October 23, 2017

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 QUARTER

 

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.

 

 

SECOND QUARTER

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.

 

THIRD QUARTER

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Upon Further Review: Wake Forest

 

FIRST QUARTER

 

We’ll kick things off with the opening drive touchdown, a good throw from Kelly Bryant. Really like seeing Tavien Feaster sticking his head in there against the blitzing LB to provide Bryant just enough time to get the ball off.

 

Fantastic touch from Kelly Bryant on this third down toss. Over the linebacker and splitting the defensive backs.

 

Pollard gets beat when the end goes inside. Etienne’s ridiculous lower body strength shows itself off again, shrugging off the would be tackle.

 

 

This was amazing. Venables elected to allow his linebacker Dorian O’Daniel to play in man coverage against Wake Forest’s fastest receivers throughout the day. How often do you see a LB being able to handle that responsibility? As a result, WF targeted whoever DOD was covering throughout the game and he held his own. Below is against WF’s best receiver, Greg Dortch, and O’Daniel looks more like a corner than a linebacker. Versatility through the roof.

 

As noted in the film preview, #53 Duke Ejiofor would be a difficult test for Clemson’s offensive line. Beats Anchrum badly with a spin move.

 

SECOND QUARTER 

Pretty darn impressive throw from Bryant here, hitting McCloud all the way from the right hash.

 

WF brings a stunt on the right side and Etienne is only in position to pass protect on the left. Ends in an ugly sack. Kelly Bryant has escaped sacks several times this season and it seems as though he’s gotten confidence to try his luck to escape rather than throw the ball away.

 

More Dorian in coverage, late arriving too.

 

WF brings Ejiofor inside to face OG’s in pass rush situations. Crowder struggles pass protecting against the speed and quickness of Ejiofor, and it’ll be interesting if teams down the road test out the Clemson OG’s in similar fashion.

 

Ejiofor moves over the other side to face Hearn and wins.

 

Considered by many, including myself, as a breakout candidate, Cornell Powell has surprisingly struggled to see snaps this season. Powell’s likely frustrated with his year thus far, so it was refreshing to see him put in this kind of effort on special teams. Between this and his reception on the fake punt, Powell made a solid impact.

 

Good on Isaiah Simmons to get his head turned late and break up the pass. Maybe the boxing gloves during practice were the answer for the secondaries pass interference issues, as the “no fly zone” has improved TREMENDOUSLY this season.

 

Follow that up with a phenomenal pass breakup on third down, courtesy of Mark Fields.

 

More DOD in coverage…

 

 

THIRD QUARTER 

 

Going after O’Daniel in coverage early in the second half.

 

Noticeable confidence coming from McCloud in punt return situations, especially this past weekend. Although a couple solid returns were called back for penalties, the vision and explosiveness are starting to come together for Ray Ray. He may bust one open very, very soon.

 

Well designed pick play for Hunter Renfrow on fourth down.

 

Favorite play of the afternoon, and one that a true freshman shouldn’t be able to make. Unreal coverage and pass breakup from AJ Terrell, you can’t do it any better. Wow.

 

Closing speed on full display. As soon as the defense recognizes the QB keeper, Joseph, Muse, and O’Daniel fly into the play and create the stop.

 

FOURTH QUARTER

More secondary excellence, this time from Tanner Muse.

 

 

Tee Higgins’ light is starting to come on as he becomes increasingly more comfortable with the college football game. The grab and the angry lowering of the shoulder. He deserves to see more snaps going forward.

 

Not a comparison or a “so and so should start” statement, but this is the best thrown WR screen all season. Ball is out quick, coming in hot, and right in stride of TJ Chase. Johnson really throws a pretty ball.

 

Really like the patience of Johnson, keeping and holding the ball low to really sell the play fake.

 

I’m curious if Hunter Johnson meant to keep this ball high for Amari Rodgers or just got lucky. Great break from the corner and this is a pick six if not thrown high, good reach and snag from Rodgers to reel it in.

 

As great as his pass break up was earlier, a freshman busted coverage from AJ Terrell gives the Demon Deacons their second touchdown. Clemson is in zone coverage, but Terrell plays man which opens up the left corner of the endzone.

Film Preview: Wake Forest

Fresh off of a major road win under the lights of Lane Stadium, the Tigers come back to  a nooner in Death Valley against Wake Forest. The hope here is to be better than the last time that a “trap” game situation came up, when Clemson came out a bit sluggish and sleepy against Boston College. Considering how close that game was going into the fourth quarter, I imagine Dabo has made it a priority to come out hot to try and put away the Demon Deacons early.

With the exception of an overly conservative true freshman QB led FSU offense, Wake Forest’s schedule has been quite pedestrian with wins over Presbyterian, Boston College, Utah State, and App State. Truth be hold, it’s difficult to make many conclusions here. However, one thing that is very clear from watching Wake Forest is their talent defensively.

The Demon Deacons a solid veteran group, one that is very disciplined, fundamentally sound, and will make Clemson work offensively for points. Honestly, I tried to pull weaknesses from this group, but they are not the Wake Forest of old. This defensive side is quite talented and very impressive.

The strongest unit of this side is the defensive line, with starters consisting of two seniors and two juniors, led by DE Duke Ejiofor. Quickly into the backfield against the Noles.

 

Florida State’s combination of a conservative run happy gameplan and a weak offensive line didn’t work well against the Demon Deacons defensive side.

