Heading into the ACC Championship Game the Clemson Tigers have only lost three games over the past three seasons. Those games were the national championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide in 2015, an upset against the Pitt Panthers in 2016, and in 2017 an upset against the Syracuse Orange. Those losses have come at a combined 9 points over the three game span.
The Tigers head into December 2nd at 8pm against the Miami Hurricanes as the top ranked team in some polls and they are defending their national title. The S&P+ has Clemson ranked 10th, while Bill C’s same rankings have Miami ranked 12th following their own loss to the Pitt Panthers. Clemson gets a boost because well, they have been there before while these Miami players have mostly been through a four game losing streak or a fired head football coach. Clemson’s upperclassmen remember 10-3 as their worst season and Miami’s think 10-1 heading into this game is of Cinderella proportions.
Here are a few plays from Clemson versus South Carolina and Clemson versus Florida State to get you going.
Clemson Pick 6 vs USC
Clemson plays a cleaner version of Miami’s defense. It’s led by Brent Venables, the biggest assistant coach name in the country. Eventually Venables will become a head football coach, or maybe he’ll stay a defensive coordinator forever like Bud Foster. The verdict is out. But he’s considered one of the best DC’s on the planet right along with Jeremy Pruitt of Alabama (who may be Mississippi State’s next head football coach).
Clemson pays a 4-2-5 defense mixed with a 4-3 depending on the opponent and situation. It’s similar to what Miami does. They have the same style of defensive line with speed and size. The inside linebackers are big bodies and the defensive backs play certain roles. The safeties are mostly deep help, the corners are speedy guys with hips and the nickel/sam linebacker is a hybrid type player- similar to what Miami will do with Zach McCloud.
You can see what a cornerback playing pattern-match coverage looks like. He’s going to bail back like a typical CB but when that ball is thrown he’ll break off on it. He has the over the top help. The inside WR runs inside which takes him off the safety’s threats list and now the safety can play over while the CB knows he can play under.
Clemson Inside Zone Lead + Run Pass Option (RPO)
Clemson runs a pretty basic run pass option tag just like the one Miami runs which is a stalk/bubble. The outside WR stalk blocks and the inside WR runs a bubble. The quarterback has the usual reads to make but Clemson takes one away by making it a zone lead and not a read. That means the Tight End (he’s at the top of the screen) will block the stand-up defensive end of South Carolina.
The QB is now left to make his pre-snap evaluations. He’ll check how many safeties are high (2), how many men are in the box (8) and the leverage on the slot receiver (he’s 10+ off). 8 in the box is a throw read, 2 high safeties though is normally a run read (obviously can be 50/50). The leverage on the slot though is an easy one- that says throw the bubble. They do and it goes for a touchdown.
My concern is Miami’s preference lately for not covering up safeties, and it’s not like they’re running a trap or cover 2 where the CB plays the flat/bubble.
Clemson Blitz Package
This Clemson blitz package is a safe blitz that confuses the Florida State offensive line. With the outside linebacker up on the line showing blitz late, a young QB has to make a quick read. Then the inside linebacker to the same side will blitz outside. They ‘gap exchange’ or switch gaps. With the OLB coming inside, the ILB will blitz from the outside to stay gap sound.
Miami will often run stunts and not be gap sound. I reviewed one from the Pitt game (above). That’s one of many that have hurt Miami, and often seemingly on third down. Clemson slides their line after the snap so every gap is taken and it’s much quicker and easier. It takes less effort which keeps your defensive line fresh as well.
Watch how it affects the FSU QB who doesn’t expect the outside delayed blitz and the offensive line chases the outside linebacker inside, leaving him unblocked. With the running back not in protection, the QB is an easy mark.
I’ll be at the game in a throwback ‘Canes orange Jessie Armstead #1 jersey. If you see me, say hi.