September 20, 2012

Tape review: Clemson offense, defense

As the Seminoles move toward a more challenging part of their schedule, it's time to take a look at the opponent of the week and what it is that may challenge Florida State schematically. Since this week is one of "those" games on the Seminoles' schedule, it's time to take an in-depth look at what Clemson will bring to the table against Florida State

Clemson offense


Remember the rundown of Wake Forest's offense last week? Some of those principles will be key to keep in mind with Clemson.

First, formationally, Clemson and Wake Forest scheme quite similarly. There is a huge emphasis on being in the shotgun or pistol, with typically three receivers and an H-back. Although Wake Forest used a fullback in the H-back role, Clemson uses a tight end in that spot (we'll get to that in a bit).

Chad Morris' offense also uses similar tactics pre-snap to Wake Forest - I should quickly note here that Wake Forest has implemented Morris' offense, not the other way around. There is movement by the H-back or the receivers before the snap to serve two purposes. First, it's to get a better read on what style of defense the opponent is running. Second, the purpose is also to test discipline and/or create a numbers leverage.

When asked about the similarities between Clemson's and Wake Forest's offense, Seminole head coach Jimbo Fisher said that they did things very much the same way on tape. But quickly after making that point, Fisher added that good players make all of the difference for an offense to work. With good players, he said, an offense can feature more "bells and whistles". Let's take a look at those bells and whistles now.

WR screen

As you probably recall, Clemson superstar receiver Sammy Watkins did not participate in the season opener against Auburn. Although Watkins wasn't there, junior DeAndre Hopkins, an explosive target in his own right, saw some unique plays called for him.

The example above came in the first quarter. This is the product of what, on the perimeter, is a simple wide receiver bubble screen. However, unlike the traditional bubble where another receiver or a tight end or even one offensive lineman pulled out ahead of the target, the entire interior of the Clemson offensive line is in front of Hopkins.

The execution of this play happens lightning-quick; Hopkins explodes off the line for two or three steps, backtracks about five yards and allows his four escorts to set the table for a big play. Hardly ever will you see three offensive linemen make their way this quickly into the flat. It's a risky, but splashy play when it works. And don't think that this play was designed for Hopkins. Chances are Watkins is usually the benefactor of this design.

Double pull

The second play comes in the next quarter, and while it's running back Andre Ellington that creates the play with amazing balance to stay up after contact, the principle behind this play is worth studying.

Notice how the offensive line shifts, almost pulling like a pinwheel after the snap. You are looking at both left and right guards in front of Ellington, pulling off the line in a hurry in hopes of finding second and third level defenders to pancake. A double-pull is not something that's terribly uncommon for an offense, but it is a type of play that can go for six if a linebacker or defensive back gets sucked toward the wrong direction.

These are just two of the "bell and whistle" type plays that Clemson offers in addition to their traditional vertical passing plays. Who makes these tricky plays work though?

Worth noting

We all know what makes Clemson tick offensively. The trio of Watkins, Hopkins and Ellington are explosive athletes and true playmakers. But in this analysis, let's take a look at two lesser-known factors in Clemson's scheme.

Tight end Brandon Ford

Clemson's offense in 2011 was bolstered in a huge way by the contributions of third-round draft pick Dwayne Allen. At 6-foot-4, 240-plus pounds, Allen was a nightmare matchup as he presented a blend of power and speed in addition to lining up all over the field. The slot, the backfield, next to a tackle, Allen could succeed in any role for Chad Morris.

Clemson is now using Brandon Ford in the same role. The Hopkins screen pass you saw above had Ford out in front of it as he lined up in the slot. The Ellington run, also above, had Ford motion pre-snap to an assignment in which he blocked the weak side defensive end, a block he executed perfectly. Number 80 is an unsung hero for the Clemson as it's his versatility that lets interior lineman pull and skill players get to the second level. Is Ford anywhere near the talent level of Allen from last season? No. But the point remains that Ford's role in the offense is vital to the Tigers' success.

Wide receiver Jaron Brown

Senior Jaron Brown is another one of those versatile role-weapons in the Morris offense. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound receiver gets into the dirty areas of the field more often than a typical slot receiver, as he will crack a defensive lineman or linebacker to help spring the types of pull or perimeter plays that Clemson can use underneath. We won't spend too much time on what Brown does, as a lot of the virtues of Ford are echoed here.

Clemson defense


Admittedly, this is the tougher of the two sides to break down for a couple of reasons. One - against Auburn's underwhelming offense, there were a handful of things to learn at best. Two - Florida State and Auburn like to do different things offensively.

However, let's take a look at some of the tendencies and vulnerabilities that were at least on film against Auburn.


In its base 4-3 scheme, Clemson liked to use the man-to-man approach an awful lot against Auburn. The linebacker group will shade to the side of the heavy personnel, however their speed to the edge is not as potent as the speed to the backfield. Also, the Tigers' angles to the ball carrier were shaky.

The reason for an emphasis on man might be because of the secondary. Although Auburn all but once capitalized or finished on drives with big plays, the Clemson secondary showed deficiencies throughout the game. On the lone Auburn touchdown, a blitz that did not get through meant a Clemson corner was badly fooled in single coverage. In the second-half drive below, you see a corner and safety take the same man, leaving a tight end free up the seam against zone coverage.

As you see above, the safety and corner to the right are looking to the weak side flat, while the strong side safety (to the quarterback's left) is guarding a deep corner route. Communication for Clemson's defense is a question mark for new coordinator Brent Venables coming into Saturday's game.

Other tendencies

On third and medium to long downs, you'll almost exclusively see Clemson go to a three-man front in a 3-2-6 dime coverage look. There are frequent blitzes from odd angles in this defense, and given the problems the 3-4 defense gave the Seminole tackles in pass protection, consider this a key situation to watch for the FSU offensive line.

Misdirection plays from Auburn also saw the Clemson linebackers over-pursue and get caught on the wrong side a handful of times. Should coach Fisher look to pull the string on a few plays, Clemson would need to tighten that up as well.

Defensive disclaimer

Again, since the offenses for Auburn and FSU are quite different, it's hard to get a read on how Clemson will look on first and second down against Fisher's offense. Will the Tigers run more zone, or more man? Will they bring as much blitz pressure against more skill players? All good questions. What's true about the Clemson defense is this: it is by far the most vulnerable group of 11 amongst both teams on Saturday.

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