 

Stunt beats the FSU line.

 

Impressive closing speed, minimizing the gain to the outside.

 

 

Perhaps if they do have a spot in their defense to target, it’s the pair of starting sophomore cornerbacks. Although they’ll like play a zone similar to Boston College which gave Kelly Bryant trouble, there will be an exploitable mismatch between receivers and cornerback coverage. Appalachian State was able to take advantage at time, gaining 372 yards through the air.

Deep shot opportunity.

 

Receiver able to find some space between him and corner.

 

 

 

 

 

Moving to the other side of the ball the expectation is that Wake, although above average, will have difficulty putting together drives unless they’re provided turnovers. Clemson has seen better offenses and should be able to shut Wake Forest down throughout the afternoon.

However, the Demon Deacons will force the Tigers to be disciplined, as they’ll toss out quite an array of RPO’s. Plenty of different formation and looks, I must admit they’re actually relatively enjoyable to watch.

Cool play designs, drawing in the LB’s to open up the TE.

 

 

They’re led by the small, shift John Wolford at QB, who can make you pay if you lose gap integrity.

 

And Wolford’s favorite target by far is #89 Greg Dortch. They’ll find a variety of ways to get him touches.

 

RPO to Dortch.

 

 

 

Lastly, and ideally we don’t see the Wake Forest kickoff team more than once, but they struggle on defending kickoffs.

The Demon Deacons are currently ranked 108th in KOR defense, with just 9 touchbacks in 31 kicks. In other words, there could be some opportunities for Feaster or Etienne to spring the very rare special teams touchdown.

Florida State sprung a couple just last weekend, although one was called back due to a late block in the back.

 

Upon Further Review: Virginia Tech

This team enjoys a challenge. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe that the program has gotten to an “elite” point where it’s hard to motivate them against middle-tier teams(ala Boston College), but the guys love when the spotlight is on them. Just look at the recent results against top tier programs, particularly games away from home. FSU last season, Ohio State, Alabama, Louisville, and now Virginia Tech. Let’s be honest, this program is seemingly playing its best ball outside of Death Valley, and at an insane level.

Virginia Tech had the 8pm kickoff, the College Gameday experience, the Enter Sandman entrance, and Lane Stadium full of thousands of screaming fans. But once the ball was kicked off and the two teams lined up against each other, none of that mattered. Clemson has become that program that rolls onto your campus, steps onto your field, rips your soul out, and there’s not much you can do about it.

 

On to the takeaways:

  1. Pass protection, although not perfect, made all-around strides against Virginia Tech. 

This was a major issue brought up following Boston College, with blame across the board. However against Virginia Tech, communication and chemistry appeared improved, and Kelly Bryant seemed more comfortable sticking in the pocket.

Offensive line and Feaster do well to pick up the blitz, giving Bryant enough time to get a ball up to McCloud.

 

5-man blitz, Hearn is able to recognize and pick up the stunting LB.

 

No blitz, but important that the protection was good enough for Bryant to go through three progressions within the pocket.

 

Nice job by KB to recognize and slide to the left, as well as CJ Fuller to chip the blitzing LB out of the way.

 

 

Great pocket created by the offensive line, giving Bryant plenty of time to step into the deep throw.

 

2. I feel for defensive coordinators trying to defend against Kelly Bryant’s legs.

KB has that “gamer” ability when he runs, able to churn out yards and make defenders miss, even if the perfect defense is called. Incredibly frustrating, I’m sure, for a defensive coordinator to have everyone in correct position to defend against the offensive call, yet Bryant still picks up yardage.

In the Virginia Tech preview, I mentioned that Kelly’s legs were likely a major factor, considering this:

“Opposing quarterback rushing average in Tech wins since the start of 2013: 26.9 yards per game
Opposing quarterback rushing average in Tech losses since the start of 2013: 78.2 yards per game”

Bryant on Saturday night? 19 carries, 94 yards.

Likely his best of the night, following consecutive false starts to pin Clemson deep in Virginia Tech territory.

 

Bryant has often made great give/keep decisions.

 

 

Impressive leg strength and drive to pick up the first down .

 

 

3. Clemson’s tackling, coupled with their closing speed, is downright terrifying.

The more I watched Virginia Tech try to get guys in space Saturday night, the more I noticed how well Clemson’s defenders tackled and how damn quickly they got to the ball. There’s very little room for error on the offensive side, and even when plays are made, the Clemson defense is preventing extra yardage. And the more consistent the defense is in this, the more difficult it is for an offense to methodically drive down the field.

Muse chasing down the WR on the jet sweep, not allowing him to turn upfield.

 

This should have been a first down, but Muse throws the offensive lineman to the side and make the tackle short of the marker.

 

A scary trio of Joseph, O’Daniel, and Bryant all running you down.

 

Catch made, immediately taken down.

 

Ridiculous display of preparation and adjustment from Brent Venables. He saw this formation on film last week and likely did what he and only he would dare do in the situation, which is put a DE out wide. Bryant knows it’s coming and bullies his way through as soon as the ball is snapped.

 

Shot out of a cannon.

Film Preview: Virginia Tech

Yet another top-15 road game for the Clemson Tigers, this time facing Fuente, Foster, and Lane Stadium. A similar situation to Louisville earlier in the year, but I would argue the Hokies are more complete, better coached, and a tougher environment to play.

