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Defensive Film Review: FSU

Play by play breakdown of a division-clinching victory for the ages in Death Valley

Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Alex and Dbbm are back to help you relive the glorious victory Saturday, highlight what went wrong early, and show how Clemson adjusted after the opening bell haymaker. First let us rejoice that this film review even happened, because if Clemson lost Alex would not watch the replay. Ever. And then you'd be stuck with Dbbm WHO IS A BEARS FAN LOLOLOk.

Wow. What a finish. Like Dabo said, that 4th quarter was championship football. In a reversal from last year when we dominated the Noles for the overwhelming majority of the game and somehow lost, this year the Noles had us early but couldn't capitalize aside from the quick touchdown. Clemson got better each quarter before we slammed the door in late in the 4th.

The last two drives were how teams that go undefeated finish games, with 11 play 75 yard and 7 play 60 yard scoring drives. In a close game, in the fourth quarter, those are the sort of drives that seal out games. That FSU scored zero second half touchdowns is a great feeling as well. This game was close in the first half, but in the second half Clemson pulled away against a talented opponent. That's about all we can ask for.

The FSU offensive line came to play, particularly early. This was not the line (or team) we saw on film all year, they were better at every position. Sean Maguire had a pedestrian performance, but key players returning from injury combined with a competent passer meant FSU played one of its best games of the year. That Clemson pulled away at the end is more encouraging than if Clemson had blown out the FSU team we saw on film earlier this year.

There was a debate on crowd noise in the instant reaction comments, but from Section US Row K, Saturday felt like the loudest crowd all year. Louder than Notre Dame and probably Alex's favorite game (both for the atmosphere and significance) in memory.

All of a sudden, Deshuan Watson nears the top of the Heisman conversation. That's what happens when you're the headliner on the #1 team, despite a poor performance before halftime. Watson was nearly flawless in the 4th quarter, when his movement in the pocket -- to both run and throw -- bought Clemson some huge first downs. 400+ yards of total offense from Watson alone on this stage, after such a poor start is Heisman-worthy. Each week his knee is healthier, and we have begun to see the limitless potential afforded by an elite arm and quick, healthy legs.


Alley = area between the OT and WR. BCB = Boundary Cornerback, Bullet = ILB A or B gap blitz. C0, C1, C2, C3, C4 (quarters) or C6 (quarter, quarter, half) = coverage scheme by the secondary. FCB = Wideside or field cornerback. Fire = S, NB, LB blitz from the outside D gap. Green Dog = man blitz when your man stays in to block or is not in the formation. IZ = Inside Zone or Zone blocked play inside the tackles. Jailbreak = 7 or more blitz. LOS = Line of Scrimmage. Man = man to man coverage. OZ = outside zone run or zone blocked play off-tackle. PA = Play Action. PBU = Pass broken up. Red Dog(overload) = LB and S/NB blitz on the same side. Robber = S or LB moves to take away crossing routes. C3 Sky = SS moves up two yards, takes flat, CBs and FS take deep thirds. Soft = CBs/NB playing well off the WR until he gets to the 1st down line. Stretch= zone blocked run just inside the last offensive player on that side. Stack = the 3 LBs are stacked directly behind DL. Stalk = WR blocks DB in front of him. Sweep = TB/QB run, often FB/ H-B lead play to the D gap. TO = Triple Option. ZR = Zone read option play.

Coach/Player shorthand: BB = Ben Boulware, BJ = B.J. Goodson, BV = Brent Venables, Mack = MacKenzie Alexander, OD = Dorian O'Daniel, Shaq = Shaq Lawson, Tank = Cordrea Tankersley.

Thoughts within a play are separated by a comma. (,)
Each play is separated by an ellipsis. (...)
First downs are separated by a paragraph.
Comments on a drive are in italics.

Offensive Personnel is listed as a 3 digit number where it is listed: # of RBs, # of TEs, # of WRs like 212, which is 2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR.

1st quarter

1st drive, 15:00, FSU 25, 0-0

1st & 10, 212 I form (FB and TE strength to wide side, WRs to boundary) vs 4-3, end around pitch to Whitfield, Shaq and Mack set the edge to force Whitfield inside where Green meets him for no gain...2nd & 10, 212 I form vs 4-3, Boulware bullet, IZ, center gets to second level on BJ immediately, every single player in our front 7 is sealed and there's a huge hole, Green fills but gets stiff-armed, ugly, TOUCHDOWN.

