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Defensive Review: Syracuse

Streeter Lecka

This is long and I encourage you to read this installments.  The better the opponent, the more detail I'm going to provide. I'm also making a conscious effort to keep it as understandable as possible for the casual fan. However, if you want to learn, you still have to try even if it's only a play or two a week that you fully digest. I'll use pictures for the pivotal plays if you want to skip to just those. If you rewatch the game, or even parts of it, this can be used as a companion piece.  And yes, I know this is the defensive review but I like to lead off here by discussing the offense.

So, we all see that our offense is frustrating to watch and we all know why, so I'll spare you the broken record.

I will say that after watching the film, Sam Cooper and Tyrone Crowder will block. Crowder is already a great drive blocker. I know he fell down when he was asked to pull on the goalline, but I'd go ahead and get him in there.

We get the ball into Syracuse territory 4 times early on and go Interception, Fumble, Punt, FG. Then, when we don't turn it over you could sum up our redzone problems in one play.  We line up in a jumbo formation on the 2 yard line with 290 pound Byers at TE and 325 pound Reader at H-B and we get stuffed for a loss of Syracuse.  That should tell you all you need to know right there. We just don't execute.

The Playoff Rankings came out this week and you can't help but wonder where Clemson would be ranked if we could get any ONE of those "7 Deadly Sins" (game-changing miscues) back against FSU (Stoudt gets that ball to Leggett on the first drive, or Lakip makes the FG, or the Davidson TD was reviewed, or the high snap didn't happen, or Lakip makes that FG, or Mac didn't fall down, or Davidson didn't fumble on the 10 at the end).  I bring it up again because, depending on how the season plays out and the manner in which Clemson lost the game, it could arguably be the biggest and most disappointing loss in school history.

Here is a key for my shorthand in alphabetical order in case you need to refer back to it as you read this: BCB = Boundary Cornerback, Blast = FB lead play in the C gap with a kick out on the DE or seal on the LB. Bullet -ILB A or B gap blitz.  Crack- WR blocks down on S or LB.  C0, C1, C2, C3, C4 =  we are playing Cover "x."  Diet 4-3 - 4-3 alignment with Nickel personnel. Dog (overload)- LB and S/NB blitz on the same side. EM = end man on the line of scrimmage. ET stunt - Tackle shoots outside gap and end loops around on the inside. FCB = Wideside or field cornerback,  Iso = FB lead play in the A or B gap. IV= Inverted Veer. IZ = Inside Zone or Zone blocked play inside the tackles. Jailbreak - 7 or more blitz.  LOS = Line of Scrimmage. man = man to man.  OZ = outside zone run or zone blocked play off-tackle.   PA =Play Action, PBU- Pass broken up.  Power = FB/RB/H-B kicks out EM, backside OG leads into B gap hole. Power Sweep = FB lead to the D gap with OG pulling around. Sky - FS moves up two yards, takes flat, CB and FS take deep third.  Slant Right/Left - DL slants in one direction in unison Smoke/Fire- S, NB, LB blitz from the outside D gap.  Soft Coverage - CBs/NB playing well of the WR until he gets to the 1st down line. Stretch = zone blocked run just inside the last offensive player on that side.  Student Body Left/Right = FB lead play to the D gap with all uncovered linemen pulling.  Stack - the 3 LBs are stacked behind D linemen.  Stalk - WR blocks CB in front of him. Sweep = FB/ H-B lead play to the D gap.    TFL = tackle for loss. Trap - playside DT is left unblocked, backside OG pulls and takes him out, RB runs underneath. TT stunt = one DT crashes on a slant and the other DT loops around and fills the hole he just left.

Coach/Player shorthand:  BB = Ben Boulware, BV = Brent Venables, KW = Korin Wiggins, Mac = MacKenzie Alexander, Tank = Cordrea Tankersley, The Gambler = Garry Peters, The Fire Ant = Martin Jenkins, SA = Stephone Anthony, TS = Tony Steward

Here is a guide to Personnel groupings. I will include WRs as well to make it easier.  Ex. "123 personnel" would be 1 RB, 2 TEs, and 3 WRs.

Thoughts within a play will be separated by a comma (,)

Each plays will be separated by an ellipsis (...)

First downs separated by a paragraph

Comments of a drive will be done in italics


1st Drive, 15:00, SYR 19, 0-0

Nickel, PA ZR, rolls left, Beasley sets the edge, SA runs underneath, SA shows the burst and gets him for the sack, loss of 6... Nickel, bunch right Power O left at TS, Beasley squeezes, TS sheds, engaged arm  tackle by both, they get drug for a gain of 5...HUNH, Nickel TE stunt, rolls right, Crawford sets the edge, hit by SA as he throws, PBU by Kearse, incomplete...PUNT

We have the ends containing the QB on rollouts and SA knifing through on the outside for the splatter. They weren't ready for that. Nice wrinkle, BV.  The power play they ran created a numbers advantage based on our alignment so we'll probably see that again. 41st "3 and Out" on the year, wow.

