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Defensive Review: Clemson vs. SC St.

Mary Ann Chastain

As always, this is long and some should read this in installments.  I'm going to provide more detail for the big games this year and less for the cupcakes. I'm also making a conscious effort to keep it as simple as possible for the casual fan. However, if you want to learn, you are still going to 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.

I got a little busy this week and since we had a severely overmatched opponent, this review will be posted later than usual and will be shorter than usual.  Reviewing overmatched teams is difficult because you can have technical flaws and out-athlete the opponent.  Everybody is going to look good but, it can be difficult to know what you're truly seeing.

For example, if a LB runs under a block he's supposed to take on, abandons his run fit, but then makes the tackle in the backfield for a 3 yard loss, do I give him an F on that play for going under the block?  No.  I give him the same credit I would give a great undisciplined player like Junior Seau for talent and ability where he used great instincts to make a play. Even though he's not going to get away with that against a team like FSU, the player may have a history of sound play, and therefore, may not do that against FSU.  Sometimes the end has to justify the means.

Here is a key for my shorthand in alphabetical order in case you need to refer back to it as you read this: 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."  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.  Iso = FB lead play in the A or B gap.  IZ = Inside Zone Run, Jailbreak - 7 or more blitz.  man = man to man.  OZ = outside zone run.   PBU- Pass broken up.  Power = FB/RB/HB 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- S or NB blitz from the outside D gap.  Soft Coverage - CBs/NB playing well of the WR until he gets to the 1st down line.  Student Body Left/Right = FB lead play to the D gap with all uncovered linemen pulling.  Sweep = FB/ HB lead play to the D gap.  Stack - the 3 LBs are stacked behind D linemen.  Stalk - WR blocks CB in front of him.  TFL = tackle for loss.

Coach/Player shorthand: BV = Brent Venables, Mack = MacKenzie Alexander, Tank = Cordrea Tankersley, JJ = Jadar Johnson, "The Gambler" = Garry Peters, "The Fire Ant" = Martin Jenkins

This is not going to be as detailed as Georgia. Drives will be in paragraph form.

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

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

A summary of each drive will be done underneath the play by play


1st Drive, 1st and 10, SCS 25, 12:35, 1Q

Nickel, bad snap loss of 13...Nickel, timeout SCS...Nickel, inc pass, bad route by WR, excellent break on the ball by Kearse...Nickel, loss of 3, excellent playside fill by Anthony...PUNT

They are very nervous and not used to the speed and physicality of an opponent of our caliber. Great assignment football so far on D.  Below is out opening Nickel alignment. Notice Beasley standing up in a 9 technique.


2nd drive, 1st and 10, SCS 15, 6:46, 1Q

Nickel with Goodson at MLB this series, IZ destroyed by Jarrett and Watson, loss of 3...Nickel WR screen, read beautifully by Kearse, Kearse hit in the mid section by Tank, both miss tackle, penalty called for block in the back on SCS, bad call imo, still 2nd down...Nickel with Beasley standing up in a 9, screen tipped by Crawford's long arms, caught by their WR who is planted ("and watered") by Goodson at the 1, actually ruled inc now...Nickel, sack by Beasley at the 1, loss of 9, PUNT

Yea, this reminds me of a high school JV team scrimmaging the Varsity or better yet, Ivan Drago vs. Apollo Creed. Throw in the towel, Rocky!


3rd drive, 1st and 10, SCS 35, 4:12, 1Q

Nickel, IZ, great backside fill (YES!!!) from Steward, loss of 1...Under with Goodson at SAM, Jet sweep, Goodson set the edge, Barnes comes down the line and Anthony scrapes to make the play, gain of 1...timeout SCS...Nickel, rollout, great coverage by Kearse in man and gets the PBU, PUNT

Nice to see Stewart read his keys and do his job. We were also very aggressive as a team getting to the edge on the jet sweep. Another great series.



4th drive, 1st and 10, SCS 25, 14:54, 2Q

Nickel, IZ, stuffed on a backside fill by Boulware, gain of 1...Nickel, IZ, blownout up by Anthony and 3 others, loss of 1...Nickel, roll right, thrown to the sideline, good coverage by JJ, ball dropped...PUNT

Boulware looks much more aggressive this week. He's really getting downhill and playing mean and even blasts a blocker on the next kickoff.  The OL is not getting to the 2nd level and Stephone Anthony is all over the field making plays.


5th drive, 1st and 10, SCS 18, 11:11, 2Q

Nickel, ZR, swamped by Tigers, gain of 1...Nickel, roll right, keeps it, gain of 2, forced out by Steward...Nickel, audible and quick slant to the slot with JJ playing off in coverage, JJ wraps him up and gets him down for a gain of 4, textbook...PUNT

I like seeing JJ in there getting some reps. He is clearly ahead of where Kearse was last year at this time. I'd like to see T.J. Green back there for Smith as well.  The way BV uses safeties, they are largely interchangeable so, I'd even like to see some cross training out of JJ if Green isn't going to play.


6th drive, 1st and 10, SCS 28, 7:03 2Q

Nickel, quick pitch, Wiggins misses the tackle in the backfield but slows him up enough where the play has no chance, gain of 2...Nickel NB Smoke, Wiggins blitzes right into the play and gets him, gain of 3...Nickel, roll right, throws it away, double coverage deep...PUNT

They tried to catch us asleep on 3rd and medium and went deep but Tank and JJ were all over it.