When first viewing this match-up, it’s important to take a look at who Virginia Tech has played each week. It’s been an easy slate to say the least:

Per rankings by FootballStudyHall.com:

47. West Virginia

D-II – Delaware

122. East Carolina

107. Old Dominion

Now the Hokies have #6(per FSH) and #2 AP ranked Clemson waltzing into town. A HUGE difference in talent from what they’ve seen the past 3 weeks. How will they be ready for it, how will they take the first hit or block from a completely different level of speed and size? Will it be shellshock early? All interesting questions.

Then, if you want to spin it in favor of VT, the Hokies have essentially had 3 straight walk-over weekends, in which they’ve been able to prep for Saturday’s game, running a rather vanilla offense to keep themselves off tape. Lots of unknowns and very hard to gauge just how good Virginia Tech is considering their recent opponents.

WHEN VIRGINIA TECH HAS THE BALL:

First and foremost, it’s necessary to go back into the rankings, this time the total defense rankings for each opponent. How much of an upgrade will Clemson’s defense be compared to what the Hokies have been tested against so far?

West Virginia – 106th – give up average 451 yards/game

Delaware – Not applicable

East Carolina – 129th or dead last in NCAA – give up average 624.8 yards/game

Old Dominion – 97th – give up average 425 yards/game

Clemson?? – 3rd – give up 227 yards/game.

Now to the keys:

  1. Clemson must be disciplined defensively.

Fuente is a brilliant offensive mind, great at finding ways to build his offense through the strengths of his players. With dual-threat Josh Jackson, this has been through variety of run-pass options. Honestly, Virginia Tech’s offense reminds me quite a bit of Clemson’s with Tajh Boyd at the helm.

Against an average West Virginia defensive secondary, the Hokies found ways to use eye candy and exploit just the smallest lack of discipline. Although VT lost several offensive playmakers from a year ago, their stud WR Cam Phillips is one of the best in the nation. Watch the safety step up after the play action fake, and Phillips run the post in behind.

 

And here’s just an example of Phillips’ go up and get it ability.

 

Another RPO, getting the safety to come up and the slanting receiver in behind. Really good play design, hard to defend, just a poor throw from Jackson.

 

More RPO, allowing the TE to get behind coverage. Easy read, easy throw for the RS freshman QB.

 

Now you’ll get the jet sweep eye candy, QB keep up the middle with Jackson. Fatigue leads to a lack of discipline as WVU’s defenders get lazy and key on the WR rather than picking up Jackson.

 

2. Virginia Tech’s RT, Kyle Chung, is a center/guard trying to play right tackle. That’s not a good thing when Austin Bryant is coming into town.

This is Chung’s first year as a tackle, and to be honest, he doesn’t have the athleticism to defend against the pass rush. In watching VT’s previous games, it’s quite obvious that he’s most comfortable run blocking, where he’s able to avoid the footwork required in pass rush. Along with that, he appears to have short arm length, which allows for DE’s to get out and make contact with him first, before he’s able engage in a block.

Bullrush from WVU’s DE and Chung gets knocked onto his heels. Once that happens, he’s falling his way into the pocket. Watch how WVU’s DE is able to extend his arms to engage and Chung loses leverage.

 

Easily beat inside.

 

Both tackles actually get beat here against Old Dominion, and Jackson does well to step and run.

 

Yikes.

 

Swim move around Chung.

 

Speed around the end, nearly gets to Jackson. Another take-away from these clips is the impressive poise and pass rush feel from Josh Jackson. Although Chung gets beat, Jackson always seems to avoid taking the sack.

 

On heels from bullrush and ends up falling down.

 

3. Josh Jackson has struggled with zone looks.

Delaware implemented zone coverage on Jackson when the two played earlier this season, and created quite a few issues. The RS Freshman struggled in finding the soft spots in the zone and perfecting the timing of routes and thus his throw. The zone coverage forced additional thought and hesitation from Jackson, thus keeping him in the pocket longer and susceptible to the pass rush.

Now, although I wouldn’t expect to see Venables roll out the same gameplan as he did against Lamar Jackson, I wouldn’t be surprised if Venables brought out several similar exotic blitzes, dropping DE’s into coverage to go along with a zone defense on the back-end. The more confusion the better, force Jackson to find open windows.

 

WVU looks as if they’re bringing a blitz, then LB #5 drops into coverage. Jackson’s already read this as a slant in man to man and doesn’t expect the dropping LB, nearly causing an interception.

 

Back to back plays in which Jackson doesn’t know where to go and is forced to scramble.

 

Another round of back to back plays in which the zone causes problems. Put VT into third and long situations, bring some pressure, and force Jackson into making throws into tight windows with a lack of playmakers outside of Cam Phillips.

 

WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL:

  1. Clemson’s run game could play hero for the second straight week.

In Virginia Tech’s only game against an above-average team, WVU, the Hokies allowed 221 yards on the ground for a 6.3 yard average. WVU’s RB carried the ball 13 times for 106 yards. That’s impressive. And QB Will Grier, not considered a speedster by any means, had 11 carries for 52 yards.

The Feaster/Etienne/Bryant combination could have a big day, and their success will likely be critical as they look to grind out and fatigue a defensive line that lacks significant depth.

Giant hole here as VT’s defensive line is easily moved aside.