2nd Drive, 11:50, SYR 13, 0-0

Nickel, OZ, TS gets blocked down by the TE, Gambler gets kicked out by the other, another play set up by numbers advantage, TS gets him for a gain of 6...Nickel C2 man, dropback, has time, quickout underneath wide open, tackle by SA for a gain of 10...

HUNH, 1st and 10, CU 29, Nickel, IZ off counter action, Jarrett plugs the hole, Beasley redirects inside for the tackle, gain of 3...Nickel C1, IV, give to the outside, Crawford squeezed for QB, Jarrett smacks the QB anyway and I love it, pulling guard can't get to TS, TS makes the play on a scrape exchange for a gain of 2, good read, speed, and angle from TS there...HUNH, Nickel MLB bullet on 3rd and 6, Beasley gets pressure with speed and tips the ball on the QB release, incomplete, Now that Beasley has the sack record, he has clearly shifted focus to breaking Tree Rollins' "blocked shot" record...PUNT

I would go to 4-3 Under/Over and just let him throw on first down. Inverted Veer is a tough play to stop in Nickel (and one of my favorite plays from the spread).  It's basically a power play with a ZR option added on to it. Much like any option play, someone has to defeat a block or out-athlete the RB in space, to stop it. Fortunately, we have a beast DT in Jarrett, a great edge setter in Crawford, and a fast ILB in Steward. The crowd is LOUD btw...for the Syracuse game.  The Fans get an "All American" grade from me this week.

3rd Drive, 7:37, SYR 16, 0-0

Nickel, jet sweep and KW is all over it before the snap even happens (somebody's been watching film), KW takes up 2 blockers and allows The Gambler, SA, and Barnes to get him for a loss of 3...Nickel, Wiggins and TS exchange responsibilities on the snap, ZR w/ bubble screen option, nice hole, KW gets him from the backside for a gain of 3...Nickel, they leave 7 in to block, we rush 4 on 3rd and 10, DeShawn Williams gets through and gets the coverage sack, and, will we see it?, yes, "Double DeFINGER," this time with a little "you're crazy to throw on this" thrown in, nice...PUNT

Cole Stoudt gets his arm hit as he attempts a deep ball and we get it picked.

4th Drive, 5:45, SYR 14, 0-0

Sudden change, Nickel, orbit motion, PA ZR, fake WR screen, good coverage, pulls it down, gets tackled by Jarrett for no gain, HOLDING on SYR, declined...Nickel, IV Counter Option, give on the RB power inside, SA stuffs the guard, Reader and Crawford close and get him for a gain of 2...HUNH, Nickel C1, quick slant caught in front of Smith for 8 and a first down...

1st and 10, SYR 25, Nickel BCB Blitz, QB reads the blitz and gets it out on a quick hitch to The Gambler's man, Smith gets him after a gain of 8, aggressive running there gets the WR an extra 5 yards...HUNH, Nickel, PA IZ, good protection for them, orbit motion and everybody bites on it but it's PA, the QB hits his man on a post in front of Kearse and behind Wiggins, same route from the slot that Louisville hurt us with, gain of 23...

1st and 10, CU 44, HUNH, Nickel, designed QB keeper to the D gap, Smith beats him to the edge for a loss of 1...HUNH, Nickel, ZR, Beasley takes the RB, QB keeps to the outside, Smith barely gets off the stalk block to bring the QB down for a gain of 7, poor leverage by Smith...Nickel C2 TE stunt, PA Sweep, Beasley gets held, checkdown to the RB in the flat, tackle by Peters for a gain of 3...4-3 Over on 4th and 1 vs. 113 unbalanced line to the boundary, jet sweep to the boundary, Jarrett gets a hand on him running by, we made a pile and Beasley got his hands on the WR but TS ran in to him and Jarrett causing a broken tackle and got the first, we should've had that one, gain of 7...

