Clemson beat Boston College 34-17 last Saturday, with the Tigers air attack setting an elite defense on fire. Dabo mentioned after the game that he was upset about how many times Deshaun Watson was hit. Boston College has a very good defensive line, so some of this had to have been expected, but it still is hard to watch Watson get sacked three times. To say nothing of the times that he was hit as he threw, such as on Watson's second interception of the day. For the film breakdown this week we are going to look at the protection breakdowns that led to each Boston College sack. (all images via ESPN/youtube user Tigerray, I am working on gifs but have yet to find a video to .gif site that can handle two hour videos)
Clemson begins in a 2 x 2 spread formation, with six BC players on the line of scrimmage threatening to blitz. Watson tells the running back to shift to the opposite side, very likely as part of a protection call. Leggett, the right slot, motions across the formation. Boston College's #9 follows him. This tells Deshaun that he is seeing man coverage. There's no need, and in fact it is actively detrimental, for a defender to follow a receiver like that in zone. Man coverage and six men on the line of scrimmage would hint pretty heavily at a six man cover zero blitz.
Boston College only rushes four, with the linebacker to the left side rushing off the edge. The left defensive end stunts across the formation to help balance the rush, as the two players lined up over the right guard and to the centers right side have dropped back into coverage. This is a very good disguised blitz, with the stunt serving to help provide pressure. The pre snap look would tell Watson to throw his hot route. His hot route is being robbed by the two guys dropping, and will either get picked off, defensed, or get a receiver killed.
The offensive line actually does a great job blocking. Both Gore and Hyatt drop the edge rushers off a full eight yards behind the line of scrimmage and the interior lineman have kept the pocket pretty clean. I don't know why Watson felt the need to leave the pocket here unless no one was capable of getting open.
Watson has to get rid of the ball. It is that simple, he is outside of the tackle box and the ball has to be gone by now. If nothing is happening downfield he cannot allow a robber to chase him down and get the tackle. I know it is third and seven, I know Boston College is winning at this point, but Deshaun cannot take hits like this. The offensive line kept the pocket clean enough, if no one can get open the ball has to get out of Watson's hands. Throwing it away isn't optimal, but it is always better than a sack.
The next sack came with Clemson aligned in empty, four defensive lineman on the field.
Boston College is going to run what some would know as a veer stunt, personally I was taught it as a Texas stunt, but regardless it is a stunt every offensive lineman should know. Both defensive ends pinch inside, hoping to blow by the respective guards to their side who must deal with speed rushers they did not expect to have to block. The defensive tackles loop around outside, to provide contain or get the sack. If an offensive lineman buries his head and tries to run with a stunting defensive lineman it often results in a pass rusher getting free. Joe Gore buried his head.
See that big man, just behind the line of scrimmage to the far side of the field? That is the defensive tackle Joe Gore should be peeling off the defensive end to block.
See that guy, near the aforementioned big man, bent over, hopelessly out of position and in nothing so much as resembling a pass blocking stance? That is Joe Gore. Let's see how this goes.
The defensive tackle won't get the sack, but that's only because Gore gets the pleasure of watching Watson step up to avoid the sack and get drilled by a defensive end who has managed to bully Tyrone Crowder. Not use speed to beat him, but hit him, jack him up and throw him off. Crowder never managed to get a hand firmly on him. That is not good, to put it mildly. The left side of the line did fine. The right side of the line managed to get beaten, not once, but twice, in the span of two seconds.
The third sack finds Clemson in empty again, but this time there are two outside linebackers who look like they intend to blitz. Due to the realities of empty, namely, five lineman and no other pass blockers, one of them will come free if they blitz. Watson has to get the ball to a hot read if that happens.
The player aligned over the right tackle peels off the line of scrimmage to play as more of a true linebacker just before the ball is snapped. The outside linebacker to the left blitzes while the interior defensive linemen slants over to the right.
The right side of the line and the center do fine here, however, the left tackle and left guard have already messed up horribly.
You see Hyatt, the left tackle, standing straight up? He looks like he's thinking. You do not want offensive lineman to look like that after the ball is snapped. The reason for his confusion is the linebacker, who was aligned outside, has stunted to the inside. The defensive tackle has moved to the outside to serve as a contain rusher to the left. Hyatt most likely should have slid out to block the defensive tackle who is the edge rusher now. In addition Eric Mac Lain should have taken the linebacker who rushed to the inside. What happened instead is Hyatt blocked no one, suffering from paralysis by analysis.
Mac Lain must have wanted to make Hyatt not look as bad, since he doesn't even get a hand on the outside linebacker. He doesn't even glance at him. Mac Lain knows exactly what deodorant the guy the center should be (and is) blocking is wearing though. The end result is two free rushers in a foot race to hit Watson, and just for fun both are coming from his blind side.
That is not something you want to see happen to your starting quarterback. That is especially not something you want to happen when quarterback depth is sketchy to non existent. Clemson played very well on Saturday, and looks like a team that could potentially earn a playoff shot. The offensive line has exceeded expectations and deserves credit for that. With that said, it's hits like this that could change the tenor of the entire season for the worse, and we all have to hope Dabo and his coaching staff are looking at ways to stop them in the future.