If you want to know what to expect from Clemson in less than three weeks (LESS THAN 3 WEEKS!!!), you look at film. So I reviewed The Clemson-LSU game. It was against another top tier SEC team, and the effort will help me understand what expect from LSU a few weeks later. Today we are looking at Clemson's offense.
Now I know one game doesn't define a team strategy, especially a bowl game. And I know that was last year's team, and this is a new team with new personnel. And I know Chad Morris will add some new plays and formations for Georgia and 2013. However, they are not thowing out the whole play book, and Taj Boyd is back, which from an offensive point of view is just about all that matters. Chad Morris's strategy and philosophy has not changed during the off-season, and the team still reflects Dabo's personality. Before we get into the nitty gritty, a couple of quick hits.
- Clemson ran almost 100 plays! I counted 94 offense plays excluding false starts, specialty teams, and TV talking heads sharing middle school vinettes while THE BALL IS IN PLAY ON THE FIELD. The large number of plays was more due to LSU's offense or Clemson's defense (more next time). While Clemson runs a no huddle, they looked only a little faster than Gerogia. They too line up, reviewed the defense, and call plays at the line.
- Forget big lineman, the real victim of hurry up offenses needs to be the TV talking heads stroking each other while the teams line up and run a play. Show the damn game!
- Taj Boyd is the real deal. While he is mobile, he rushed for 22 yards on 29 attempts. If you take out the -28 yards due to 5 sacks, it's still a really small average. But it should have been closer to 15 sacks. LSU was in his face ALL DAY. Clemson had no answer for LSU's edge rush - except for Taj. He avoided a few dead-to-rights sacks, and he often scrammbled at least back to the line of scrimmage. Taj is also tough. Running 29 times, usually up the middle, against an SEC defensive line is tough by itself. On pass plays, even with defenders in his face, he stood in the pocket and completed passes while being smacked in the mouth - repeatedly. I did not plan to become a Taj Boyd fan when I started watching the film, but he earned my respect. Taj carried the Clemson offense on his back.
- Sammy Watkins was injurred on the second play of the game. DeAndre Hopkins is now gone. Not much else seemed to matter on the offensive side.
- LSU, under 3 minutes in the fourth quarter, leading by 2, went 3-and-out on offense consuming only 1:12 without Clemson using any of its 3 timeouts. WTF! Call Bobo boring, but I guarantee, he would not have given up the ball without using at least 2 minutes and Clemson at eating at least 2 of their timeouts.
After sacking a quarterback, probably the best feeling in football is recognizing a formation and totally blowing up a screen play. Clemson uses a lot of formations. I counted 25 different formations. Granted, many are variations of other formations, but outside of 3 bread and butter formations, almost all other plays (about 40) were formations used only once or twice. We won't review them all, but we will review formation groups.
The single most used formation was the 3 X 1 spread formation, although they occaisionally used 3 X 2 with an empty backfield, wing or double wing variations of the formation.
The 3x1 Spread is a very balanced formation for them in that this formation was used for run, pass and screen almost exactly 1/3 each. This formation was successful for Clemson in the first half avergaing almost 10 yards per play for the first 9 times Clemson ran the play. LSU then made adjustments. The formation only allowed about 4.5ypp after that. Take out a 17yd pass play and a 12 yard screen play, and it averaged 1ypp. Running plays were always with the running back up the middle off strong side center. In the case of pass plays, Taj Boyd was able to spread the ball around fairly well. The screen play to one of the 3-wide flankers remained effective throughout the game.
Although the 3x1 spread formation was the single most used formation, two variations of a more traditional spread were close 2nd and 3rd most common formations. This spread formation is the bread & butter of the Chad Morris offense. Clemson used this formation in two variations, one with the RB lined up behind the quarterback (we'll call it Traditional Spread), and one with the RB lined up next to the QB (we'll call this a Read Spread). This sounds like a minor variation, but at least in the LSU game, it was very telling.
The Traditional spread formation was used almost as much as the 3-wide formation, especially in the second half when Clemson fell behind by 2 scores. This is their 2-minute formation. 95% of the plays from this formation were pass plays. The other 5% were screens. In the traditional spread, the RB was a blocking back on every play attacking the first defender off the edge. The pass plays were pretty evenly distributed between each of the four receivers and broken plays (scramble, thrown away). This is a quick strike formation. LSU was in Taj Boyd's face within 3 seconds, often less. LSU should have had a few more sacks in the 4th quarter, but Boyd would either take the hit for a successful pass play, or avoid the sack and throw the ball away of scramble for 8 yards.
The Read variation was more balanced (50% pass, 50% run), and this formation was used throughout the game. This formation represents Clemson's version of the zone read. The QB reads the action of the unblocked OLB coming around the weak side, the side away from the running back. If the OLB stays close to the line, Taj hands off to the RB. The RB will then run an end around following the pulling strong-side guard. If the OLB goes wide, Taj would keep the ball and run up the middle to get what he could. Half the time, Clemson would pass out of this formation. This seemed to be a pre-snap read of the defensive formation as to whether to run or pass. However, it could be called from the sideline. Clemson had a few successful passes from this formation, but it was more likely to give up a sack or hurried incomplete pass than a completion.
These are the most common formations. I counted 19 other distinct formations or variations, but very few were used more than once or twice. Most of these formations were a variation of the spread. Clemson only used a tight end on 9 of almost 100 offensive plays. However, on 28 other plays Clemson used a slot back (or double slot) as a tight end role player.
Clemson's offense, at least in this game, was not a big play offense. They were a quick strike offense with many of their yards after the catch. Boyd has the strength and accuracy to go deep, but he never had the time. The Clemson offense was not particularly efficient. They ran almost 100 offensive plays, and they only scored 25 points. 3rd and long is a familiar place for this offense. If the LSU offense could have stayed on the field at all (one 4&out, nine 3&outs, one 2&out, and one 1&out), Clemson would not have won this game. To slow Clemson's offense, we need to do to 3 things defensively. We need to get pressure up the middle to disrupt the zone reads, we need to maintain gap responsibility and contain Boyd, and our young secondary needs to play tight coverage without interfering. We will get pressure on Taj Boyd, but Boyd can still make a play under pressure.