Miami vs. Clemson Preview Part 2
~ contributed by the esteemed EOTH blogger, Captain Optimist ~
As Coach Shannon said, Clemson is a screen team. They run all-sorts of screens, to the RBs, TEs and WRs. Reviewing the Auburn game revealed that the deeper strategies that shape their tactics are misdirection and quick strikes. This is their strategic bread and butter.
Clemson’s opening drive against Auburn showcased their strengths in running draws, screens, rollouts and play-action fakes. The vast majority of their positive yardage came on draws and screens, with the TD coming on a fake-option shovel pass to Jamie Harper. However, when Clemson ran straight-ahead, Aub’s DL held its own comfortably, stuffing the plays at the LOS. Also, when Parker dropped straight back he was hurried on a few occasions. These two weaknesses would come back to bite them in the 2nd half.
As the 1st half continued and Auburn’s defense adjusted to the pace and style of the Clemson attack, Clemson used more rollouts, short-passes and straight hand-offs, relying on Harper and Ellington’s considerable cut-back ability and acceleration for positive plays, along with the TE good speed and hands on rollouts. This next stage of tactics proved successful for another 10 points, giving Clemson a 17-3 halftime edge.
In the 1st half Auburn’s defense seemed thoroughly unprepared for Clemson’s tactics. The LBs in particular had no clue what was coming from one play to the next, and were always late and usually wrong. As I mentioned previously, they played a man and struggled to find their man on nearly every play of that drive and most of the half. Auburn’s DL also seemed unprepared for draws and screens, allowing Clemson’s OL to seize the advantage and move them in whatever direction they pleased on these plays. They resembled our defense last year against Clemson.
In the 2nd half, Auburn made some changes to their LB deployment and attacked downhill instead of reading and reacting. They also got better penetration from their DL. The last part of their changes were bringing their DBs closer to the LOS to challenge the WRs and come up harder and sharper in run support.
These changes basically neutralized Clemson’s offense. They only scored one TD in the 2nd half, at the beginning of the 4th. Parker was also injured and played with a great deal of pain. This affected Dabo’s playcalling somewhat, forcing him to call more straight hand-offs, draws and screens than he may have liked, especially since Auburn’s defense was no longer falling for the fakes. On the TD drive the main play was a PI call against Auburn. After that it was a hard fought, gritty drive with several clutch runs by Ellington and Harper, along with a couple of pass plays, one to the TE and another to a WR.
I haven’t mentioned much about their WRs because they play such a tertiary role in the offense. But they do deserve mention. They have a group of about four guys, led by Xavier Dye #21, and Jaron Brown #18, who have a good combination of size and speed. Because Parker so rarely takes deep pocket drops, these players rarely catch balls downfield. The majority of their routes are screens and slants, with the occasional post. As a group, they’re tall and rangy but not extremely fast or strong. Dye has good agility for a player his size, 6’5” 210, but not blazing speed. They have a freshman, DeAndre Hopkins, who is supposed to be a burner. I’d expect him to be used on screens or reverses if the opportunity presents itself.
For our defense to have similar results as Auburn, without giving up 17 points in the 1st half, we must do a few things:
#1…..Stuff the middle run with penetration and guard the cutback lanes. Ellington and Harper are very talented with cutting back and picking up big yards. Stopping that will seriously constrict their comfort zone.
#2…..Snuff out draws and screeens. This will be our LBs time to shine. There will be plenty of them to the RBs, WRs, and TE, at all positions on the field. But the basic elements of draws and screens are the same. It’s just a matter of constant awareness.
#3……Pressure Parker in both pocket and rollout passing.
#4……LBs must pick up RBs in motion at the LOS, they cannot get behind them. I expect Buchanon, Spence and a safety to handle these challenges. This, along with pressure on Parker will be the difference in the game for us.
Clemson’s defense revolves around it’s DL and it’s All-American safety #2 DeAndre McDaniel. The LBs are young, with two sophomores and a freshman starting. The other DBs are graduate student Byron Maxwell #36, senior Marcus Gilchrist #12, both at CB, and sophomore Rashad Hall at FS. It was Hall, not McDaniel as I claimed, who was so badly out of position against Auburn on the big TD pass that put Auburn in the lead for good.
The weakness of the defense is the LBs. Clemson knows this and cheats McDaniel into the box often. Against Auburn this tactic worked well in the 1st half but in the second, Auburn penetrated the DL with running plays then went long for deep passes. Clemson’s DBs had good coverage until they were regularly challenged. Then they had problems.
McDaniel’s is best in run support but plays all over the field. He’s not very fast but he’s a very versatile veteran who knows where to be and has seen all the tricks of the trade.
Last year this defense caused our OL all sorts of trouble in run and pass blocking. I haven’t seen any major changes or improvements from their defense this year. They dominated Auburn in the 1st half, although Auburn’s run-pass option playcalling was abysmal, so it’s difficult to tell how well they handle a less predictable attack, although North Texas put up some good run-pass numbers on them even when their 1st unit.
Against Auburn they blitzed very little. Against the U I expect them to blitz much more, like last year, and use McDaniel to cover the gap left by the blitzer or to occupy the receiver they think J12 is most likely to throw to. This tactic is a Russian Roulette of course, and could easily cost them a lot of yards and points. It could also get them sack and turnovers. Everything will depend on our blitz pick-up. If they fake the blitz and drop back in coverage relying on their DL to pressure J12, this could also work both ways.
Regardless, I expect them to target J12 until we burn them enough to put them on their heels. KT could have a big game, as should TB3. To KO them, however, we must be able to run for 100+ yards. Mike James could see the most action of all the RBs because he’s the best blocker.
Overall, [when I hear] Clemson’s a talented team, dangerous in many ways, but with some distinct weaknesses that can be exploited. If we constrict their offense to Parker beating us from the pocket and burn their defense early and often, this game could get quiet very quickly. Discipline and awareness are the keys to this game, for our defense and J12 especially. To me this is a great stage to really show how much we’ve improved and to put the OSU game to bed, until next year.