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Clemson v. Oklahoma: Key Match-Ups - Goodson & Boulware v. Perine & Mixon

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In this third installment of the Key Match-Ups, we're going to look at more of a unit versus unit battle, with out linebackers against their running backs.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

This is the third article in which I highlight a particular one on one  match-up that I think will be pivotal in our Orange Bowl victory. This one is a little different since it’s a two on two match-up. Obviously, our defensive line and OU’s offensive line will have a lot to say about the success of the Sooner’s run game. However, I think Goodson and Boulware’s play at the linebacker position will be the difference between us keeping Perine and Mixon in check and us letting them run wild. Like the previous two articles, I’ll start by showing what these players have done this season, how they are utilized in their respective schemes, and then make a projection on how things will play out.

Stats

Rushing



Receiving


Car

Yds

Yds/Car

TD

Rec

Yds

TD

Samaje Perine

211

1291

6.1

15

13

84

1

Joe Mixon

110

749

6.8

7

25

345

4

Wayne Gallman

243

1332

5.5

10

18

152

1

I have included Gallman’s numbers as a measuring stick for us Clemson fans. Before you give me grief over the fact that Clemson played one more game than Oklahoma, remember that Gallman sat out the Wake Forest game, so they both played in twelve games.

Samaje Perine’s 1291 yards are good enough for 24th in the country in terms of total yardage, behind our own Wayne Gallman who comes in at 21st. Perine’s 107.6 yds/game is good enough for 25th in the country, again behind Gallman. His 6.1 yds/carry average is very respectable. Perine’s best game was against Texas Tech when he carried the ball 23 times for 201 yards, a whopping 8.7yds/car average, for four TDs. And while this is a new year, let’s not forget that last year Perine set the FBS record for rushing yards in a game with 427 yards against Kansas.

Joe Mixon has been a strong second back for Oklahoma. As I mentioned in the Green v. Mayfield article, he has almost the same number of carries as Baker Mayfield. While he and Mayfield may have a similar number of carries, Mixon has done much more with his opportunities–his 6.8 yds/car puts him in a tie for 10th best average in the country. Both of these backs are young, Perine is a sophomore and Mixon is a freshman, both are big bruisers, Perine is 237lbs and Mixon is 217lbs, and they are both hard to bring down.

Clemson will try to counter with the one-two punch of B.J. Goodson and Ben Boulware. These two linebackers have started every game of the season for the Tigers and, seemingly, played every meaningful snap. Goodson leads the team in total tackles with 91 and Boulware is third with 71. Goodson is second on the team with 46 solo tackles, Boulware is third with 39. Goodson is third in tackles for loss with 14 (only behind our two DEs, Shaq and Dodd), Boulware is fourth with 7. Goodson is third in sacks with 5.5 (again, only behind Shaq and Dodd), Boulware is tied for fourth with 2.5, but also leads the team with 10 QB hurries. Both Goodson and Boulware had an interception this year. Despite the crap I and many others have given them about their coverage abilities, Goodson has 3 PBUs and 4 PDs. Boulware has 6 PBUs and 7 PDs. Goodson has recovered 2 fumbles and caused 1, while Boulware has only recovered 1 but caused 3. One of my favorite memories of these two from this past season was Boulware’s strip and Goodson’s recovery of the fumble at the end of the FSU game.

Place in the System

As I stated in a previous article, OU likes to run the ball a little more than Clemson does. On one hand, that’s surprising given that they’re supposed to run a version of the Air Raid offense and we’re supposed to run a version of the Smash-Mouth Spread. On the other hand, as effective as Perine and Mixon have been, I’m surprised they don’t run it even more.

Oklahoma will generally run one of two base looks. At times, they will line up with the same basic look that Clemson usually operates out of: they’ll have one back, three wideouts, and what we call the H-back. The H-back can either be split out as another wide receiver, on the end of the line like a traditional TE, or just back of the OT. Mayfield will either be in the pistol with the RB lined up deep or in a traditional shotgun formation. This should all look real familiar to Clemson fans.

OUOneBack

Here is OU’s one back look with Mayfield in the pistol in front of Perine. Dimitri Flowers, #36, is in at H-back, lined up off the OT’s hip. (All screenshots and video of Oklahoma taken from stonecoldsooner's YouTube channel.)

