May 19, 2019

Sugar Bowl Film Preview: Alabama

Well, the day has come for Clemson and Alabama face off in the CFP Playoffs for the third time in as many years. Incredible, really, for the two programs to see each other each year with the highest of stakes on the line. It shows the level that each program is currently at, as we’ve seen many high-level players come and go, but the same teams meeting once again. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t thrilled to see Alabama in the fourth spot, I mean who would be? Clemson is #1, meaning the Tigers should have the easiest path to the Championship, not get paired with an Alabama team with extra rest, a short drive to New Orleans, and with revenge on their minds. If Wisconsin manages to knock off OSU in the Big 10 championship, Clemson’s probably sitting pretty in New Orleans as a double digit favorite. Instead, big bad Saban with a month to prepare is rolling in against the Tigers, and has Clemson as a 3 point underdog in Vegas. It’s a big swing, but if the Tiger faithful have learned anything in year’s past, this coaching staff can also perform at a HIGH, HIGH level with ample time to prep, and also find ways to perform their best when an underdog. Let’s go ahead and take a look at the matchups:


Move the sticks, manage the clock, provide the defense time to rest. These things are imperative against an Alabama offense that will wear you down if the defense is on the field for too long. Per usual, Alabama’s defense is one of the best in the country even after losing several key members in the offseason.


Clemson’s offense has been run oriented in 2017 and now faces the #2 rush defense in the nation. A difficult matchup, but that doesn’t mean that the Tigers won’t still work to establish the run, just like they did against the Tide last year in Tampa. It’s also important to note that Alabama’s LB corps have dealt with a myriad of injuries, including starting MLB Dylan Moses, who will be sidelined for the game. Expect Clemson to show different looks and window dressing in the run game, testing the health and discipline of the LB corps. The Tigers don’t possess the same big receiving threats that they did last year in Mike Williams and Jordan Leggett, who had the ability to often win 50-50 balls. Because of this, I do anticipate it’ll more difficult to pass against Alabama this time around, and that the run game MUST be established to force Alabama to cheat on the run, thus opening the pass.

MSU does well here, finding a running lane and then utilizing the previously play’s success to open up the RPO to the tight end. Watch the FS, 15 Harrison step up, anticipating the run.


With the expectation that Alabama will be able to relatively neutralize up the middle rushes, KB’s legs will have to be live for keepers like Fitzgerald’s. A key component in this game is that although Clemson is without DW4 this time around, KB is a better fit to establish the running game against this Alabama defense.


And when things break down against man coverage, Bryant will need to utilize his legs to create yards.


Auburn using Kerryon Johnson as the decoy to open up space for Stidham.


Alabama in man coverage means backs are turned to receivers. Once Stidham has a lane, it’s easy yardage. Anticipate similar calls for KB, the key being that the offensive line must hold their own against the pass rush.


Moving to the pass game, Alabama plays lots of tight coverage, meaning tight routes and throws with be a necessity. And of course, Clemson would be smart to work in rub routes once again this year. Really like the rollout here on third down, allowing Auburn’s quickest receiver to find space against the corner.


The Auburn Tigers also utilized a variety of crossing routes, particularly in traffic to find space against tight coverage. Renfrow and McCloud have the quickness to find separation here. Crossing routes from both sides well-timed against an Alabama blitz.


And again, Auburn’s quick slot man, Will Hastings, is able to create space across the middle.


And again, this time Auburn stacking receivers to create confusion for the Alabama’s DB’s. This is actually covered pretty well, but the speed of Davis creates just enough space for Stidham to hit him.


More of Davis finding space and Auburn rolling Stidham out with additional protection by way of his FB and RB. Looks quite similar to what Clemson has gone to with KB in critical third down plays to Renfrow.



Alabama’s run game is the major threat, so we’ll start with what they have in the passing game and it’s pretty simple: cover Calvin Ridley. Ridley is by far Hurts’ favorite target, shown by the fact that he has 55 catches on the season, whereas the next leading receiver in catches is RB Bo Scarborough with just 14. Incredible, really, and it means that Venables will be keying in and likely shadowing Ridley with a safety at all times.

Ridley getting open on a third and long…


Another third down with Hurts looking to Ridley…


And more Hurts to Ridley. Moral of the story, don’t let Ridley find space and force Hurts to consider secondary receiving options.


BUCK LB Jeff Holland found success beating Alabama’s RT and forcing Hurts out of the pocket.


This is a key matchup for Austin Bryant as he goes up against 77 Matt Womack, who has shown flaws in pass protection against top end rushers.


Arden Key getting the best of Womack…


Now the key when getting pressure is not allowing Hurts to find alternate running lanes for yardage, like below:


Lawrence and Wilkins have to maintain gap integrity, forcing Hurts into TFL’s.


As mentioned previously, Alabama’s monster of a running game is the pivotal matchup here. The Tide roll out three big-time backs in Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, and Josh Jacobs. That’s not the mention the running threat that is QB Jalen Hurts, as well. Plain and simply, Alabama has the run game to wear you down and gash you if you cannot get off the field defensively. That means that Clemson MUST find ways to limit early down yardage, forcing the Tide into third and long(or passing down) situations. Consistent third and short opportunities will play right into Alabama’s wheelhouse and spell bad news for the Tigers.