1st and 10, CU 28, HUNH, Nickel, PA IZ, WR screen and go, QB hit by Jarrett as he throws, PBU by Mac in the endzone, great job all the way around, we played great assignment ball and they didn't catch us cheating-up like last week, incomplete...Nickel, IZ, RB runs right into Jarrett and Smith at the LOS and drags them forward, don't see that very often, we're getting gassed, gain of 3...Jarrett is offsides talking major trash to the OG before the play call comes in, HUNH, Nickel Spy C1, fantastic man coverage, thrown incomplete on a bad DIG/Curl route by the WR ...FG is GOOD, 3-0 Syracuse

They hit us with the HUNH on sudden change and were successful slowing down the pass rush after the initial first down. Awesome man coverage by the DBs on this series saved us.  We're dangerously close to being gassed though. We need the offense to possess the ball.

We smartly run the ball to get to the quarter break. Good job, Chad.


We then convert a 3rd and 1 and then get a first down pass to Williams after that to give the defense a legitimate breather.  I would still get some #2s in there next series.

5th Drive, 12:02, SYR 20, 3-0 SYR

#2 DL, Nickel, H Lead Jet Sweep to the strong side where the HB and RB lead through the D gap with a seal and a kickout respectively, on paper this is a Nickel killer, Beasley takes a double team and shoves it into the backfield, TS sets the edge, and SA cleans it up, fantastic freaking job!, loss of 1...Nickel Spy WLB smoke, QB reads the blitz and hits the quick slant for 10, with SA spying and TS on a blitz the middle is wide open...Nickel on 3rd and 1, IZ, gain of 2, first down...Their LT goes down.

1st and 10, SYR 31, Nickel C4 WLB bullet, rollout to 4 receiver side away from their replacement LT, hits the inside WR on a quick out, SA pushes him out for a gain of 6, this was a 4 receiver flood route vs. quarters which is trouble, we need to switch our alignment to the 4 receivers side or get out of quarters, we'll see this again, great call...Nickel, QB Sweep, Barnes and the Gambler set the edge, Watson and Williams smother him for a loss of 1...we're getting tired again and need to get off the field, HUNH, Nickel quarter quarter half (quarters on one side, C2 on the other), straight drop from the gun, Beasley applies pressure, confusion between QB and WR, overthrown incomplete...PUNT

The offense comes out and starts clicking. We were snapping the ball with 33 seconds left in the play clock. Syracuse had to call a TO to catch their breath. Can't covert on a 3rd and1 from the 21. FG is good.

6th Drive, 4:37, SYR 25, 3-3

BB and Reader in, Nickel, Counter Trey, Reader gets him for a gain of 2...NH, Nickel double bullets, QB drops the ball, BB gets cut, QB picks it up and gets a hole for a gain of 11...

1st and 10, SYR 36, Nickel NB smoke, PA WR Screen, Power O, Lawson follows the OT and gets the RB from behind for a loss of 2, nice job Shaq, that's what you're coached to do, before the snap: FALSE START SYR...1st and 15, Nickel vs. 104, QB drops the ball again!, throws low to the stick route underneath but Smith dives in front of it and picks it off, great catch... INTERCEPTION

The offense gets it inside the 10 but, then this happens...

Sudden change again.

7th Drive, 2:08, SYR 8, 3-3

Nickel, H Lead Counter, good play from the DL preventing the HB from getting to TS, however TS misreads the play and lets the RB get the corner, gain of 16...

1st and 10, SYR 24, 1:50, Nickel, H Lead Counter to the other side, Barnes and SA get him down for a gain of 3...HUNH, Nickel, TIMEOUT CLEM at 1:45 on 2nd and 6, Nickel, OZ with a fake reverse, KW gets fooled, Kearse bails out instead of running the alley thinking he could throw, RB crosses the line and Kearse gets him for a gain of 5...TIMEOUT CLEM at 1:39 on 3rd and 1, Nickel NB smoke, PA off IZ Counter, rolls into Crawford and throws under duress to the TE, TS is there and crushes him for a loss of 2, all over that...TIMEOUT CLEM at 1:42 on 4th and 3...PUNT

Stoudt gets striped on the 1st play creating the rare DOUBLE Sudden change situation.

8th Drive, 1:12, CU 25, 3-3

Nickel, OZ Reverse Pass, all day to throw, throws it away, good coverage by the DBs, we were not fooled at all...Nickel, ZR give to the RB, tackle by Watson for a gain of 2...Nickel jailbreak blitz, Barnes gets through and gets the sack fumble, then puts his arm around Jarrett and "takes the selfie" as his celebration, fumble recovered by Syracuse, loss of 9...FG is good, 6-3 Syracuse

Halftime Thoughts

Ugly first half for us but, we have to be able to win ugly. It all boils down to the trenches and the turnover battle in games like this.  All of Syracuse's points have come off turnovers but they only have 6 because our Front 7 is whipping them.

Well, just like BC, Syracuse came out and ran a lot of trick/surprise plays on 1st down trying to catch us being overaggressive. This week, we handled that very well.

