and it definitely has our guys' attention. Hopefully as the year progresses, we'll continue to play really good fronts, so this is what you expect in our championship phase."