Cook gone

Cook abuse

Good cut blocks on the backside seal off pursuit, but this play wasn't actually all that well blocked. Dodd and Watkins push their respective blockers two yards into the backfield. What makes this play so scary is all it took was BJ Goodson over pursuit and TJ Green getting beat in the open field. DJ Reader did look pretty bad though, standing straight up and notable as the only DL being pushed off the ball. That's it, Cook is good enough that most of the defense can win and he's still gone if he finds a hole.

The Tigers stall after an initial first down run from Gallman, Watson has a tipped pass and then overthrows Peake on the go route, Peake was open but Watson missed yet another early deep throw.

2nd drive, 12:57, FSU 23, 7-0 FSU lead.

Here's the new Nickel alignment we used so against often Miami and now FSU. Putting Mack inside at NB and Baker at FCB keeps Blanks and Carter from getting picked on in coverage and mitigates a weakness. Blanks will still split out in coverage when we are in 4-3 vs 3 wide if called for.

1st & 10, 113 Ace vs Nickel (see above: Baker at FCB, Mack at NB), quick comeback route to boundary overthrown...2nd & 10, 113 Pistol vs Nickel, counter trey to weakside, Boulware could've blown up the hole but waits for the pulling TE to block him, Shaq sealed off by the pulling guard, entire backside is sealed off for a huge hole, Green doesn't fit well in the slightest, it takes some work to wind up getting sealed on the backside by a lineman when you start out as the frontside safety, gain of 36...

1st & 10, 212 I form vs 4-3 plus Kearse in the box, man under C1 Robber, Kearse gets tangled with Blanks on PA fake and Kearse can't drop to play robber, Mack beat on the drag route, tough to defend a drag in man, gain of 20...1st & 10, 212 I form vs 4-3, IZ, BJ shed his block and filled the hole nicely, gain of 3...2nd & 7, 212 Pistol vs 4-3 BCB blitz (like vs NC State we blitzed Tank when no receivers were on his side), PA fake to FB before swing to Cook, read all the way and stuffed by BJ and 4 other defenders...


3rd & 10, 113 Shotgun vs Dime (Kearse at SAM, Mack at Nickel, Baker at FCB), Dodd beats his man with inside move and rushes the throw, Mack and Baker switch on on the wheel/post combo, underthrown and the wheel is perfectly played by Baker, INTERCEPTION.

Their previously poor OL has eaten our lunch thus far compared to what we expected in the matchup. Pass rush seems lacking but there should've been at least two holding calls by now. HUGE play by Baker that completely changed the game. The defense ultimately settled down after Baker's pick. Love that BV puts Mack at NB when we go to Nickel personnel, it hides the coverage deficiencies with Carter/Blanks. Plus it gives Baker much needed experience at FCB to almost certainly replace Mack next season. FSU tried to pick on Baker but he made them pay.

After the illegal formation fake punt, we punt and pin them back inside the 20.

3rd drive, 4:51, FSU 13, 7-0 FSU lead.

1st & 10, 122 Ace vs 4-3 under FS fire, Wilkins shoots past the guard with elite agility and pulls Cook down by the ankles on the dive, beautifully done...2nd & 10, 212 Ace bunch (photo) vs 4-3 Boulware bullet, BJ fills and meets Cook, gain of 2...3rd & 8, 113 Shotgun vs 4-3 LB bullets/FS fire (DEs drop to coverage), Green gets a free rush on Maguire and forces a bad throw, incomplete. PUNT.

The defense settled down and made a great team effort against Cook on 2nd down. We committed bodies against the run on early downs and sold out for pressure on 3rd down, trusting the pass rush to help our corners in single coverage outside. It worked, as the throw was out of bounds on the go route. Tank was step for step anyway, which is why Venables is confident enough to pressure so often. For all the issues up front to start the game, the secondary was sterling (with the exception of Greens run fits on two long runs).

Interference bails out the offense on third down, a seam route to Leggett gets us in field goal range before we stall inside the 20. FIELD GOAL GOOD.

4th drive, 1:15, FSU 25, 7-3 FSU lead.

1st & 10, 212 I form vs 4-3 vs PA RB screen to Cook, well read by LBs who flow to Cook, BJ makes the stop, gain of 4...2nd & 6, 113 Shotgun vs Nickel (Mack at NB, Baker at FCB) BJ bullet in front of Man C1 Robber, deep wheel but Mack is there, overthrown, incomplete...


3rd & 6, 113 Shotgun vs Dime of Doom, Mack called for PI on the cross, 1st down...

1st & 10, 212 I form vs 4-3, counter trey, BB flies past the blocker but whiffs on Cook in the backfield, a hole behind him which Cook bursts through for 19...