 

And here:

 

Now if the offensive line is able to create lanes allowing the RB’s to be productive, it’ll force the defense to key more on the RB’s and less on Bryant’s running abilities. In a game in which Bud Foster will likely work tight coverage against receivers to put make things difficult for KB in the pass game, Bryant may have to make several plays with his legs. And QB’s legs have given Foster’s defenses trouble in the past. Check out this stat via virginiatech.sportswar.com:

“Opposing quarterback rushing average in Tech wins since the start of 2013: 26.9 yards per game
Opposing quarterback rushing average in Tech losses since the start of 2013: 78.2 yards per game

The Hokies are 0-10 since the start of 2013 when the opposing quarterback has rushed for 100 yards or more.”

That has to be concerning given KB’s more than capable legs. WVU’s Will Grier is much less of a run threat, and obviously not going to get quite the attention that Bryant would, but check out these clips of VT’s defensive ends simply ignoring Grier once WVU had started to establish the running game…

 

 

 

Heavy crash to the running back, even from the safety. Fortunately for the Hokies, Grier isn’t terribly speedy.

 

2. Virginia Tech’s pass rush is underwhelming.

As often said, success in the run game opens up the pass game. If Clemson can do point #1 above, it should force VT to bring more resources into the box to defend against the run and make the Hokies more susceptible on the back end. As we all know, sacks have been an issue, both due to some offensive line struggles and Kelly Bryant’s pocket presence. Watching WVU’s offense against VT, one that gained nearly 600 total yards, it was honestly quite surprising to see the lack of pressure the Hokies were able to get on Grier.

Auburn had the talent and the horses up front to play aggressively in coverage, knowing that the defensive front 4 was good enough to create pressure themselves. I’m not so sure Virginia Tech can do same.

4 man rush and look at the time Grier has in the pocket.

 

And how about here? With not much depth and fatigue issues, if the Clemson offense can create sustained drives and keep VT’s defensive line on the field, one must believe that Bryant and the offensive line can take full advantage.

 

3. Adding onto the previous point of an underwhelming pass rush, when you allow a QB to have time and routes to develop, you’ll inevitably get burned. This has happened to VT’s secondary on several occasions, as one of their biggest weaknesses is giving up big plays.

 

Check ECU beating VT over the top following simple play action. Corner steps up, receiver gets behind and the safety cannot recover.

 

Is this the week Kelly Bryant gets back that missed TD pass to Milan Richard up the seam against Louisville? Play action, plenty of time, linebacker’s eyes get stuck on the QB, leaving the TE wide open.

 

All day to throw and Grier finds his man.

 

Beat on deep ball down the sideline. VT D-Line actually won the battle here, LT got whipped.

 

Again, Grier with all day to throw and VT gets beaten down the seam. Seems as though S #22, Terrell Edmunds, may have some coverage weaknesses that can be exploited.

 

 

 

 

 

Upon Further Review: Boston College

Another fun day in Death Valley, the third one of the 2017 season and sadly there are just four left. Where has the time gone? Fresh off a beatdown at Louisville and looking forward to a marquee matchup in Blacksburg, Saturday was the perfect sandwich letdown spot for the Clemson Tigers.

It is HARD to get up and focused for every single game. Just ask last year’s National Champions, who more than once slipped up against lesser opponents and even fell once at home, but eventually hoisted the trophy. The college football season is a brutal stretch, both mentally and physically taxing for 18-22 year olds. Therefore, not every game is going to get the player’s or staff’s full attention and thus a few will be slugfests. It’s not all sunshine and rainbows. You’ve gotta appreciate and enjoy the ugly wins.

 

Let’s move into a few “takeaways” I had from Saturday.

  1. There are pass protection issues, but the offensive line isn’t solely to blame.

When Watson and Guillermo departed, so did tons of leadership, experience, and football IQ. Watson was masterful at both maneuvering in the pocket as well as diagnosing the defense and changing the protection. Guillermo did this as well, being the captain of the offensive line and communicating with his counterparts, placing them in the best situation to prevent pressure. Now with Falcinelli and Bryant, there are inevitably going to be some growing pains.

Bryant goes through his first couple progressions and bails to his right. His mental clock is going off, and his instinctive move is to scramble to his right. Unfortunately, the offensive line provided fantastic pass protection and he had plenty of time to stay in the pocket. Bryant runs right into Landry’s path. RT has been the common weakness of the line, but Pollard does really well against Landry and gets unlucky.

 

The type of communication I alluded to earlier. Notice Renfrow point out the DB as likely blitzing. Nobody else seems to pick up on his signal, and #24 comes in untouched and nearly sacks Bryant. As he grows, Bryant will be able to pick that out and change up protection or call a hot route to get the ball out quickly.

 

 

BC brings 6, Clemson has 6 men to block. Watch how well Crowder and Falcinelli pick up the inside stunt from BC, switching who they block mid-play. Really well done. Unfortunately, Fuller isn’t able to get enough contact on #49 to deter him from pressuring Bryant. One can see as to why Tony Elliott puts so much of an emphasis on RB pass pro ability.

 

 

BC brings 6, but this time with the LB on a delayed blitz. This is a really good call from the Eagles, as the man Crowder anticipates blocking initially backs into coverage and so Crowder “moves on” to block elsewhere.

 

BC brings 6 again, Falcinelli doesn’t move his feet well enough to stay in front. Also a good example of Harold Landry’s strength as he powers Anchrum back into KB. This one is on the offensive line.