Either one of their RBs, Prince-Tyson Gulley or Adonis Ameen-Moore, could start for us.  In fact, these were probably the best RBs we've faced since UGA. Their line is not good but their backs are.

I really like this 2 RB attack that Syracuse used. The amount of options and counters they threw at us out of the same formation was almost like "Shotgun Georgia Tech."  New OC, Tim Lester, who was just promoted to OC 3 weeks ago, did a great job of scheming for this game and he was no slouch in calling plays as well.  At 37 years old, and with Shafer and Dabo being buddy-buddy, I think we have a possible candidate to replace Morris when he eventually leaves us.


9th Drive, 13:46, SYR 26, 6-3 Syr

Nickel to Diet 4-3 Under, PA Stretch, QB can't thread the needle on the quick slant, KW might have gotten a piece of it, incomplete...NH, Nickel NB Smoke, Crawford lines up in a 9 and takes the backside TE in coverage, IZ, Jarrett redirects and gets his legs, KW gets his torso, SA and KW rip the ball out and Mac recovers...FUMBLE RECOVERY

Norton throws another snap over the QB's head and this one puts us out of FG range. Another scoring opportunity lost.  At this point, you just have to say, "we are who we are." This isn't an aberration, it's a trend.

10th Drive, 12:16, SYR 14, 6-3 Syr

Nickel BCB smoke, QB reads the blitz and throws for The Gambler's man outside but, The Gambler gets up and knocks the ball down and almost caught it for a pick 6, incomplete...Nickel NB smoke, great playside fill by SA gets him for a gain of 2... first sighting of the Dime of Doom on 3rd and 7, WLB bullet NB Smoke, they max protect with 7, uh oh, fade route is caught out of bounds, whew...PUNT

Stoudt gets his arm hit as he throws again and it results in our 4th turnover and a 4th sudden change opportunity for the defense

11th Drive, 10:41, CU 42, 6-3 Syr

Nickel vs. the 4 receiver look on the short side again, same rollout, same route pattern, SA sees it coming this time and positions himself in the throwing lane, QB throws to the same out-route, and a sick one handed INT for SA!...INTERCEPTION

Anthony gets a highlight play to go along with his near flawless execution this season. Looks like it's time for my weekly, "It is an absolute pleasure to watch this defense on film," statement.

We get a FG and tie it up. They get a penalty on the kick return that pushes them back to their 12 and the crowd gets very loud again.

12th Drive, 6:36, SYR 12, 6-6

BB, Fire Ant (for Mac), and Reader in, Nickel, IV, Beasley follows the OT and runs down the RB for a 2 yard loss, textbook, Why would they call that again? Are they setting up a reverse or QB Counter?...

2nd and 12, Nickel, IZ, OG gets to SA, so it's 1 on 1 with the RB vs. Fire Ant in the open field, Fire Ant gets him for a loss of 1, good job by Reader to drag his man out there and take away the cutback, Fire Ant with a limp running off the field, dude is tough...Dime of Doom on 3rd and 13, C2 man rushing 3, they have 6 block, QB throws short and behind his WR in the flat...PUNT

Cuse must be doing a lot of talking out there because I haven't seen us jaw it up like this so far this season. Oh, and Martin Jenkins is the kind of guy that awards get named after.

We get a FG on offense and take the lead.

13th Drive, 3:30, SYR 28, 9-6 Clem

#2 DL in, Nickel TT stunt, Power O, well blocked, TS fills to the outside instead of the hole right in front of him, Smith gets him down after a gain of 15

1st and 10, CU 42, HUNH, Nickel BCB smoke, IZ, this time TS pops him in the hole for a gain of 2...Nickel C4, PA IZ, deep fade thrown The Gambler's way, he was step for step, overthrown incomplete...Jarrett and Beasley back in, Nickel on 3rd and 8, we show blitz, FS and MLB bullets, Inside Shovel Pass, engulfed by Jarrett, loss of 4...PUNT

Through 3 quarters we have outgained them by more than double and we are one busted play away from losing. Sound familiar?  We have 1 TD in our last 7 trips to the Redzone.


Seckinger gets his first TD since the game-winner against Ohio St. Nice throw by Stoudt on a TE wheel route.

14th Drive, 14:28, SYR 31, 16-6 Clem

BB in, Nickel TE stunt MLB delay smoke, drop back, complete on a 10 yard curl in the flat, The Gambler had good coverage, just a great throw and catch, gain of 14...