2nd quarter

1st & 10, 212 Ace bunch vs 4-3, another counter, Cook breaks BB's tackle and carries on for a gain of 9...2nd & 1, 212 vs 4-3, dive to Patrick, hole up the middle but BJ stands in and pulls him down, gain of 6...

1st & 10, 113 Shotgun bunch vs 4-3 Tampa 2, TE gets behind the linebackers, gain of 17...

1st & 9, 212 I form vs 4-3 BJ bullet, blast, hole through C gap, Tank comes off his block to make a touchdown saving tackle before Patrick hits the corner, gain of 3...

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Both DT's aligned to the weakside and BJ (the backer on the LOS) got double teamed and thrown four yards downfield. Someone didn't cover their gap and it almost burned us.

2nd & 6, 212 I form vs 4-3 (both safeties at LB depth), Iso, MIKE bullet by BJ shoots the gap, takes on the FB, AND trips up Patrick for a loss of 2, amazing individual effort by BJ...3rd & 8, 014 empty vs Dime, IZ jet sweep to Whifield, Shaq beats his block immediately and smacks Whitfield for a gain of 1, well done despite a shoulder injury, this is why Shaq has a first round grade, he can do it all...FIELD GOAL GOOD.

We were fortunate Maguire hit the TE against Tampa 2 earlier, BB rushed to the flat when his responsibility was the slant, and Mack had already let Whitfield go to the slant where BB should've been. If Maguire holds on a split second longer and see Whitfield coming open, it's a likely touchdown. Fantastic individual plays from Tank, BJ, and Shaq on the next three plays to keep the Noles out of the endzone. Linebacker play has been shaky all game but seems to turn around here. The DL has been streaky, with guys alternating getting stonewalled with making OL look like turnstiles.

The Tiger offense stalls near midfield after Watson misses a wide open Gallman in the flat. Gore blocked nobody and pressure forced a high throw, otherwise Gallman scores or gets at least 25 yards, PUNT.

5th drive, 7:55, FSU 10, 10-3 FSU lead.

1st & 10, 212 bunch vs 4-3 under, dive to weak side, BB fills the gap, Pagano taking two blockers out of the play ensures BB is in position to make a tackle but Cook bowls over him for a gain of 5...2nd & 5, 212 I form vs 4-3 stack, draw, Wilkins pushes his man into Cook who trips but regains his balance, wrestled down by Green for a gain of 7...

1st & 10, 212 Shotgun vs 4-3, short curl met by Blanks, gain of 7...2nd & 3, 122 Ace vs 4-3, dive, Shaq abuses the LT inside and tackles Cook while being tackled by the LT, beast, gain of 1...3rd & 2, 104 Shotgun vs Nickel showing man, BJ and BB bullet, Mack comes in on a green dog when Cook stays in to protect, slant but Tank is all over it, incomplete. PUNT.

We knew Cook would get his yards, but Boulware is having a tough day so far. BJ continues his stellar play from last week. Our pressure on passing downs is in Maguire's head, he forced a slant that wasn't open on 3rd down despite decent protection; the pass rush can't quite get there but he is still scared of it. The starting DE's and all DT's except Reader are playing pretty well. Bryant is a clear step down from either Dodd or Lawson. Tank has been lights out and just like last year with Peters, surprisingly great play from the boundary corner allows BV to send pressure comfortably.

The offense gets to FSU territory quickly but is stuffed on 4th down. SUDDEN CHANGE.

6th drive, 2:57, FSU 42, 10-3 FSU lead.

1st & 10, 212 Ace vs 4-3 MIKE bullet from BJ, green dog from BB, PA counter looking for a deep shot, immediate pressure by BJ forces intentional grounding, loss of down and 14...2nd & 24, 113 Ace vs Nickel, NB blitz by Mack, IZ away from Mack, Cook bounces it outside but is met by an orange wall, gain of 3...DELAY OF GAME...FALSE START...3rd & 31, 113 Shotgun trips right vs Nickel, draw to Cook for a gain of 2...PUNT.

Jump Around y'all because this crowd was phenomenal. Directly impacted the game.

Fantastic 1 minute drive sputters in the red zone when miscommunication between Dabo and Watson leads to the 3rd down spike. A very poor half from Watson and our offense in general, shaky start from the defense, and yet we are only down by 4. Much like last year but reversed, FSU had us early but couldn't capitalize and it ultimately cost them. FIELD GOAL GOOD.

3rd quarter

Clemson goes 3 & out to start the second half.

7th drive, 13:51 FSU 22, 10-6 FSU lead.