Here’s a read keep, opened by early success with Bo Scarborough.


A way for Alabama to try and neutralize the Clemson defensive line in the run game, by using the backs in passes out in the flats. Just an extension of the run game, but places pressure on DB’s to get off blocks.


The end of a typical Alabama “wear you down” drive. Obvious fatigue from the Auburn defense as they’re easily pushed around and Scarborough finds the endzone.


Another wrinkle in the run game. Alabama brings RB Josh Jacobs in motion as jet sweep option, opens up the hole for Damien Harris. Defenders are also forced to keep an eye on Hurts on the keeper. Tough to defend so many playmakers.


3 consecutive plays that are a good example at the different rushing attack looks Alabama can show. Opens with showing a passing option to the flats, turns into Jalen Hurts draw play for significant yardage. Followed up by Hurts read option give to big Josh Jacobs, and then Hurts read option keeper. Defensive discipline to not lose numbers in pursuit of the ball carrier is so imperative.


Another 3 consecutive plays against a gasses MSU defense late in game. Scarborough run outside to left, followed by run to the right, followed by Harris run.



Clemson’s defense MUST force Alabama into third and long situations in order to get off the field and win the field position battle. If the Tigers can win in the trenches against the Tide’s vaunted run game, their chances to win are much better as the Tide is not equipped to beat teams through the air.

On the other side, Clemson must establish the run game, both in an effort to open the pass game and provide the defense rest. This is KB’s biggest stage of his career thus far, and so he’ll need to stay cool, calm, and collected, managing the game as he’s done all year and avoid turnovers. Lose the turnover battle, lose the game. If Clemson knocks off the Tide tonight, I anticipate it’s because the Tigers were able to target and take advantage of a rusty and injured Alabama LB corps.

Film Preview: South Carolina

Looking forward to an interesting matchup in Williams-Brice Stadium Saturday night, as the Tigers fittingly end the regular season under the road lights. But that’s when Clemson has shone brightest, right? We’ll see if the Tigers can continue that trend after putting on late Saturday night shows at Louisville and Virginia Tech. Statistically, this game is a bit of a mismatch, as although South Carolina has improved their roster from the past couple year, there’s still a significant talent margin between these two programs. Nonetheless, the Gamecocks have found themselves 8-3 and in the top 25 this week, much better than anyone expected in the preseason. Muschamp and co. haven’t been quiet about their desire to exact revenge from last year’s drubbing, and thus we can expect a fired up South Carolina side, ready to throw the kitchen sink in hopes of knocking off Clemson. On to the matchups:


Deebo Samuel was a massive, massive loss for this South Carolina, taking away their main playmaking option. Without him, the Gamecocks offense has truly bogged down and struggled to score points. Nationally, this is how the Gamecocks offense stacks up:

Scoring offense: 88th

Total offense: 104th

Rush Offense: 102nd

Sacks Allowed: 85th

Long Plays(40 yards): 129th

Perhaps the biggest one that sticks out to me is the last, showing that South Carolina is a down-tempo, FAR from explosive offense. Those who have watched this Clemson defense, know they’re at their best against teams that have to methodically work their way down the field. Examples such as Virginia Tech, Boston College, and FSU come to mind as ones that struggle to be explosive and played into Venables’ hands. South Carolina is actually 120th in the nation in plays per game, making them the slowest offense that Clemson has played this season. Very down-tempo with huddling, which is music to the ears of Clemson’s defensive side.

As for the run game, expect South Carolina to go away from Lawrence and Wilkins with designed runs to the outside like below.



If provided success on the outside run, South Carolina will then use it to open up the passing game, particularly with TE Hayden Hurst. Hurst typically creates the biggest mismatch against defenses, as he’s fast enough to get into space against LB’s, yet can use a big frame to win against DB’s. Dorian O’Daniel will likely see the most action covering Hurst. Florida defends the play below well, but you can see how the outside run action brings in the Florida LB’s.


Using play action in short yardage situation to get Hurst open. Clemson’s LB’s have to be disciplined and not allow their eyes to get sucked in to rush action. Fortunately, with South Carolina typically struggling to find success on the ground, Clemson should be able to rely on the front four to stop the run while the LB’s/DB’s focus on possible receivers.


Moving further into the South Carolina passing game, Bentley does have the ability to make plays if provided time. Bentley gets a decent pocket and is able to find the Hurst mismatch.


South Carolina’s big play receiver is Bryan Edwards, who Clemson fans likely remember as Edwards was recruited by the Tigers to play safety. Edwards isn’t the fastest guy, but does possess great ball skills and can win 50/50 balls over smaller cornerbacks. With the small in stature Ryan Carter likely on Edwards, expect Bentley to take a few shots to his big receiver.


Plays like the 50/50 ball above get the ball out of Bentley’s hand quickly and doesn’t put much pressure on an iffy offensive line. NC State continuously ran slants against Clemson successfully, keeping the defensive line at bay and taking advantage of cushion in the secondary. You can bet Roper will look to do similarly if provided the opportunity, with slants like the one below to provide quick, easy reads for Bentley.