 

2. The screen game needs some work.

A successful screen typically relies on two things, a fast, accurate ball, and exceptional blocking. Clemson has struggled with both of these, and perhaps it’s time to find other ways to get the ball to the perimeter to negate defensive line pressure.

 

KB’s arm has been successful, but he still possesses a longer “cock and wind-up” throwing motion that can be detrimental in the quick screen game. Below, the play develops slowly, allowing for the BC defenders to react to the play and the DB to get off Renfrow’s block.

 

Wind-up, high and relatively inaccurate throw. McCloud unable to hold his block. I have legitimate concern that an opposing defender may read, break, and intercept one of these slow developing screens as they continue to be called.

 

This is actually set up fairly well for success(Cain blocks well at bottom), but McCloud catches the ball right into the path of the LB pushing Renfrow back. Strength-wise, Hunter is outmanned here, and by the time RRM3 gets upfield the defense has reacted. Pretty amazing to see how quickly the BC defender broke for the screen pass in each play, as if they already knew what was coming. Perhaps this was all done to set up a likely aggressive VT defense next week? Show them screen after screen on film, just to get the defense to bite and hit a receiver over the top? We shall see.

 

3. The Etienne burst is real.

You already know this, but Travis Etienne is special. Most impressive is that Etienne possesses the natural talent that can’t be taught. That is vision, instinct, and burst. He truly has a phenomenal feel for where the defenders are flowing and where to run the football. Tacking onto that, the Etienne burst, the ability to get from 0-60 so quickly, is invaluable. It gives defenders little time to react, frequently turning what feels like a 4-5 yard gain into 8+ yards.

 

Take a look below. Before the play, BC’s LB’s are shifted to their right side and DE Landry is playing outside on the end. Etienne knows that if Landry moves inside, he can get outside, and vice versa. The jets turn on and Etienne is already full speed ahead and 6-7 yard ahead of the LOS by the time he finds contact. Nice job of Anchrum to seal Landry to the inside as well.

 

The burst combined with lower body strength equals broken tackles. Facing a tired BC defense, it’s rather unfair to unleash the fresh legs of Etienne. Crazy acceleration following contact to run past #10.

 

More Etienne vision and lower body strength.

 

The final two plays are quite interesting in that they show Etienne’s vision and strength in times where Travis is exhausted and doesn’t rely on speed. Etienne has handled the rock on two consecutive plays and gets it twice more. Quite clearly tired, and a bit more slow to hit the hole, but still manages to find yards and even the endzone.

Upon Further Review: Louisville

Well, I must say Saturday’s performance was truly a statement of what this Clemson program has become. So much leadership lost, playmakers gone, the GOAT in the NFL, yet the Tigers motor right through Louisville like it’s another day at work. Very impressive all around, perhaps a similar score to what may have been last season if the Tigers didn’t cough up the ball 5 times. Instead, the 2017 Tigers won the turnover battle, kept Louisville’s defense on the field, and held Lamar Jackson at bay.

Like last week, I’ll toss in a few thoughts and clips of what stuck out to me most.

  1. Venables is brilliant defensive coordinator.

What did nearly everyone, including myself, expect Brent Venables to do on Saturday night to beat Lamar Jackson? Bring the heat, bring pressure, blitz him all night. Now, most of us consider that to mean bringing extra defenders, rushing more than the 4 defensive linemen. But Venables found ways to bring the heat, the pressure, and blitz Jackson effectively WITHOUT the need to bring extra men. Instead, he utilized the majority of defenders back in zone coverage, forcing Jackson to find small passing windows.

The way he was able to create pressure without losing numbers was by bringing non-defensive linemen in on blitzes, then dropping a defensive end into the zone. First off, you have to have very athletic ends to even consider dropping them into coverage. However, put yourself in the mindset of Jackson. He reads the defense pre-snap, snaps, drops back, and suddenly there’s a 6’4 250+ lb defensive end backing into space, using his wingspan to clog up those windows. A. You’re confused as to what’s going on. B. You’re thinking “If he’s dropping, who else is coming, and WHERE THE HELL IS HE COMING FROM?!” Brilliant outside of the box stuff, here’s this from ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg:

“The genius of Brent Venables: According to ESPN Stats & Info, Clemson sent four or fewer rushers on 45 of Lamar Jackson’s 52 dropbacks, but the Tigers switched up which rushers they sent. They sent a linebacker or defensive back in place of a defensive lineman on 14 dropbacks. Jackson completed 5-of-12 passes against such rushes.”

 

Bryant and Lamar show blitz on the left-side of the line. Offensive line expects and therefore compensates post-snap. They both drop into coverage, and Joseph blitzes the gap. Incomplete pass.

 

This time, both Joseph and Lamar hover the line of scrimmage. Lamar and Ferrell drop, leaving the LT and LG lost, Joseph blitzes. RB tries to pick up Joseph, but Kendall forces Jackson towards Austin Bryant and ultimately results in a sack. LT, LG, and C for Louisville ALL end up taking the DT, then start looking around confused as to who they must’ve missed.

 

Bryant drops, Joseph shoots the gap. Ends up in pressure and a throwaway.

 

And perhaps my favorite of the bunch, even though it didn’t result in a loss like it could/should have. Venables has been bringing LB’s all night, but this time he drops Bryant and blitzes Mullen from the corner. Free lane to the quarterback.

