If I said I wasn't looking forward to Clemson, I'd be lying. I don't look at Clemson how I look at other teams. — James Gayle
Gayle is right of course. Clemson spanked us at night in Lane, in Charlotte when it mattered most, and stripped us of our championship crown. The Tigers took more away from us than any team in a season in quite some time. I think we all circled this game when the schedule came out, and it means more now than we probably thought it would in August. A win keeps us in a strong position to win the Coastal and would boost our perception nationally. A loss leaves us 0-3 in a little over a year against a team we'll continue to recruit against for top regional talent, and the Coastal race becomes tighter.
It's only Tuesday afternoon and I'm antsy for Saturday. I'm sure a lot of you are too. So, let's talk about Clemson.
By the numbers, Clemson's defense isn't very good. Kevin Steele, defensive coordinator at Clemson since 2009, was fired following the Orange Bowl blowout and was replaced by former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables. An overnight turnaround that some expected hasn't happened. Shakin the Southland explained the shortcomings of the defense in-depth after Clemson lost to Florida State, the bullet points from their thorough assessment follow.
- S&C problems, which feeds into
- Coaching, anytime you're this bad the coaches have to take some blame, and it starts with Dabo Swinney. You can't put this just on the Defensive Coordinator, or just the DB coach, etc.
- Players are not playing to the level they are capable of reaching or have proven they can reach.
- Fundamentals are awful: we don't use our hands well, we don't place our feet well, our pursuit angles are garbage, we don't keep our pads low, and didn't tackle well at all in the last game.
- Depth is poor, due to two things: poor recruiting results and strategies, and not playing the guys you knew you would have to run with last year.
- Intensity. Our defense plays passive at times, and doesn't bring the pain on every play. Guys put their heads down when they give up a big play, when they really have to forget about them.
- Personnel usage
Dabo Swinney believes his defense, particularly the front four, is improving, and much like Tech wants to limit the big play. With Andrew Miller done, Farris questionable, and Wang gimpy, Tech's patchwork offensive line will have to step it up in order to be successful against stiffer competition.
Clemson is on pace to break 12 different offensive records this season.
So, Chad Morris' offense has not slowed down, even if one of its playmakers has. Sammy Watkins had a breakout season last year as a true freshman. He had his way with Tech's defense in the ACC Championship Game (55 rushing yards, 80 receiving yards and a touchdown). However, Morris says because Watkins missed over 3 games (suspension and stomach bug) he's, "Not in game shape," and, "That's something we tried to focus on in the open week, to get him back into game shape."
Even if Watkins isn't a factor (he will be), Tech will need to account for DeAndre "Nuk" Hopkins who is having a stellar junior season (49 receptions, 777 yards, 8 TDs, 1st ACC, 3rd nationally).
According to Exum, he'll cover Watkins to the field side, Fuller will be on the boundary with Hopkins. Based on what Foster's done this season, I'm assuming this will be part of a man look across the board. Like last week, the defensive line pressuring the quarterback will make or break the effort. These guys (or anyone else really) won't be able to play on island with the Clemson receivers for more than a couple of seconds.
Morris' offense is fast paced and explosive, but not pass happy (261 runs to 232 passes). Tailback Andre Ellington leads the ACC in rushing (597 yards, 6 TDs) and quarterback Tajh Boyd is a threat to carry the ball (224 yards, 2 TDs). There will be a lot of inside/outside zone, buck sweep (definitely reread this from French), power, and inverted veer.
Shakin the Southland did a nice breakdown of Clemson's Inverted Veer/Dash. Like most great football plays, it's a simple concept modernized. It's the zone read, except the play side, not back side, defensive end is left unblocked and becomes the option man.
Instead of leaving the backside End unblocked as in the zone read, in this play you leave the playside End unblocked. The OL on the playside veer blocks, and the Guard from the backside pulls around. Next, you move the RB to the other side of the QB, so he's coming from the backside, and have him run a sweep or stretch (outside zone). We would also use the 2-man in motion on the jet sweep to do this, with the 4 as a lead blocker, like a QB Isolation.
From their Georgia Tech film review, "This power read/IV [inside veer] jet is consistently successful for Tajh when Sammy is going in the jet."
Clemson had a well timed bye last week after playing Georgia Tech. However, the Tigers play Wake Forest next Thursday on a short-week, so their coaches didn't dedicate an entire two weeks scheming for the Hokies.
What are your early thoughts on the game?