However, if you can generate a pass rush and get pressure on Bentley, he’s one that’ll take gambles on throws. Such as here as he stays on his back foot with a hit coming…


And here with the ill-advised throw to Hurst…

Considering South Carolina is 85th in sacks allowed and Clemson is 2nd in sacks, the Tigers should spend some time in the backfield.



The biggest key with Clemson’s offense is simply not turning the ball over. South Carolina has one of the best turnover margins in the country, and it’s absolutely one of the major reasons as to why the Gamecocks are 8-3. The Gamecocks are 22nd in the country in turnovers forced, with 21 on the season. If the Tigers make mistakes and provide South Carolina momentum via turnovers they could be in trouble.

As for the X’s and O’s, expect Clemson to push to establish the run early to settle in the offense. The Gamecocks will likely play the Tigers like they did the run-heavy UGA offense, with heavy man-to-man defense. How about trips to the right to take the DB’s out the play?


If the run can be established, Clemson will have ample opportunities in the passing game. KB is at his best against man defense, as his reads are considerably easier. UGA was able to draw in the LB’s via the run to open up space in the middle. Nickel corner is #21 Jamyest Williams, who’s had trouble in coverage all season. He’ll likely see Hunter Renfrow, which presents us with one of the biggest mismatches of the game.


Here’s Florida running RPO action against Jamyest.


Similar RPO with space in the middle. Too easy.


Speaking of Jamyest, UGA goes right after him here. South Carolina’s DB’s in man vs Clemson’s receivers will bring a smile to Kelly Bryant’s face. Defensively, the Gamecocks are actually 96th in third down percentage, allowing opponents to convert 42% of the time. This is the worst defensive conversion rate of any opponent Clemson has played this season.


Lot of cushion on third and short.


And again. KB will take this easy throw all day if provided the opportunity. If South Carolina decides to be more aggressive in man coverage, along with providing support against the run, expect the Tigers to take shots downfield. Forcing Bryant to make deep throws is likely the best option to defend Clemson’s offense, and what I would expect South Carolina to try to do(at least early).


However, man to man, particularly aggressively, takes the defenders eyes away from the quarterback. And with South Carolina’s recent struggles against dual-threat QB’s, KB’s legs may be quite active. Plenty of space for Mond to run once the pass rush doesn’t get there…


Same thing here with Stevie Johnson.


And Florida’s Franks…


Florida’s Zaire feigns the pass, and then takes off on the QB keeper.





Upon Further Review: Florida State



FSU’s Briant Burns was a force all game long and it started off early against Pollard. Too quick on his feet and Pollard isn’t able to stay in front.


Want to highlight this route from Hunter Renfrow. Great footwork, really sells the underneath crossing route well before cutting hard and back outside. So good.


My gosh is Tre Lamar a ridiculous combination of speed and strength. Almost felt bad for James Blackman here as he gets rocked by Lamar in full force. Lamar has really stepped up his play lately, has added tons of confidence through experience.


Falcinelli actually gets beat pretty badly here by #90, who has a clear shot at KB. Some of the little things that Bryant can do that may go unappreciated at times, like a subtle cut to elude a defensive tackle in a goalline situation.



Trayvon Mullen played by far his best game in a Clemson uniform Saturday night. Right on the receiver’s hip on the deep ball, able to create an incompletion.



Liked the RB dump-off/flares that the OC’s used on Saturday, getting the RB’s into space. Essentially an extension of the run game, yet provides an easier and shorter throw for KB than a WR screen out to the sideline. Not to mention, utilizing Etienne in situations like this provides him with a chance to get a full head of steam in space.


I like the idea here, again, with the RB screen look and then coming back to the receiver on the other side. However, I honestly think this may have gone for 6 if Bryant dumps it off to Feaster. 3 blockers, including 2 OL’s, against two FSU DB’s. Also, when was the last time we saw a RB screen?



I wanted to highlight this drive for Kelly Bryant’s arm, as it was in my opinion, one of his best of the season. Obviously he’s had some issues throughout the year, particularly overthrowing passes. On this drive, however, it’s noticeable how much he steps into his throws with his body, keeping the ball more on a line and providing extra zip. Starting here to Trevion…


And again now to Renfrow, great ball between defenders with some mustard on it.


Steps into it again, on a line to Deon Cain. KB’s in rhythm right now.


Steps in and through on the slant to Rodgers.


Unfortunately, Burns rears his ugly head once again, this time getting a hand out to strip Tavien Feaster. Great individual play.



Another guy played his best game in a Clemson uniform Saturday, that being DT Albert Huggins. Perhaps with Lawrence out and knowing it was his time to shine, it provided the extra confidence and juice to be a difference maker. Whips the LG bad.


Looking back on it, this game was so close to getting entirely out of hand. I mean, how fortunate was FSU that this didn’t turn into either a safety or a touchdown? Great get-off from Ferrell…


Props to Richard and Hearn for creating the hole, and to Etienne for recognizing and cutting into it.