7th drive, 1st and 10, SCS 18, 3:39 2Q

Nickel, deep out knocked away by Kearse...Nickel NB smoke, WR screen, tackled by Mac for gain of 3...Nickel WLB D gap Smoke, Roll away from pressure, pass complete on a hook for the first down, (offsides on blitzer Boulware refused)...1st and 10, SCS 29,  Nickel NB smoke, IZ, blownup by Kevin Dodd who was unblocked...Nickel double bullets, they picked up the stunt, uh oh, big hole, knocked out of bounds by Kearse, gain of 41...1st and 10, CU 34, Nickel, straight drop, sacked by Lawson, loss of 8...Nickel, WR screen, dropped...Nickel, pass, pressure on the QB, checkdown to the RB out of bounds, loss of 4...PUNT

The first 1st down of the game was given up that drive. If you blitz an ILB from the outside then you have to get there or there will be a big hole or two in the zone underneath.

Then the bullet stunt got picked up on the long run.  Both inside LBs blitz the A gaps and they get picked up.


The ILBs get picked up and can't hold their gaps.  Against any other team, that's probably a TD.  Great recognition by their OL.  I'll take "Things Clemson's OL Can't Do For $400, Alex."

Below you can see the 2 ILBs were driven back 2 yards creating a nice big hole for the RB, Freeman, to run through.


Now, it's a footrace between Freeman and Robert Smith. I don't have to tell you that many of the RBs we face will win that footrace over Smith.


Smith slows him up just enough for Kearse to run him down.


Halftime Thoughts

It's 34-0 Clemson at halftime.  After that SCS run = 41 yards. SCS 1st 23 plays = 0 yards.  Last year, we showed up fat and happy off of our win over Georgia. SC St. showed up ready for a fight. The result was offensive stagnation and a stalemate in the trenches.  This time we showed up like a ranked team ready to handle business and they showed up nervous. The level of aggression was high for us, and because of it, SC St. probably had 10+ plays for loss in the 1st half.  We did what we are supposed to do; Finish off an overmatched team as soon as possible.



8th drive, 1st and 10, SCS 25, 15:00 3Q

Nickel, WR screen, met in the backfield by "The Gambler," loss of 6...Nickel NB smoke, blitzed right into the ZR play, tackle by Wiggins, loss of 3... Nickel, roll right, complete on a hook in between Kearse and Wiggins, gain of 10...PUNT

The complete pass was a great option route by the WR and the QB threatened the run to get Wiggins to come up just a little bit. Nice execution by them except that it was in front of the sticks.

Look where Peters is when the ball is caught on the WR screen...4 yards on the other side of the line of scrimmage. Great read and great quickness. Just an awesome first step here.  Not the best play design by SC St. here either.


9th drive, 1st and 10, SCS 35, 11:27 3Q

Nickel WLB smoke, high snap and pressure on the QB causes him to throw it high over the head of his checkdown...Nickel, jet sweep, Crawford comes down the line to make the play with help from Kellen Jones, loss of 2...Nickel, screen pass away from Beasley's rush, snuffed out by the DL, sure tackle by Steward for a loss of 2...PUNT

We are in much better position on the edges today.  Steward is showing more natural instinct and better reading of his keys this week.

OK, we're into garbage time and I don't need to review further.



What can I really say here?  This was a game where we showed up and handled business early and often against a far inferior opponent.  It was exactly what you want to and complete domination. SC St. averaged 0.3 yards per rush and 1.5 yards per pass and the defense kept them off the scoreboard.  That's about all you need to know.

So, are we ready for FSU?  Actually, maybe.

After two games, our DBs remain untested.  The question is why?  Are our guys blanketing the receivers and forcing underneath throws or has the opposition either gameplanned to throw underneath (Georgia) or not had the time and ability (SC St.).  We know that FSU will have no such issue with throwing the ball all over the field.  How will our guys perform in their first real test?  We don't know.  The pogo stick (Benjamin) was a matchup nightmare but he has moved on to the NFL.  Their WR corps and TE are deep and talented but they do miss Benjamin.  On paper, it's still advantage FSU but, the unknown gives us a little bit of hope that our DBs could be better than advertised.

That brings me to the Front 7.  Up front, we'll need to do better than we did last year and that can be helped some by the offense not stepping on the burning paper bag lying on the welcome mat.  Secondly, Vic Beasley has got to atone for getting taken to the woodshed by Cameron Erving last year.  Getting into the backfield and wreaking havoc could be a real confidence builder for a team that will need to stay mentally focused to keep us in the game.

One thing we should do better this year is Grady Jarrett blowing back their new Center and not allowing Winston to step up in the pocket. I'd play Josh Watson on passing downs whenever I could as well.  The synergy of that kind of penetration could allow our speed rush to work better than it did last year.

The LBs will have to make quick reads and make the proper run fits.  I'm not worried about Anthony, and to some extent Goodson, but Steward or Boulware needs to have a coming out party so that we don't allow sustained drives all game.


All American Level Performance: None

All ACC Level Performance: Stephone Anthony, Grady Jarrett, Jayron Kearse, Corey Crawford, Vic Beasley, and Shaq Lawson

Solid:  Really, the entire defense including Mr. Tony Steward- he's out of the doghouse but, he's not back in the main house with the family just yet (hey, if you played, you've probably been there. He's still got room for improvement starting with a simple increase in ruthless aggression. Do you know how many LBs would kill for that frame?  We'll see if the light has truly come on in Tallahassee).

Needs Improvement: Scott Pagano - His pad level is high and he gets stood up.  He's not strong enough to overpower anybody with that technique.  He reminds me of Miguel Chavis early in his career.  The light came on for him and I hope the same happens for Pagano.

FSU will get the long review format in two weeks.  Hopefully, the entire game is worth reviewing unlike last year.

For now, we have sit through all the buildup and press conferences about the big show down with the #1 ranked defending champ.


Hopefully, last year's movie won't have a sequel.