Impressionism and the Clawfense

So here we are, three short days until the circle of life begins anew and football overtakes gardening as the #1 pasttime in the nation.  (I don't know if that's technically true, but I'm sure it's not far off.)  So what better time is there to have a discussion of the great Impressionist painters and their accomplishments?  No, stay with me on this one; I'll tie it to UT football, I promise.

The Revolution of the Impressionists

I am certainly neither an artist nor an art historian, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate the work of a good artist.  One of my all-time favorites is Claude Monet.  I know he's almost cliche, what with all those Monet posters in every single wanna-be-Starbucks-coffee shop on the planet, but I absolutely love his stuff.  One of the favorite aspects of his work is how significant perspective is.  If you stand within about a foot of a Monet, you see nothing but seemingly random paint splotches piled thickly on top of a canvas.  The strokes don't connect and the shapings don't suggest anything.  But step back a few feet, and that glorified Rorschach test suddenly comes alive as a Japanese bridge, or a lily pond, or a cathedral.

That technique was one of the greatest advances in art, IMO.  Monet demonstrated that you didn't always need to search for ever-finer detail to find significance, and that some of the greatest meaning and interpretation was only available in a broad, apparently out-of-focus point of view.

In short, Monet showed us the forest when we were too busy trying to look at the trees.  I hope to bring a faint imitation of that concept to our attempts to predict the Clawson offense.  What follows is a very broad view of Clawson, something I must admit I never thought of doing until recently.  Instead of sifting for hidden meaning or small points of significance, I'm going to give a very broad, loose view of what we can expect.  Like the Japanese bridge, the planks won't seem to connect when we're looking closely at this.  But it will have some sense from afar.  And I think it gives us something more tangible and concrete than we've been floundering around with for a while.

Clawson - the Big Picture

As we're all aware, the biggest stumbling block in predicting Clawson is that there is no Youtubery of Richmond or Fordham to give us a peek under the hood of his offense.  Instead, we've been trying to sift through the news accounts and the numbers to find those little nuggets that, when assembled, would somehow give us a picture and a reason to hope.  What I am posting here is an admission that we won't be able to get a clear picture with that approach.  Instead of trying to find all the details, I took a look at the broadest statistics I could find on his offenses: the run/pass distribution and the distribution of runs according to ball carriers.

Rather than looking at game-by-game information, I looked at the seasonal data for both Clawson and UT for the last 8 years.  Remember, there's nothing of fine detail here; catch the big picture and leave the rest to Monday Night.

Run/Pass Distribution

 

In an earlier comment in this FanPost, I created a chart showing the run/pass distributions of Clawson's offenses over the last 8 years.  Here it is again:

Clawson_offense_ratios_medium

Looking at the big picture, focus first on the last two columns.  Note that in every year, Clawson ran the ball more than he passed the ball.  (In 2003, the margin is statistically insignificant.)  Most years hovered around 55% run and 45% pass, with about a +/- of 5% in the sample in some cases.  Most interestingly, he ran the ball over 61% of the time in 2007 - his final "resume" year at Richmond - when Fulmer would have been looking at tape to evaluate his potential.  The percentages aren't enough to say that he is "run first", but he is decidedly not "pass-whacky" either.

This is an interesting figure to me.  In most discussion I've encountered, Clawson is described as a West-Coastish kind of guy, and we generally interpret that to mean that he is a pass-first guy.  I don't think that's true.  Rather, I think he likes a balanced playbook, but he does favor a running game, most likely due to lower turnover rates and clock control.  The offensive line will love this, as run blocking is far more exhilirating than pass blocking.  But since UT was such a pass-happy team last year, our "every-starter-is-returning-WOO!!!1" O-line would have had some adjustments to make to get used to the new system.  That might explain some of the seeming flatness of the O-line in early rehearsals, and the subsequent brilliance of the O-line later on; they needed to get used to it, but the new system was a lot more fun for them and I think it will show.

Projecting this onto our coming season, I note first that we have a new starting QB and a rather large stable of RBs, along with Jones (and maybe Berry).  Between the historic pattern of Clawson and UT's current athletes, the "play to the team's strengths" mantra we've been hearing would suggest a run-heavy year.  I'll predict 57% run, 43% pass on the season.

Run Distribution

Since the run will probably be the more dominant portion of the playbook, I then took a look at how the ball was distributed among Clawson's rushers.  For perspective, I charted Clawson's former teams alongside UT's teams for the last 8 years.  Only the top 5 rushers (in terms of number of carries) are shown, though if you want the charts for all rushers, click here.  The comprehensive chart doesn't show much more, but if you're really desperate, feel free to have at it.

Remember, look at the big picture here.  Don't let the number of graphs trick you into thinking I'm going to delve deeply.  Focus on the big things only.  Also, note that this is number of carries, and has no relationship to the yardage each rusher earned or that rusher's title (halfback, fullback, etc.)

Top_5_rushing_distributions_medium

First observation: based on color alone, I'd much rather see UT play Richmond than Fordham.  Egad.

Second observation: Clawson has had years where he's favored one star running back, and he's had years of running-by-committee.  You can see this in the "percentage" charts on the right hand column; there's not a defined trend that favors one over the other.  (Note to budding stats geeks: just because a chart doesn't show conclusive information doesn't mean it's useless.  The lack of a pattern here tells us precisely that: Clawson doesn't have a pattern in running back selection.  Good to know.)

Third observation: Clawson tends to call more rushing plays over the course of a season than we've seen in UT for a while.  In fact, the last time that trend was reversed was back in '00 and '01, when Travis Stephens was in the backfield.  No wonder UT ran the ball so much.  Also note that UT has tended to give the vast majority of carries to two rushers.  Clawson did the same on occasion, but he tends to give more carries to players #3 on the frequency list.  If you continue the trend on through the numbers, UT tended to give more carries to the remaining guys (including #6 through whomever; they are shown on the linked chart above if you're really curious), but the numbers just aren't significant enough for any conclusions.

But don't expect one running back to get more than 50% of the carries as an absolute maximum.  More likely, the leading rusher will get about 40-45% of the carries.  This is good for injury considerations and for unpredictability.  Not only will we spare the wear-and-tear on the lead rusher (only to lose him to an injury at the end of the season), but it'll make it harder for defenses to guess at our run/pass distribution based on the personnel on the field.

Conclusion

Well, that's about as deep as you can go with it.  Clawson tends to run a balanced offense that leans a little more run-heavy than pass-heavy.  He doesn't normally give one running back all of the carries, and I don't expect to see him start this year.  Count on three (maybe 4, but unlikely) rushers with over 10% of the carries.  Expect to see more smiles on the faces of our O-line as they get to pave new boulevards, starting in Westwood, CA.  After then, we can start zooming back in and (hopefully) admiring his brushstrokes.

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