Burns once again. The guy single-handledly probably saved FSU from allowing another 2 TD’s.


Insanely good one on one coverage against a taller receiver by Ryan Carter. If this catch it made, FSU has a solid opportunity for a FG or even a TD before the half.



Huggins being a force against the LG once again. He was a man possessed.


Flare out to Etienne in space. Feed the man.


Lack of confidence can be a killer. Tough to understand why Bryant didn’t unleash this ball to Powell. Cornell has his man beat so bad that the throw didn’t even have to be perfect. Let it rip.


More Huggins with great push.


O’Daniel didn’t have the best night in coverage. Eyes get caught in the backfield with Terrell coming in on a blitz and loses a man behind him. Very fortunate this wasn’t 6 or at least a first down.



Tough drop for Cain, knowing that he was leaning towards the sideline and felt the necessity to look to check his feet. Another missed opportunity that could’ve put the game away.


O’Daniel’s eyes get caught in the backfield again, this time from the smoke and mirrors. Clemson gets burned on busted coverage this time around.


Great job from Van Smith to read the eyes of Blackman across the field to jump the route. Play of the game, following the mounting FSU momentum from the KB fumble.


There are some things you just can’t teach. The vast majority of receivers catch this ball in stride and keep their momentum to push upfield. Renfrow feels out the defender and has the awareness to stop on a dime and cut back the other direction, allowing the defender to pass by.


Another set of fantastic blocks from Richard and Hearn, along with Etienne’s ridiculous leg strength to motor on through. Feed the man.



Last but not least, an insanely good diving pass breakup from Trayvon Mullen to essentially end FSU’s chances.

Film Preview: Florida State

Clemson has everything to lose and Florida State is a wounded duck with nothing to lose. It’s an odd situation, and perhaps the least likely situation anyone would’ve anticipated in the preseason. Florida State has been straight up terrible, and yes some of that pertains to Francois’ injury, but right now they’re an all around bad team. Yet, the Seminoles still possess as much or even better talent than the Tigers, and are still one of the most talented teams in the nation. It’s baffling, really. However, considering the rivalry of these two in recent years and the chance for FSU to spoil everything for Clemson, you better believe the Noles will come out hungry with something to prove. Anyways, let’s get to it starting with the Florida State offense:


Freshman RB Cam Akers, or Dalvin Cook 2.0(not really…yet), has really emerged onto the scene and will be one of the best RB’s Clemson sees all year. Considering Clemson’s difficulties against the run against both Syracuse and NC State, it’ll be interesting to see how the Tigers hold up against Akers. Clemson’s run defense is clearly worn down at the moment and nursing several critical injuries. If they get pushed around Saturday, Akers could spring some big runs. FSU likes to run the stretch play, just like they did with Dalvin Cook, allowing Akers to hit the hole or cut back against the defensive flow.



Beyond Akers, the Seminoles have very little on offense. I fully anticipate Venables loading the box and bringing an array of run blitzes to force FSU into obvious passing situations. QB James Blackman struggles to progress through his reads and fire accurate passes. That, along with FSU’s offensive line being one of the worst in the country(119th in sacks allowed), truly creates a mismatch against Clemson’s defensive line. They should bring pressure at Blackman early and often, in an attempt to rattle him and the offensive line.

In addition, with a fatigued defense, the last thing Clemson wants to see is an up-tempo team that can wear them down and force them to play downs without rest in between. The good news is Florida State is the 119th slowest team in the nation, averaging only 65.5 plays/game. For reference, the up-tempo Syracuse that Clemson struggled against is 1st in the nation, averaging 90.2 plays/game.

Let’s take a look at FSU’s offensive line and passing game struggles.




Play action doesn’t work well when you can’t block anyone.




Pressure coming on Blackman, forces the ball out of his hand with a quick throw away.


Not the most accurate passer.


Now to the other side of the ball…Florida State possesses TONS of talent defensively, led by S Derwin James, but honestly struggle to do the little things right. That is, tackling, staying in position, not biting on play fakes, etc. Poorly coached defense to say the least, and why Charles Kelly will be gone soon. I anticipate Clemson’s defense will be able to get off the field and hold FSU’s offense for the majority of the game. The key is Clemson’s offense playing smart by not providing opportunities for Nole defenders to create turnovers and to use their aggressive nature against them. To add to that, the Seminoles have really struggled against mobile QB’s this season, so I expect a heavy dose of KB runs. Syracuse’s QB Dungey went for a 22/102/1 TD last week.

Derwin James making a great individual play.



Motion creates confusion in the secondary and Syracuse takes advantage of FSU’s lack of discipline.


Syracuse saw success in 1 on 1 battles against FSU’s DB’s. Opportunities like this should come to Deon Cain, especially with how tight their DB’s play on the line.


NC State uses Florida State’s aggressive nature against them, as they all bite against the outside toss. Could Clemson sell the fake screen or fake QB keeper and then take a shot over the top?


Dungey finding space to run on the keeper.