 

And this time, with the reserves in the game. Bryant dropping from his DE position, and Jalen Williams blitzes from the edge. Clear path to Jackson and flushes him out of the pocket.

 

 

This is unrelated to Venables’ creative blitz schemes, but it was one of my favorite plays of the night. Lamar Jackson in the read option game is incredible difficult to defend. The Clemson defense put on an absolute clinic on this play. Coaches are going to use this in the future when teaching how to defend the read option. Beautiful.

 

 

2. Will Spiers is a weapon.

It’s been awhile since Clemson felt good about their punting situation. Shoot, the majority of Clemson fans were worried about the punting unit this past August. Starter graduated, punting competition underway, no “rave” reviews through the offseason, then Spiers eventually wins the spot and a scholarship. But what a surprise Spiers has been, and what an amazing feeling it is to have a punter that can flip the field paired with this defense. I mean, wow, nearly unfair. Forcing an offense to drive 80-90 yards rather than 60-70 is a pretty darn big deal. It’s hard enough getting first downs against this defense, let alone having to try and string an extra 1-2 together.

Spiers averaged 51.8 yards/punt on 4 punts, best by a Clemson punter since the 80’s, and forced Louisville’s average starting field position to be the 19 yard line.

 

 

3. Kelly Bryant’s 3rd down poise cannot be overlooked.

After completing several pivotal third down tosses against Auburn, Bryant continued his cool, calm nature against Louisville. Third down is typically the down in which a QB is going to get a bit rattled, likely to abandon fundamentals and resort to instincts. That being said, most anticipated Bryant to be a run first type of guy, perhaps looking at his first read and if it wasn’t there, he’d tuck it and run. Not at all the case, and there’s something to be said at how well he has been patient and kept his eyes downfield.

In the film preview, I noted how imperative it was for the offense to keep the chains going, thus keeping the defense off the field. The more the defense has to play, the more they fatigue, and the more Lamar Jackson gets loose. Therefore, Bryant being able to convert on a multitude of third downs was crucial.

 

3rd and 6 – deep in Clemson territory. Steps up and completes sideline toss to Cain.

 

3rd down, pressure on Bryant as he rolls to his right. Keeps eyes downfield to locate Renfrow and hits him. A panicked QB probably doesn’t trust his arm here and tries to beat the defenders to the corner with his legs.

 

3rd and long deep in Clemson territory once again, rollout and locates McCloud.

 

 

Not third down, but I liked the composure and footwork of Bryant with defenders crashing towards him. Steps up, steps to the side, then back, then back up to push and fire a deep ball on the money to Deon Cain. It’s the little things.

 

 

Confidence and awareness. Fuller flaring out, Bryant recognizes the defender, pumps to avoid and passes in stride.

 

Third and long, Clemson territory. Bryant is confident enough in his arm to put the ball between the linebackers and safeties.

 

Favorite play of the game right here. 3rd and short back in Clemson territory. PA, the first read is to TE #11, Shadell Bell. Corner steps up, so that option is gone. Bryant flips hips, rolls to his right, meanwhile his eventual target WR #14 Diondre Overton is still moving right to left across the field. Overton adjusts to move back with Bryant, KB keeps his eyes downfield. Throws on the run, relatively across his body, and hits Overton in stride. WOW.

 

 

4. The identity of Clemson’s run game is starting to take shape.

Clemson football sure is enjoyable when the Tigers are successful on the ground, eh? Fans have been clamoring for Feaster to take the next step since last season. Saturday night he did just that. Tavien’s shoulder issue has been well documented as the likely reason last year for his timidness hitting the hole. Now healed and with a few extra pounds of muscle, he kept a low center of gravity, utilized his natural runner’s vision, and showed off strength against Louisville. In my opinion, he’s earned the opportunity to receive the majority of carries moving forward.

Draw play, hits hole with purpose, breaks through initial contact.

 

Hits hole with purpose, shows off strength again.

 

Hits hole, check out the ever-so slight cut to the right with the DB and safety sliding to Feaster’s left.

 

His initial look is closed, Feaster keeps working back to find hole on right side of the line.

 

Wait for hole, wait for hole. Explode through while breaking arm tackle attempts.

 

 

 

Have to give Adam Choice some love as well, as he’s looked like his pre-ACL injury self once again. Patience to find the gap, great vision to bounce outside for the TD. He’s run well and run hard so far in 2017.

 

I’ll save the last for the new fan favorite around town, true FR Travis Etienne. The positive reviews throughout the offseason were endless. “Etienne is most natural runner,” “Etienne keeps busting big plays in practice,” “Etienne is going to be a star,” “Etienne was the steal of the 2017 recruiting class.”

It’s not hard to see where that’s coming from. The kid is simply a natural runner, great burst, solid strength and balance, along with great instincts. It’s amazing what he does after he loses speed from #22’s arm tackle attempt. The jets instantly turn back on with incredible burst. Most guys can’t slow down and start back up like that. Really looking forward to seeing him get more touches this coming Saturday against the porous run defense of Boston College.

 

Film Preview: Louisville

Fresh off a barn-burner against Auburn, the good guys hit the road for the first time as they march into blacked out(both mentally and physically) Papa Johns Stadium to take on the Louisville Cardinals. Clemson’s been fortunate to be on the winning end of the previous battles against the fight Petrino’s, even by the slimmest of margins, and you can expect Bobby has been anticipating his quadruple revenge opportunity since last season. Let’s get to it.