The other look OU will come out with is a two back look. At times, they simply go into a traditional shotgun formation and bring the H-back to the other side of Mayfield to achieve this look. More often, they will take the H-back out of the game and have Perine and Mixon both back with Mayfield. This is a scary look for our front seven.

OUTwoBack

Here you have Perine to the left of Mayfield and Perine to the right. On the next play, OU stayed in the same formation, but subbed out Mixon for TE Connor Knight.

Because both Perine and Mixon bring a special mix of size and speed, OU can do a lot of things in their run game. They run the read option enough that defenses can’t afford to simply collapse on the handoff for fear of Mayfield pulling the ball. However, the two backs are doing the vast majority of the work in the Oklahoma running game. They will run traditional power plays between the tackles. They can run power from either lineup, pulling a guard and having either the H-back or the second RB leading the way, though it seems they tend to run these types of plays out of the single back look. Both Perine and Mixon are too big to be taken down by defensive linemen just sticking an arm out. They will run right through those arm tackles, potentially taking the arm with them. This puts a lot of pressure on opposing linebackers to not only fill their gaps, but to fill their gaps with authority, lest they too be road kill.

The pulling guard is supposed to kick out the DE, but trips on the way. The guard gets in the DE's way enough to take him out of the play, one LB is blocked by an OL, and the H-back takes out the other LB. Perine is in the secondary untouched.

Oklahoma runs the same play, again to the field side. The difference between the six yard gain before and the short loss here is that TT’s two backers meet the pulling guard and H-back with some force, stacking up the run behind the line.

If that were all we had to worry about, we’d probably be okay. However, we can’t just send Boulware and Goodson up into the gaps because then OU will simply run around us. They love running off tackle, getting around the end of the box. Again, they will run these plays out of either formation, though this one is especially tricky with both Perine and Mixon in the game. On these plays, Mayfield will run the read option look, giving the ball to one of the backs while the other runs ahead as a lead blocker. The line will usually slant toward the direction the run is going, giving the back multiple cut-back options.

On this play, Perine is to the top of the screen and Mixon is below. The handoff goes to Perine and Mixon sprints to the outside, hoping to seal the edge. Perine can either follow him to the edge or, if he sees a lane, cut back against the grain. Because the DE forces the OT into the backfield, Perine is forced to cut back for a short gain. Notice that at the snap, both LBs sprint down the line and it is the backside LB that ends up making the tackle, holding Perine to a short gain.

On the very next play, OU lines up in the same formation and again runs it to the field side. This time, Mixon gets the hand off and Perine is the lead blocker (watch him put that NB on his backside). It looks like Mixon will get the corner, but, again, an OL in the backfield causes him to cut back. This time, the LBs may have over-pursued a little, got tangled up with some blockers, and were not there to fill the cut-back lanes.

At this point you might be wondering why I didn’t write an article about our defensive line versus the OU backs. It would surely be a worthy article if anyone wants to write it. But, I didn’t because if you think I don’t know much about CBs, WRs, QBs, RBs, and LBs, you should hear me talk about linemen. I don’t know much about football, even less about offensive line play. Plus, I expect our defensive line to be solid. Lawson and Dodd have provided consistent pressure off the edges and held up well in run defense. Our DT rotation has been solid with individuals taking turns at dominating. I trust they will make their share of plays. As has been the case all year, though, we are good at grinding things out, but then we allow a big play to gash us quickly. If those big plays are going to occur, it’ll either be because of Mayfield scrambling, as I talked about in the previous article, or because our LBs didn’t fill a gap and let these big backs loose in the secondary. Unfortunately, there is precedent.

Everybody remembers how frustrating the Syracuse game was. Right after the Bryant fumble, which I refuse to discuss, Syracuse starts their drive at the 28. We’re lined up in our base defense with Blanks at Sam. Syracuse is in a two back, shotgun look. At the snap, the backs cross, and Mahoney hands the ball off. While this isn’t exactly the kind of look OU will give us, and Mahoney was more of a threat to run than Mayfield is likely to be, it’s troubling how much the motion and the zone read threw us off. Goodson and Boulware both move to their left, following the QB. They double teamed the DT and blocked out Shaq. Goodson should’ve been crashing that gap to meet the back in the hole. Instead, he’s cha-cha shuffling away from the play.