Upon Further Review: NC State



Pretty mind boggling situation here to be honest. Harmon is NC State’s biggest receiver at 6’3″ and Clemson rolls in 5’8″(at best) third string CB Amir Trapp on a third and long on the Pack’s first drive. Trapp is stuck in a bad spot already, then with the Muse blitz he doesn’t have any help over the top. Clemson’s DB’s need to get healthy in a hurry.


It was only a matter of time until McCloud finally took a punt to the house. Funny that it just so happened to be the day he switches numbers. Truly an amazing punt return, one of the best I’ve seen in quite awhile. Nothing easy about it as he had to break several tackles and make guys miss.


Game after game, Renfrow is turning into the best and definitely most critical part of the Clemson receiving corps. Always there when you need a big play.



Everyone knows that KB’s deep ball wasn’t exactly on point Saturday, and for that matter, very few of his tosses were. Out of all of them, this one was the worst and hopefully just an anomaly to underthrow Thompson this bad. Walk in touchdown if he’s able to hang it up there and hit him in stride.



I believe I talked last week about how much I like it when Clemson pulls blockers on run plays. Love the motion of McCloud to pull the LB’s just out of position, and then counter with the pulling LT and LG.


Really cool playcall here from Elliott and hard to defend against a running QB you must honor as well. Inside pitch lets Etienne get his acceleration started before even receiving the ball. Powell across the field shows a receiver set that Clemson often utilizes for a KB rollout to the right which pulls #45 out of position.


Difficult to tell if it was more of NC State’s offensive line or Clemson’s defensive line this weekend when it came to lack of pass rush. Perhaps a combination of both, along with the frustrations associated with Finley getting the ball out so quickly that there isn’t much time to create push. D-line depth has been a concern all season, and this far into it is when the fatigue and toll of tons of snaps start to set in.




Really good of KB to keep his head up and know where his receiver are, as he turns and passes to Richard just in the nick of time.


Absolutely on of the plays of the game. Clemson may provide the best pooch punting QB’s in the nation between this and Watson’s in the championship game. Can’t do it any better than this, and it flips the field prior to a 14-0 run by the Tigers.


Same idea as with KB’s TD earlier, man in motion to pull LB’s out of the way and pulling blockers. Hearn and Richard do well here to get out and on a man.


Really well set up to sell the run. McCloud coming on jet sweep action, Etienne to outside, and Hearn pulling. Good release from Cain and honestly a solid deep ball from Bryant. Unsure what happened here, but I feel like it should’ve resulted in more than an incompletion. Would’ve at least liked to see Cain sell out for it.


The overthrows on intermediate tosses have been an issue at times throughout the season, but certainly most prominent on Saturday. Seems like Bryant is just releasing the ball too early and not stepping through the throw with his body weight. Have to hit this one. What a move by Renfrow to get open, though.


Whew. Clemson caught quite a break on this one. This is what’s difficult for corners when providing lots of cushion. NC State has been throwing slant after slant and Carter has to get downhill as quickly as possible since there’s several yards of space between him and the receiver. Much more difficult to turn his hips and change directions when the receiver throws a curveball at him.


Regardless of the inconsistencies in the passing game, this is just an amazing individual play by Bryant. Critical third down, escapes, and puts the ball on the money. Not many guys in college football that can do this.


KB went straight into gamer mode in the second half. Receiver action, pulling blockers, KB getting to the outside on a safety.


I know this was called back, but love seeing this playcall when you have two running threats the defense has to try and play against. Not only that, but it’s a great way to get Etienne to the outside with speed. Props to Richard and Cain on their blocking downfield as well.



As a whole, the Clemson defense likely wasn’t to thrilled with their performance, but this was a really well defended RPO.



Odd to see a two-man rush on a third and long play. Finley is too comfortable in the pocket, doesn’t feel rushed, and can wait for his man to get open.


Phenomenal individual effort and push by Wilkins to close out the hole, force the RB to cut back, and force the Wolfpack to punt.



Really nice play by Crowder to get leverage and turn his man, along with Hearn to pull and block, creating the massive hole for Feaster. And lets not forget to take a peek at the long strides of Tee Higgins, as he glides down the field alongside Feaster. Wow.



Muse has been picked on in pass coverage several times this season, and gets caught flat footed here from the NC State action. Great play design from the Wolfpack though to move the linebacker and get Muse thinking run.


You’d think after getting nearly burned for jumping the slant earlier, that Ryan Carter might sit back and not cheat. Carter plays this pretty much perfectly and his cheating on the slant pays off this time. Critical turnover forced after NC State had scored on their previous drive.


Back to the Harmon vs Trapp mismatch and the difficulties with Clemson’s DB depth.



Very next play the Pack get Harmon against a short receiver in Ray Ray McCloud. McCloud getting his first CB action on a final drive of a one touchdown game, not great.



What a freaking play by K’Von Wallace. The biggest play of the day as the receiver gets behind O’Daniel’s tired legs. Wallace laying the lumber and running through the receiver to force an incompletion. The kid just makes plays and I, for one, would like to see him getting more snaps back there.