 

The only place to start with Louisville is with the best player in the country, Lamar Jackson. He’s been stellar this season, perhaps even better than last. The key in this game, just like the key every time someone plays the Cardinals, is slowing down Lamar Jackson. He can do it all. Clemson may be the best defensive unit, particularly front 4, that Jackson will go up against all year. The Tigers held their own in Death Valley a year ago, that is, until several turnovers forced them to be on the field longer than they should have and fatigue set in. Once fatigue sets in, it’s nearly impossible to stop Lamar. And that’s why avoiding turnovers and getting off the field is so critical Saturday night. The starting front 4 for the Tigers is incredible, but the depth is a bit thin and may struggle to contain the reigning Heisman Trophy winner if gassed.

 

Check out this read option scamper for Jackson against Purdue. In my opinion, you have to attack the mesh point(where the RB and QB determine keep/give) as well as having a defender commit to Jackson each time. Louisville’s RB’s can make plays, sure, but it’s best to play with the assumption that Jackson is keeping and avoid giving him open space.

 

Here, both Purdue defenders in line to make a play fall for the RB fake and Jackson takes it around the end. If you do not defend as if he’s keeping each time and play contain, he will defeat you in a foot race to the outside.

 

This is simply Lamar Jackson being the best athlete on the field. Dead to rights and still makes a play. Absurd.

 

More read option success.

 

UNC does very well here, converging on Jackson and not falling for the play fake. Notice the safety read the Jackson keep, and then hit the open lane for the tackle. Could see some of that with Tanner Muse on Saturday.

 

From my looks at Louisville’s past contests, Jackson appears to be aiming to maintain the throwing option longer on passing plays this season rather than quickly resorting to scrambling. He seems more comfortable buying extra time in the pocket, and when the defensive line starts to converge, he can still make plays like this. So difficult to defend and maintain coverage on the back end.

 

Cannot waste any opportunities to bring down Lamar, and the secondary cannot assume Jackson is scrambling and bail on cheat on coverage. A dime downfield after a near sack.

 

If there’s one thing Jackson loves in the passing game, it’s hitting the seams, and he’s developed as a more lethal passer than he was last season. Clemson’s safeties and linebackers will need communication.

 

Along with seam routes, Jackson was comfortable utilizing crossing routes and his running backs in the passing game. With the UNC line creating pressure, Louisville made it easy on Jackson by giving him easy, short tosses. Difficult for a defense to keep eyes on Jackson’s running threat, yet still cover receivers crossing and guys out of the backfield.

 

 

Obviously the best way to beat Jackson is by winning battles in the trenches to create pressure and disrupt his rhythm. Louisville has 3 new bodies on the offensive line, including RS FR center Robbie Bell, who has had a myriad of struggles so far this year. With Wilkins and Lawrence across from Bell, the Tigers have to like their chances of creating pressure.

Below, Purdue’s DT easily pushes through Bell and RG Lukayus McNeil to put pressure on Jackson.

 

Purdue brings a blitz and Bell occupies the DT, leaving a wide open lane for the linebacker.

 

A big fourth and one situation in Chapel Hill last weekend and Bell gets hit with the false start. Expect Venables to consistently keep a DT over Bell, and linebackers threatening to blitz, all to confuse and stress the RS freshman.

 

This is what Dex and Christian against Bell should look like every snap. Immediate push into the backfield.

 

UNC is able to get push and collapse the pocket around Jackson, creating a difficult and errant throw. And in the following clip, the pocket collapses once again, ending in a sack. There will certainly be opportunities to beat the offensive line and create pressure. The key is containing Jackson and not turning a “should be” sack into a 30 yard scramble.

 

 

Moving on to the Louisville defense, a matchup in which Clemson should greatly benefit from playing against Auburn last week. The Auburn defense is extremely talented, fast, and aggressive, particularly in coverage as they play press man and force high difficulty throws to be made. Honestly, it should be a breath of fresh air for the Clemson offense, as Louisville doesn’t have the horses like Auburn. Both from pass rush and secondary perspectives, Bryant and co. SHOULD be able to find much easier sledding and more opportunities for big plays. Much of that is dependent on the right tackle position, the glaring weakness of last week. However, you have to imagine Coach Caldwell called them out throughout the week and has them focused and ready to roll. Additionally, they won’t see an end as talented as Jeff Holland.

The key will be Louisville’s star CB, Jaire Alexander, who is easily their second best player. Currently day-to-day with injury, if he is able to play, he’s good enough to consistently create some havoc as well as shutdown his side of the field. If he can’t go, however, Louisville’s defense really takes a step back as a relatively average secondary against one of the best WR corps in the country.

 

Against Purdue, little pass rush provided ample time for a receiver to get open and an accurate throw to be made. Kelly Bryant should light up when he sees that he may actually have time to set his feet in the pocket.

 

Time in the pocket for shots downfield?!

 

 

 

Sure does look similar to Bryant to Renfrow last week.

 

Time to survey the field, move outside of the pocket, and make a throw. I’ve been underwhelmed by Louisville’s pass rush more than any other area.

 

Nearly the exact same route from UNC’s possession receiver, Austin Proehl.

 

North Carolina was also able to find mismatches with Louisville LB’s trying to play pass coverage.