1st and 10, CU 45, HUNH, Nickel, QB Counter off Power O, Jarrett gets him for a loss of 1...NH, Nickel TE stunt, PA ZR, PA Bubble Screen, complete on a shallow cross, Mac forces him backwards to try to get the corner, BB cleans it up for a loss of 1...Dime of Doom, we rush 3 vs. their 7, advantage Clemson, Jarrett beats a double team and forces the QB out of the pocket, The Gambler jams 2 WRs at the same time, now the ILBs and Kearse come on a delay blitz, Kearse gets the sack...PUNT

This is the 2nd time today we have seen a delay blitz. This is a new wrinkle for BV.

We go 3 and out and lose a little field position in the process.

15th drive, 10:10, SYR 49, 16-6

Nickel, QB finds his WR on a stick route for 6...HUNH, Nickel double bullets, quick slant dropped by the WR, incomplete...HUNH, Nickel, ZR, RB cuts back to the huge hole vacated by the wide rush of Beasley, SA can't get there and Kearse gets him down after a gain of 19...

All starters in now, 1st and 10, CU 26, HUNH, Nickel, PA OZ, crazy throw into traffic on a skinny post, almost intercepted by KW, good coverage by The Gambler, incomplete...Nickel C4, straight drop, good protection, throws to the RB on a delay wheel route that is cut short due to good coverage, RB drops it in the flat, incomplete, he had a man wide open in the flat on the other side but never looked over there...Dime of Doom on 3rd and 10, ZR give to the RB, Jarrett puts a stop to that for no gain...FG is NO GOOD

The offense comes out and takes the remaining 8:17 off the clock for the win. Just a great job of taking control of the game by the offense.



This week, I put these rankings in order of what we are best at to what we are worst at.


Tackles for Loss, 1st

Opponent 3rd Down Conversions, 1st

Forced Punts per Game, 1st

Opponent First Downs, 3rd

Total Defense Rank, 3rd

Sacks per Game, 4th

Opponent Red Zone Scoring %, 6th

Opponent Yards per Carry (Rushing Defense), 8th

Opponent 10+ Yard Plays Allowed, 9th

Opponent Yards per attempt (Passing Defense), 10th

Scoring Defense Rank, 11th

Turnovers Forced, 56th

Opponent Red Zone TD %, 59th

ADVANCED STATS National Rankings:

Overall F/+, 9th

Offensive F/+, 43rd

Defensive F/+, 4th

Special Teams F/+, 91st

Run Blocking, 97th

Pass Blocking, 23rd

CU Vs. Opp. Run Blocking, 3rd

CU vs. Opp. Pass blocking, 1st

The eye test says...

We turned the ball over 4 times and gave up 6 points.  That is getting it done any way you want to spin it.

We held Cuse to 2.6 yards per rush after they averaged 5.03 yards per rush against FSU two weeks ago.  Even better, we held them to a ridiculous 2.9 yards per attempt, which was their worst outing of the year.

The ESPNU announcers, Anish Shroff and Kelly Stouffer, have done 3 or 4 games of ours this year and said that the opposing coaches are telling them that this is the best front 7 they have seen in 2 or 3 years.  They said, "You're not just talking about the best defense in the nation today, but measuring it against some of the best defenses we've seen in recent memory."  As much as you could dismiss all that as pregame coachspeak, my film work each week puts me in the category of person that thinks there is some truth to those comments. We have two big hurdles at the end of the year with Ga. Tech and South Carolina where we will try to prove that we are an Elite Front 7 and Elite Defensive football team.

We continue to see new wrinkles added each week. This week it was the delay blitz out of the Dime which worked very well and also, the wide edge setting by the DE and the LB blitzing in on a splatter technique.

It seemed like BV was content to rest his starters on some drives initially and then after a first down, he would put them back in.


Game Ball: Grady Jarrett (This is his first game ball and it is overdue. The problem is that "The Unblockable One" is his usual self every week. It's noticeable when he was out of the game. He is a disrupter. He doesn't always make the tackle but he closes holes, shrinks the angles that RBs have to run through, and makes it so QBs cannot step up in the pocket. His value goes way beyond "number of tackles.")

All American Level Performance: Grady Jarrett, Stephone Anthony, Vic Beasley

All ACC Level Performance: DeShawn "DeFinger" Williams, MacKenzie Alexander, The Gambler, Robert Smith, Jayron Kearse.

Solid: Everybody else.

Less than solid: Carlos Watkins (not very good on the TT stunt) his pad level was high. He had to be replaced by the 1s a couple times as well. I think he's better than what he showed in this game.

Past Game Balls: Robert Smith (Georgia), Stephone Anthony (SC St., FSU, BC), Garry Peters (UNC), Vic Beasley (N.C. St.), Jayron Kearse (Louisville)