Film Preview: NC State

In perhaps the biggest test left this season, Clemson heads to Raleigh to take on Doeren’s 6-2 Wolfpack. While Clemson is off a home win against GT, NC State is returning from a physically tolling trip up to South Bend. Without a doubt, getting NC State a week after playing the Irish is a significant advantage to the Tigers. As we all know Doeren and his team are out for blood after the woulda/coulda/shoulda wide right ending in Death Valley last season. The Wolfpack want revenge, but Dabo has absolutely been making sure his team has heard over and over how they should’ve lost that game last season. Anyways, let’s get to it:



The Wolfpack are led by veteran QB Ryan Finley and his assortment of playmakers. Perhaps the biggest key is keeping the RB duo of Nyheim Hines and Jaylen Samuels in check. Both have quick, speedy tendencies and are also significant receiving threats out of the backfield. With an aggressive Clemson defensive line, NC State will likely look at various screens and quick pass plays to get their backs into space against Clemson’s LB’s.

Samuels finds the soft spot in the zone against a LB, makes catch and turns upfield for a big gain.


NC State gets Samuels into space with a screen with an FSU defensive line pinning their ears back on third and long.


And of course, many recall NC State’s first big play from scrimmage last season as they get Hines matched up against Ben Boulware. Mismatch.


It’s obviously imperative to keep an eye on those guys out of the backfield, but they can also do plenty of damage in the run game. Clemson’s run defense has performed well so far this season, but their weakness in the past sure does seem to be quick, speedy backs that can make a guy miss and quickly get to the second level.


Hines exploding through for 6 against Pitt. It is important to note that Hines tweaked his ankle in the Notre Dame game last week and may not be full strength come Saturday.



Finding ways to get Hines to the outside of the defensive line…



Moving past the two backs, NC State does possess a couple large receivers that could potentially pose issues in Kelvin Harmon and Stephen Louis. Not necessarily the fastest or quickest guys, but they can go up and get it. Although improved in 2017, 1 on 1 balls have created penalty issues for Clemson’s secondary in the past. Expect NC State to take some shots downfield.






By now, I’m sure everyone is familiar with NC State’s strong defensive line anchored by their ends, Street and Chubb. Clemson’s tackles against State’s ends provide the most critical battle, ensuring that Bryant has time to comfortably sit in the pocket and read the secondary. Hyatt is about a good at it gets in college football, so the biggest question marks will surround the pass pro of Anchrum and Pollard at RT. Can they hold up? Or will State have success and force a recovering KB to become overly skittish in the pocket?

Street beats the ND RT for the sack.




However, if you can get past those two, the Wolfpack’s defense isn’t overly terrifying. Notre Dame was able to create interior push last week, creating success in the run game.



The read option look gets #35 Street upfield and out of the play. RG able to get great push to create the hole.




If Clemson can find success on the ground, it should force a lackluster NC State secondary to cheat and open up potential for big plays through the air. Safety steps up on the right side, leaving a gap in zone coverage. ND TE finds it and takes advantage.



Syracuse motions a RB out wide and instead of any switching, the LB follows. Double move is all is takes.


State brings pressure from the LB’s and leaves the corners in single coverage. Clemson’s WR’s will accept this all day.


NC State’s corners have had their struggles with deep balls. Would love to see Clemson leave a RB or TE in to assist in pass pro and take a few shots downfield.





Upon Further Review: Georgia Tech



Georgia Tech may have actually been the best offense for this Clemson defense to get back on the right track. Venables and his defense have absolutely dominated the Jackets in recent visits, and Saturday night was no different. DT’s plugging the dive, along with DE/LB/DB speed to the outside to shut down any other options. It’s truly a treat to watch this defense against the triple option attack. Below, Ferrell takes away the dive, DOD forces and tracks down the pitch, and Van Smith beats a cut block for a TFL


Really like both Kelly Bryant not forcing anything and taking his checkdown, along with having Feaster as a checkdown option. Might as well use his speed and pass-catching abilities out of the backfield.



Clemson found a lot of success on the ground when pulling blockers. Check out Hearn pull and plant his man, creating a hole for Etienne.


One of GT’s only big runs of the game. Dive play with Wilkins moving to his left and Huggins gets cut down before he gets a chance to make a play.


Tigers were quite fortunate here that Marshall didn’t notice the wide open back sneak out. Appears as though he was JD Davis’ assignment?


I always feel pretty good on third downs when KB moves to his right. Bryant really seems comfortable making throws in that position. Quite a drive extending catch as well from Trevion Thompson, especially considering the conditions.


Clemson’s second TD and it’s about time the Tigers used PA to free up the TE down the seam. PA brings in the LB’s, leaving Richard open and Bryant makes a good toss.




Crazy defensive speed against the pitch. Carter flies in, forcing the ball-carrier to the inside and into the arms of Dorian O’Daniel. O’Daniel, per usual, terrorized the Jackets. He was made to defeat the triple option offense.


Tre Lamar played with his head on fire against GT. Check out the pursuit, hopping over a would be blocker to make a TFL.


More pulling action, this time with Crowder and Richard to help Choice bust a big run.


This is just awesome. Crazy third and short push from Bryant, Wilkins, and Pinckney. Guys are in the backfield before Marshall even has a chance.



