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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Depth Stars: Clemson vs. Virginia Tech

A look at how recruiting rankings reflect in the starting lineups (Source Photo: Steve Mitchell/USA Today)

In this segment we’ll take a look at the former recruiting rankings for both teams’ starting lineups. With only the starters listed, this is by no means a comprehensive comparison of overall team talent. Instead, this allows you to simply take a peak into how recruiting rankings represent the key contributors on the field. In this series we’ll be basing the “star” ratings on the 247 Composite rankings, which factors in evaluations from various recruiting services. Players who did not receive a ranking were assigned a default 0.7500 numerical rating, which is equivalent to a 2-star ranking.

 

 

Depth Stars: Clemson vs. Boston College

A look at how recruiting rankings reflect in the starting lineups (Source Photo: Steve Mitchell/USA Today)

 

In this segment we’ll take a look at the former recruiting rankings for both teams’ starting lineups. With only the starters listed, this is by no means a comprehensive comparison of overall team talent. Instead, this allows you to simply take a peak into how recruiting rankings represent the key contributors on the field. In this series we’ll be basing the “star” ratings on the 247 Composite rankings, which factors in evaluations from various recruiting services. Players who did not receive a ranking were assigned a default 0.7500 numerical rating, which is equivalent to a 2-star ranking.

 

 

Best Teams & Coaches as Favorites

One measure of the strength of a program is if the team wins when it should win, meaning when they are favored.

Not all favorites are the same, of course.  Being a field goal favorite is not the same as being a 21 point favorite, nor is a being a home favorite always the same as being a road favorite.

In the tables below, which looks at games between FBS teams from 2011 to 2016, these distinctions are not made – the data includes all favorites, whether they were 1 point or 21 point favorites. There’s all kinds of rabbit holes you can examine in this type of exercise, but I chose to stay at the top level in this instance.

The results are generally what was expected, specifically near the top, though I admit Kansas State at the apex surprised me a bit.

When you think about the best coaches in college football the names of Snyder, Swinney, Saban, Fisher, Petersen and Meyer are among the first off the tongue.

If we look specifically at coaches (at current/last school) the order would be:

The winning percentage as a whole was 77.3%, so the cutoff was Tennessee – everyone below that is below average.

One team stands out in a negative way.  Virginia Tech has lost 18 times as a favorite in the last 6 seasons, an average of 3 times per season.  Most of that obviously, was during the waning years of the Beamer era, but the Hokies did lose twice as favorites in 2016 (substantial favorites at that) despite winning the ACC Coastal.

SUR data to be used during Harvard symposium

I’ve always wanted to be accepted in the Ivy League and with the help of Edward Egros, a sports analytics journalist with the Fox affiliate in Dallas, I’ll finally make it. Kind of.

Over the last year, Edward and Charles South, a statistician who is passionate about sports, have been working on a study applying advanced statistical models to determine what’s the best way to forecast the outcome of games (and as an extension, how to pick games against the spread).

A few weeks ago their findings were presented for an R Users Group in Dallas, and next month they will present a poster at the New England Symposium on Statistics in Sports (NESSIS) at Harvard University.

The Seldom Used Reserve database contains over 4,300 college football games and is used by many visitors to this site and a large group of Reddit users to model systems for predicting college football games, as well as in research and master’s level projects.

Over the years I’ve heard from degenerate gamblers, graduate students, fantasy football players, statisticians, mathematicians and, now, a journalist who will use the data at an Ivy League institution.

Thank you to Edward and Charles for their work and including Seldom Used Reserve.

5 Biggest ACC Games of 2017

Five biggest ACC games of 2017.

Featured image courtesy gwinndavisphotos.com

5 Biggest Non-Conference Games for ACC Teams in 2017

5 biggest non-conference games for ACC teams in 2017.

8 Plays: Linebackers

Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware (10) celebrate the fourth down stop. GWINN DAVIS / FOR POST AND COURIER

8 plays from the Clemson linebackers.

 

Previous Editions:

8 plays from Jordan Leggett

8 plays from Wayne Gallman

8 plays from the defensive backfield

8 plays from Mike Williams