1st & 10, 212 I form vs 4-3 C1 man, PA deep post to Whitfield, Tank obstructed his view of the ball, incomplete...2nd & 10, 113 Shotgun vs Nickel LB bullets, BB flushes Maguire and whiffs on the sack, BJ chases and brings him down, loss of 3...

Nov 11, 2015 18:52.gif

3rd & 13, 6 Tigers standing on the LOS and the crowd force delay of game...3rd & 18, 113 Shotgun vs Dime of Doom, power run, LBs bullet but BB was looking backwards at the snap, he whiffs on the tackle, Cook his the edge before dragged down just short by Green, gain of 16, PUNT.

Pat yourselves on the back for contributing to that 3 & out, since without the delay of game Cook picks up that first down. Boulware is still not having his best game to put it mildly but Cook is an elite back and will make anyone look slow.

Deon Cain had himself quite the drive. A sliding catch, ferocious crack block on Ramsey(!) and then the long touchdown. Watson's scrambling again moves the chains before the perfectly timed tunnel screen to Cain. Untouched, Tigers in the lead, and the crowd gets even wilder.

8th drive, 9:54, FSU 30, 13-10 Clemson lead.

FALSE START, 1st & 15, 212 Shotgun split vs 4-3, 2 man under, Blanks reads the dump off to the flat and drops a pick 6, incomplete...2nd & 15, 113 Shotgun vs 4-3 C3 Sky, quick slant complete, gain of 9...3rd & 6, 5 wide empty vs Dime of Doom, we show blitz and back out into C1 Man, Maguire flushed right and finds Whitfield on the sideline in a tight window on the scramble drill, gain of 15...

1st & 10, 5 wide empty vs Nickel Man C0, pressure forces Maguire to throw a prayer up but Mack can't turn and find the underthrown ball, gain of 18...

1st & 10, 122 bunch (FSU has been in this look all day) vs 4-3 Over, FS and SAM fire from opposite ends, trap run met by a wall of Tigers at the LOS, no gain...2nd & 10, 212 I form vs 4-3, quick pitch before we are set, nobody sets the edge and Cook rounds the corner for 9...3rd & 1, 221 I formation vs 5-3 heavy front, blast left, Cook is absolutely swarmed behind the line, Pagano and Wilkins pushed the entire left side back and the outside blitz came around sandwiched Cook, loss of 1...FIELD GOAL GOOD.

Mack gave up points on the wheel route but an underthrown ball vs man coverage is always tough for a defender. Phenomenal effort by the DL to buckle down on 3rd, but we showed vulnerability on the quick sweep before we were set. Tempo shouldn't be a problem for this defense considering the offense they face in practice all year. Either we are late with our signals or they take too long to communicate. Watch for opponents to try and exploit this until we figure it out.

3 & out from the Clemson offense, special teams rears its ugly head and an awful punt gives FSU great field position.

9th drive, 5:20, FSU 49, 13-13 tie.

1st & 10, 212 I form vs 4-3 FS fire, counter, Green takes out the FB with his blitz, BB and Shaq wrestle Cook down for no gain...2nd & 10, 113 Shotgun vs Nickel Man C1, quick out complete for a gain of 5, Clemson has been allowing short passes but tackling quickly for the most part...3rd & 5, 113 Shotgun vs Dime of Doom LB fire, coverage bust, Tank didn't motion with his man and he ran out to the flat wide open, gain of 7...

1st & 10, 122 Ace bunch vs 4-3 under SAM fire, IZ, Wilkins blows it up and flips Cook for no gain, amazing play by Wilkins otherwise Cook runs free up the A gap, no gain...

Nad man.gif

FALSE START, DELAY OF GAME, 2nd & 20, 122 Shotgun vs 4-3 Over, Shaq drops into coverage, Rudolph curls behind BB and Shaq but can't hang on, incomplete...3rd & 20, 5 wide empty vs Dime of Doom, showing C0 LB fire/bullets, BB and Wilkins drops at snap, quick slant, Wilkins DROPS THE HAMMER DEAR GOD THIS IS A WAR DADDY, gain of 8, PUNT.

A bust gave them a first down and would've put them in field goal range if not for the back to back penalties from CROWD NOISE. Death Valley kept 3 points off the board here. Christian Wilkins is the next Grady Jarrett, but with more upside.

4th quarter

A couple of quick first downs thanks to Watson's legs aren't enough to get into field goal range, and we punt from the FSU 45.

10th drive, 14:16, FSU 13, 13-13 tie.

1st & 10, 112 Shotgun vs 4-3 BCB blitz in front of C3 Sky, Rudolph gets behind the linebackers, gain of 11...