I, like most, was quite skeptical of KB being nearly back to full health for Saturday’s game. But Bryant sure did appear to much closer to his usual self than against Syracuse, including this rush for a first down. His legs may be the most critical piece to this Clemson offense.


Crowder and Richard pull as Bryant weaves his way through the GT defense. A welcome sight with NC State on deck.



Perhaps the most successful screen of the season(or that I can recall). Much due to patience and utilizing the OL in space, rather than relying on WR blocking. With this type of screen, less of a need for quick release and velocity from Bryant.


Clinical. And it Marshall pulls, DOD and Joseph are already in prime position to make a stop.


Probably Wilkins’ best game of the year, as he continuously disrupted and clogged up the middle against the Jackets. Might want to get a body on him…


Unfortunate here, as maybe Bryant gets more juice on this ball if the conditions aren’t so poor. Cain has a step on his man and likely walks into the endzone if KB throws it far enough.


LB’s bite on the action, shifting to their right after the snap.  Lamar moves to the outside, opening the inside hole. Massive gap remains on the right side of the field.

Film Preview: Georgia Tech

Fresh off their first loss of the season and a bye week, Clemson should be rested and hungry to get the season back on track against Georgia Tech. The tough part is, this Yellow Jackets team is the best one Paul Johnson’s had in recent years and could create problems for the Tigers. Fortunately, Venables and his defense have dominated in recent meet-ups, mainly due to the DT’s being able to take away the dive option and force the Jackets into 3rd and long situations. That along with the versatility of Dorian O’Daniel has really created the perfect defense to stomp out the triple option attack.

Tech is led by a new QB this year, Junior TaQuon Marshall, who is a great fit for the offense. He’s quicker, faster, and more of a home-run threat than the previous QB, and really forces the defenses into tough spots. Don’t let him get into space or he’ll make you pay.




Like Clemson should be able to do, Miami did well to clog up the dive and force GT to the outside. However, the Jackets found success there as they forced defenders to pick Marshall or the HB, and Marshall more often than not made the right decision. This is where O’Daniel and the DB’s ability to get off blocks will be critical.



Marshall also happens to be one of the more capable passers GT has had recently. And with Clemson’s defensive line strengths, we may see the Jackets go to the air more frequently than usual in an attempt to beat the aggressive nature of Clemson’s secondary, who will most certainly be cheating towards the run.





Now, as we flip to the other side of the ball, things really get interesting. GT leads the nation in time of possession, as they often do. They run their triple option and slowly let the defense tire out, as constant 3rd down and short conversions take a toll. With this understanding, it’s key to keep GT’s offense and thus Clemson’s defense off the field. Unfortunately, keeping the defense off the field requires Clemson’s offense to have success which could be problematic if KB either sits or cannot effectively run.

Regardless who is at QB, GT’s rush defense seems to be the best place to attack. And my hopes are that the OC’s provide Feaster and Etienne ample opportunities to wear down and eventually bust out a few big runs against the Jackets.



Tennessee’s John Kelly put up a 19/128/4 TD line in the season opener, averaging 6.7 yards a carry.


Miami’s Travis Homer tore up the Jackets just two weeks ago with a 20/170/1 TD line, averaging 8.5 yards a carry. The Canes used a heavy dose of outside/off-tackle runs to free up Homer’s acceleration. Perhaps, Clemson can do the same for Etienne.




Upon Further Review: Syracuse

Outplayed and outcoached, it’s as simple as that. Have to say that was the worst all-around performance by a Clemson team that I have seen in some time. Here’s to hoping they got it all out of their system, kind of like 2016’s version against Pittsburgh. Massive credit to Syracuse, as they clearly studied and prepped to nullify and make Clemson’s defensive aggressiveness work against them. On the other end, props to the Orange on quickly recognizing Bryant’s limited mobility and attack a rather one-dimensional offense. Mentally absent? Bodyclock off due to a Friday evening game on the road? Fatigued from a 6th straight week of football? All of the above?

Anyways, lets get into the film and try to bear with the pain for another round:



First drive of the game. Why does it look like Clemson’s linebackers are playing with weights around their ankles? Sleepwalking early on. Missed gap and no urgency from DOD or Joseph to get involved.



A tackle that has to be made to force Syracuse to only 3 points. Instead, it’s a TD and momentum swings early.



Right side of the line pulls, opens a massive hole for Feaster to push through. Clemson inexplicably went away from the run game following this HUGE hole and subsequent touchdown, even though it would’ve made life much easier for the hobbled Bryant.


Communication on the offensive line has to be better. Both RT and RG pick up the blitzing defender, leaving the DE with an open shot on KB.



There haven’t been many coverage busts this season, but Dungey plays Tanner Muse out of position with his eyes. Hard to understand why Muse is favoring the left side of the field when there’s trips right.



Kelly Bryant shows his hand and Syracuse knows they don’t have to honor his legs anymore. Time to bring the heat.



Clemson runs read option on third down, but Syracuse already knows that Bryant isn’t a running threat. Odd playcall and it gets stuffed.




More poor communication leaves Bryant exposed to a big hit. 5 linemen pick up 4 Syracuse rushers.