All still images and videos of Clemson games taken from tigerray's YouTube channel.

Goodson, for the most part, has been reliable. Boulware has more often been the boom or bust player. While he appears to be calmly playing his assignment in the previous clip, Boulware is not known for standing around waiting for the play to come to him. He gets downhill and looks to hit someone, anyone. That type of aggression is what has endeared him to so much of the fan base. When it’s directed toward his assignment, it’s what makes him such a valuable part of the defense. However, there have been plenty of times this year when Boulware’s aggression has been misdirected. If Goodson makes a mistake, it’s often like the play above where he doesn’t get to his gap in time. If Boulware makes a mistake, it’s often like the play below, where he just goes flying by the play at full speed, leaving room for players to run.

Venables has used our LBs very aggressively all year. He has blitzed Goodson and Boulware on passing downs, wreaking havoc. He has also expected them to crash the line against the run. Because of Venables confidence in our secondary, he has often had Goodson, Boulware, Blanks, Kearse, and Green all in the box. Goodson and Boulware, though, are like the entry team of a SWAT team. The line busts open the door, but the linebackers are the ones rushing through to take on the bad guys. They are expected to be aggressive, but they have to also be aware of what’s going on so they don’t leave the rest of the team open to attack.

If it feels like I’ve been hard on the guys, I have. They have been up and down this year, Boulware especially. Their busts have tormented me. But, when they’ve done their jobs, they’ve made some of the most memorable plays of the year. Enjoy.

Projection

I would assume that OU will come out favoring the run to start the game. Shepard is a good wide receiver, but Perine is the key to Oklahoma’s offense. In the Texas loss, he only ran the ball 10 times for 36 yards. After that game, Oklahoma replaced their two offensive tackles, and their running game has been strong and steady since. Assuming they stay in character, Perine will get the bulk of the carries and they will primarily take aim at the B and C gaps, inside and outside the tackles. Knowing that our DTs are strong, I would expect them to attack the edges, hoping that their tackles can keep Lawson and Dodd out of the backfield. Though I hope I’m wrong, I have visions of Boulware throwing himself into the line on one of these stretch plays, leaving half the field open for a cut-back move and an easy score. If I were OU, I’d probably encourage Mayfield to keep it on the read-option a few more times than usual as well, to see if our linebackers can be fooled. Knowing that we’ll likely be crashing the line hard, faking the handoff on a power play should suck the linebackers in, giving Mayfield room to run if he can clear the line.

How will Venables counter? I assume we’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing, playing downhill and blowing things up in the backfield. I think Dalvin Cook was easily the best back we’ve played this year, but OU feels like a tougher match-up to me. Goodson and Boulware have to be smart, stay in their lanes, but also very aggressive. I believe our DEs will cause plays to break down. When they do, the difference between a tackle for loss and a big gain will likely be whether or not Goodson and Boulware are where they’re supposed to be. If they’re smart and aggressive, we can stop this run game. That being said, the mix of speed and athleticism from both Perine and Mixon is intimidating. Tackling well, or at least holding them up until the cavalry comes charging in, is imperative. Knowing that Shaq and Boulware have both been dealing with shoulder pain troubles me. Tackling these backs is difficult enough; trying to do it with only one good arm is going to be impossible.

While this article has been completely focused on the running game, we all know how susceptible our defense is to the wheel route. Perine and Mixon aren’t big parts of the OU passing game, but knowing that Goodson and Boulware have struggled in coverage, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them try to get the backs out in the flats or up the sidelines against these guys. Perine and Mixon will have a definite advantage in this phase of the game. I don’t know what we can do to prepare for it at this point except pray.

If I don’t sound super optimistic, it’s because I think this match-up is the one were Oklahoma can really hurt us. Perine and Mixon are both solid backs. OU’s run game isn’t overly complicated, but it’s effective. Combining their pace of play with the bruising that these backs hand out makes them tough to stop. Goodson and Boulware have been good, but inconsistent this year. We need them to have their best game of the year. I suspect Perine will go for 150yds, Mixon for another 80, and that they will hit at least one big passing play on a wheel route. The designed runs with Perine and Mixon and Mayfield scrambling will likely be what keeps this game close. I still believe we win the game, but we might lose this battle.