1st & 10, 113 Shotgun vs Nickel 2 man under, Maguire hits a comeback route, gain of 4...2nd & 6, 122 Ace bunch vs Nickel, quick pitch to strong side, defense wasn't ready again, Whitfield rounds the corner for a gain of 10...

1st & 10, 212 Shotgun split vs 4-3 C2 man under, Maguire checks to FB in the flat who is gobbled up immediately, gain of 1...2nd & 9, 122 Ace bunch vs 4-3, quick toss left, Mack sets the edge but Cook cuts back (amazing burst) and is dragged down in a desperation tackle, gain of 13...

1st & 10, 113 Shotgun vs 4-3 C1 Robber, quick out to boundary overthrown, incomplete...2nd & 10, 113 Shotgun vs Nickel BB bullet, ball tipped by Austin Bryant high into the air but nobody is there to collect it, incomplete...3rd & 10, 104 Shotgun vs Dime of Doom C2 Man, BJ spies and BB green dog blitzes when Cook stays to protect, BB hits Maguire and forces the incompletion, PUNT.

This is one of only a couple times FSU was able to truly sustain a drive with 3 first downs, but we clamped down and force 3 straight incompletions with consistent pressure.

Watson's mobility and ability to create were on full display, probably more so than at any point in his career. Whether he moved in the pocket to throw or scramble, he was deadly. It's clear he trusts his knee now. We bog down after a jet sweep is blown up. FIELD GOAL GOOD.

11th drive, 7:14, Clemson 49, 16-13 Clemson lead.

1st & 10, 113 Shotgun vs Nickel C1 man, PA deep post, Tank and Van Smith were there, overthrown, incomplete...2nd & 10, 113 Shotgun vs Nickel C1 robber, Maguire hits Whitfield on the slant but missed Cook in the flat for a huge gain since BJ was nowhere near him, gain of 9...3rd& 1, 113 Ace vs Nickel, tempo and quick pitch caught us completely unaware again, BJ knives through blockers to trip Cook short of the first down, lucky there...4th & 1, 221 Ace bunch vs 5-3 heavy, pitch to strong side, Shaq fights off his block and, forces Cook inside, and turns him before BB rushes into the hole and throws his entire body into Cook, spinning him backwards for no gain, TURNOVER ON DOWNS.

Everyone knew which play FSU would run, but we had yet to stop it. Shaq makes this play by 1) rerouting Cook inside and 2) turning him which allowed Boulware's momentum to overpower Cook's. Ultimately the deciding stop in the game, and it's only appropriate Boulware was there to salvage his slow start.

Watson leads the Clemson offense with the same dazzling efficiency he had for the entire second half before Gallman slams the door in their faces with his touchdown. It was the loudest moment in recent Death Valley history, and ALEX CRIED ACTUAL TEARS. Shoutout to Charone Peake, you could tell how much he wanted it on his two 3rd down conversions and celebration when Gallman scored.

On the first play after the following kickoff, Boulware strips Rudolph to end the game, his efforts on the final two defensive plays making up for his early play -- a perfect metaphor for how the entire Clemson team began and later finished the game.

Defensive Summary

Two weeks in a row now in which Clemson gave up a huge run early, although this time it is at least more understandable since Cook is the best back in the country. Poor linebacker and safety run fits will kill you vs a good back, much less a great one. We made an adjustment in which we brought Green down in run support (since we are a 1-gap defense which requires a safety in run support anyway, we just brought him down into robber looks more often as opposed to a 2 high safety look). The linebackers picked up their game later on in the half, and with the DL and especially the secondary playing lockdown defense that was enough.

In all, it's hard to complain with much outside of the first few Cook runs and the tempo sweeps. We won't face Cook again and the speed sweeps are correctible. One touchdown all day, not to mention none in the final 59:15 is outstanding defense by the only metric that matters: points.

The road to the playoff is smooth from here, but like Dabo said we can't text and drive, we have to keep both hands on the wheel.

Player Grades

Game Ball: Christian Wilkins

All-American: Death Valley

All-ACC: Wilkins, Mack, Lawson

Honorable Mention: Blanks, Tankersly, Dodd

Solid: BB, BJ, Kearse, Green, entire DT rotation besides Wilkins

Less than solid: No touchdowns in 59 minutes, we can't call anyone less than solid. Boulware redeemed himself in the clutch.

Past game balls: Pagano (Wofford), Boulware (ASU, Louisville), Alexander (ND), O'Daniel (GT), Lawson (BC, Miami), BJ Goodson (NC State)