More read option action, this time Syracuse goes right after Rodgers knowing that Bryant won’t keep.



The problems that Syracuse’s tempo can give, particularly when your a defense that often adjusts after seeing a formation. No time for Venables, call comes in late and Syracuse takes advantage of Clemson’s confusion.



Tough assignment for Clemson’s secondary as they faced the best receiving corps they have all season. Even tougher when being placed on an island against talented receivers. Venables brings a heavy blitz here on third down, leaving Mullen alone on Ishmail. Really hard to defend this.


Great design against an overly aggressive defense. With Clemson biting hard on the screens, Syracuse had their TE fake as if he was going to block, then turn upfield. Beat Clelin Ferrell the first time, and went back to the well again against Isaiah Simmons.


This is the moment in which Bryant really showed his lack of health. Typically a mobile guy who enjoys scrambling to avoid sacks, he gets rid of the ball as soon as possible to avoid any sort of physical contact. Follows that up by hobbling away from the play. In my opinion, this is time that Kelly needed to be removed from the game.




I know quite a few people were clamoring for Hunter Johnson on Friday night, but I’m not so sure Clemson wins even if he plays. That, and looking back Zerrick Cooper filled in rather respectably. Not perfect by any means, and I think his in game touch needs some work, but overall made some good reads and showed a very live arm. Solid job going through progressions below. Short throw, but Hunter Renfrow makes an absurd grab for the first down.


Cooper’s best throw of the nights. From the left hash to the sideline, this throw takes a LOT of arm strength to get there that quickly.



Really unbelievable lack of effort here from Clemson’s defense outside of K’Von Wallace. Unsure if dead legs or what, but nobody seemed intent on taking down Dungey, particularly #2 Mark Fields.



Syracuse finds their top receiving threat in man to man against a safety. Advantage Ishmael. Good recognition of the corner blitz by Dungey.


Clemson pulls linemen around to the outside again, similar to Feaster’s touchdown. This time it’s a giant hole for Travis Etienne, and we all wonder why the two guys who busted long TD runs were given a total of 12 carries. Criminal.



Another strong throw from Cooper, this time on the run. Would like to see Clemson’s screen game in the hands of Cooper or Johnson. Much more effective with a QB with a quick release and strong arm.



Would love to know what’s going on here. Third and long, game on the line, and man-to-man coverage is providing significant cushion downfield. Interested to know if this type of coverage was the coach’s call, or Fields just inexplicably giving cushion. Looks like Mullen up at the top of the screen is playing much tighter.

Film Preview: Syracuse

Another road night matchup for the Tigers, this time on short rest. In recent meet-ups between the two teams, Clemson has filled up the scoreboard, and tomorrow should be no different. Let’s start off with look into Syracuse defensively.

When Clemson has the ball:

The Orange have improved on the defensive side, I’ll give them that, but still struggle to get great push without the help of extra defenders. In addition, the defensive line has suffered several injuries and depth has become a major concern, especially when fatigue sets in late. But the biggest thing that stood out to me watching this team, is how often they got beat deep on the backend. The secondary really has problems when the QB has time in the pocket. Friday night is a fantastic opportunity to open up Clemson’s vertical game a bit.

Syracuse corner beat badly off the line below:


Time to throw and the Syracuse corners get beat once again. This really ought to be an opportunity for Cain to show out with his speed.


Safety steps up and the corner gets easily beat.




Deep ball success.


Syracuse brings heavy pressure this time, but LSU is ready with the RB leaking out. With the Orange blitzing nearly 50% of plays, we may see Feaster get more involved in the passing game.


As for Syracuse’s run defense, they often sell out to stop the run with constant blitzing. However, there’s been some success against them, particularly if able to get to the outside, which may be prime for Etienne.




When Syracuse has the ball:

So this Syracuse team is actually fairly fun to watch on offense, particularly because they move with crazy tempo and pass nearly every single play. They like to spread you out, often in 5 wide sets and get the ball out quickly. The bad part about getting the ball out quick and for short gains is that you have to march your way down the field. Something that doesn’t successfully happen often against Clemson’s defense.

Regardless, their dual-threat QB Eric Dungey and talented receivers, Ishmail and Philips, should make the Syracuse offense vs Clemson defense an enjoyable battle.

To quickly go over their run game, the vast majority of it is simply designed runs or scrambles from Dungey:



Moving into the passing game, Dungey’s favorite target is the quick and agile #3 Ervin Philips. Syracuse loves to use him against zone defense where he can get into a soft spot, or in man against a defending linebacker. If it’s open, Dungey will relentlessly feed him the rock. My assumption is that Venables will likely drop DE’s into the zone spaces to try and take away Dungey’s first and easy option. Syracuse’s OL isn’t strong enough to hold the pocket long, and Dungey has the habit of panicking once his first read is gone.


Philips gets cushion.


Philips comes up and sits in the soft spot.


Yes, they did this all day against LSU.


Using Philips’ quickness in space:


And when Syracuse does try to get a big more vertical in the pass game, they target the talented Steve Ishmael. My guess is that Ishmael sees Mullen with safety help over the top.