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Clemson - NC State: Failed Blitz Examination

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Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

This was originally going to go into the defensive film review Alex and I did, but for whatever reason diagramming the play slipped my mind. Here we're going to look into a blitz that Venables called consistently last Saturday vs NC State as well as why the blitz did not work in this particular game. (All game images via tigerray/ESPN)

Let's start with the look NC State is in, trips formation to the field. Clemson is aligned in the DOD, with three players on the strong side showing blitz. What happens instead is the linebacker to the weak side blitzes the edge, the defensive line slants strong, and Tankersly blitzes from the boundary side corner spot.

The blitz works, the blitz absolutely should have ended in a sack. The defensive line isn't able to make a ton happen, but NC State's tackle follows Dodd inside, Boulware get picked up by the running back, and Tank has a free shot on the quarterback. Tank takes a poor angle and Brissett shakes him off, Dodd is there to force Brissett to step up and Boulware should have had the tackle. Instead the running back makes a smart choice, Brissett sees him and a broken play winds up in a sizable gain.

Now let's look at the coverage, which appears to be straight man cover one. To the field side we can see TJ Green rotate down to play man coverage on the single receiver, who would have been able to pick up a few yards but not much. Jadar Johnson is rotating over to be the deep middle player. Mac is back backpedaling, reading the quarterbacks eyes before turning and running with the outermost receiver man to man. Blanks immediately flips his eyes to the number two receiver, the middle receiver to the trips side and runs with him man. This blitz in a vacuum is not weak versus short throws to number two, but because of how far inside Blanks is aligned to feign the blitz it is the biggest inherent weakness. Ben Boulware turns to run with the number three receiver, walling him off to the inside to try to deny Brissett an easy hot route. Kearse appears to be responsible for running down the running back should he release into a route, with the hope that versus the blitz the back stays in to pass and Kearse is free to fly around and "find work".

This play was an example of how you can do everything right but opponent talent and bad luck can doom you. Venables and co were right, this blitz was able to beat State's coverage scheme. The defensive backfield was able to give good enough coverage. But because the running back made a smart play, realizing he was beaten on the block and going out for a pass, and because Brissett is unkillable State was able to get a nice gain on third and eight. You can't blame Kearse for not continuing to man cover a back who was clearly blocking. The scheme itself is diagramed below

(Orange is defense, blue is offense. Lines with arrows are blitzers, dotted lines are man coverage, the star with no line at the top is to show that Jadar is roaming)

Almost every single time State aligned in trips to the field side Clemson called the blitz. Why trips to the field? It meant that the single receiver had less space to work before the safety is on top of him. Clemson replied by blitzing the boundary side corner and the DL if in nickel, and the boundary corner and linebacker if in dime of doom. By blitzing the boundary corner there is less space for the safety to have to go to catch up to the receiver on the single side. Meanwhile playing man coverage to the trips side is just man coverage, and having Mac helps erase most teams outermost receiver. A free safety roaming deep keeps the play relative safe, the safety is there to make the tackle if someone gets burnt. The play call in theory is brilliant, consistently generating pressure over the course of the night. In fact, when this play was called NC State got gains of eight, three, zero, two, three... sixty six yards because Boulware got shown up, which isn't the play calls fault. Your gaps are your gaps, Boulware. The reason why the blitz rarely ended in sacks is that Brissett is a massive man, and nearly impossible for anyone to tackle, much less for sub 200 pound corner. Getting Tank unblocked shots at the quarterback is a testament to coaching, against a lot of other teams that is a sack. This play call was an example of the smart situational coaching that helps set Venables apart from other defensive coordinators