 

And lastly, the same play we finished with last week. Play action pass to the tight end, that Clemson used with success against Kent State in week one.

 

 

Can Clemson win the turnover battle?

Can Clemson keep the defensive line off the field, allowing them to be fresh throughout the game?

Will the right tackle position be shored up and perform at a higher level to provide Kelly Bryant time in the pocket?

Can Kelly Bryant stay calm, cool, and collected, and make the right decisions in his first road start?

These are the major questions I have. With a revenge night game, a turnovers can quickly create an avalanche effect against the visiting opponent. The defensive line starters are stout, but there’s little experience behind them. Can they stay fresh throughout the game, to not be worn down and susceptible to Lamar Jackson’s legs in the fourth quarter? Will Anchrum and Pollard step up and provide Kelly Bryant time to go through his reads, along with deep ball opportunities to present themselves? Last week, Bryant proved that the bright lights weren’t too much for him. He far exceeded my expectations with his arm, and although this week should provide more time and passing windows, it’s still his first start in enemy territory. Clemson has the talent and coaching advantage, but it’s up to them to execute in a hostile environment on the road.

Upon Further Review: Auburn

Well at the end of the film preview article, I mentioned the keys to the game were the defensive line and Kelly’s legs. Although that seems accurate looking at the boxscore, the secondary creating several sacks and Bryant’s arm were perhaps the critical factors. Not the most exciting offensive spectacle, but a fun grind it out type of game that Clemson has become accustomed to finding a way to win. And to be honest, the score was closer than it should have been.

Rather than chronologically going through the game this week, I figured I’d change it up and present a few things that stood out:

  1. This secondary is special.

With Stidham’s vertical passing history and the secondary’s relative inexperience, I had my concerns. Once the corners moved past a few handsy plays early on, they were lights out. From Mark Fields, to Ryan Carter, to K’Von Wallace, and Tanner Muse. All around a phenomenal performance. 11 sacks made the boxscore, but several of those were because Stidham had nowhere to throw. Perhaps we’ll need to give Dabo some credit for his offseason move of Mickey Conn to safety coach and Mike Reed to strictly defensive backs.

An example of Clemson’s secondary creating the sack:

 

Mark Fields is gaining confidence, and that’s scary. Hard to watch this clip and not think of another Clemson CB that wore #2 not too long ago, right?

 

Fields making plays once again, in the receiver’s pocket and nearly picks it off.

 

Ryan Carter is as scrappy as they come. Undersized, sure, but he’s not afraid to get in there and mix it up. Refuses to give Pettway anything extra.

 

Deep shot and both Fields and Wallace are in perfect position. Considering the busts in recent years, the disciplined coverage Saturday night was refreshing.

 

K’Von Wallace making the tackle on Pettway, who was gaining some steam. After Saturday’s performance, I’m not sure so that Van Smith takes his starting safety spot back.

 

And Wallace swooping in to take down Stidham on a pivotal late play. Great closing speed.

 

 

2. Kelly Bryant can make the primetime throws.

Many were skeptical of Bryant’s progression as a passer, and rightfully so. But he proved himself more than capable against Auburn, putting balls into places on his receivers could make the grab, often in important situations. Auburn’s DB’s played up extremely tight man-to-man coverage, opening themselves up for 1 on 1 balls against the Clemson receivers. I was happy to see Clemson take some shots, putting up “50/50” balls to McCloud and Cain, but even more thrilled to see Bryant often put them on the money. Truthfully, the touch Bryant had on a couple passes to McCloud is what Watson struggled with early last season. And with the success the Tigers had, they should’ve taken even more shots throughout the contest.

Good ball from Bryant below. Every one of these throws ended up nearly caught, caught, or a pass interference penalty. It was successful and should’ve been utilized more often considering Auburn’s press coverage.

 

Deon Cain appears primed to take over Mike Williams’ role as the go-to jump ball receiver in Clemson’s offense.

 

 

These two to McCloud were beyond beautiful tosses. And props to Ray-Ray, who really had himself a big game following an early ball protection mistake. Great concentration to make this grab.

 

 

How about the two third down throws to Renfrow? Absolute money. The corner was there to deflect if this ball wasn’t perfectly placed where only Renfrow could catch it, and an important conversion as KB would run for a score shortly after.

 

The toss to end the game was just as good, if not better due to what occurred prior to the throw. Nice job by Tavien Feaster to locate and cut the defensive end, this recognition and protection will continually help him earn trust from the coaching staff. Really good of Bryant to see the BUCK end #4 racing upfield, and stepping up to give himself a throwing lane. Great toss, even better clutch catch from the state of Alabama killer.

 

3. The Right Tackle position was less than stellar.

Both Pollard and Anchrum swapped out throughout the game, but both struggled against Auburn’s BUCK end #4, Jeff Holland. Holland wreaked havoc in the backfield all night, and Bryant likely has a much bigger passing day if Holland is better contained. Is it time to hit the panic button on the position? Probably not. Holland is quite a player and extremely hard to pickup when he’s rushing from a standing position on the end. The hope is that Saturday’s RT play was moreso a reflection of Holland’s talent than Pollard/Anchrum’s weaknesses. We’ll see.

 

Holland’s speed gets the best of Anchrum.

 

Pollard with a bad whiff that nearly gets Bryant killed.

 

Anchrum doesn’t hold up long and Bryant is forced out of the pocket.