On a day that saw Clemson both sloppy (three fumbles) and unlucky (not recovering any of said fumbles) the Tigers were still able to win. A lions portion of the credit for that can be assigned to one player, Deshaun Watson, ACC Player of the Year and Heisman contender. Deshaun notched just shy of four hundred total yards on the day, contributing four of the teams five total touchdowns. On a day where Gallman looked banged up Watson was able to lead the team in total carries and score three rushing touchdowns. We are going to look at how each of Watson's touchdowns for the day were scored. (As usual, all images unless otherwise noted are from ESPN/Youtube user Tigerray)
The first touchdown of the day was set up by a long drive featuring a long run by Gallman and a beautifully run slant by Deon Cain.
With a tight end in the backfield Clemson is in a position to run power, counter or any variety of inside zone tags to run the ball for a first down. South Carolina has only six men in the box, however, due to the vertical threat that Clemson's receivers pose.
(apologies for gif choppiness, there's technical difficulties over here)
Clemson pulls Leggett and Guillermo while having Gallman lead blocks for Watson on QB power. That is, according to Clemson's roster, over eight hundred pounds worth of lead blocking. What makes this play special is the pure speed, as well as vision, Watson shows in seeing that the hole is filled by the safety and then outrunning the safety to the pylons. Credit to Deon Cain for fighting the corner to this side of the field off enough to keep him from making a touchdown saving tackle.
The next touchdown finds Clemson in 11 personnel 2 x 2. South Carolina is in a one high look, with the deep safety all the way out of frame.
South Carolina will drop into basic cover three from this look, with the nickel and box safety playing the flats while the linebackers take the hook zone. The deep safety takes the middle of the field and the corners are responsible for the outside thirds.
South Carolina's corner could not handle that responsibility. In fairness to that poor defensive back look at the ball he is tasked with catching. Not only did Watson drop the ball into Cain's hands in stride he did so throwing the dreaded back shoulder fade. There are quarterbacks in the NFL who can't make that throw. It took Cain getting a step of separation, sure, but Watson throws an accurate enough deep ball that a step is all you need. That is rare.
The third touchdown of the day finds Clemson in 11 personnel again, this time in trips to the tight end side. We didn't know it at the time, but this play - coming immediately after Scott's fumble was overturned - may have been the difference between a win and a loss. South Carolina is in a nickel look, with both safeties about fifteen yards back.
After the snap I see four options for Watson. First, there is the handoff to Gallman. Then there is the zone read keeper to Watson. This is ultimately what he chooses. After the zone read keeper is where things get special. Watson is a good enough and quick enough decision maker that he can afford to look at two passing options. If the linebackers vacate their zones to play the run he can throw a quick pass to Leggett up the seam. If the force defender crashes towards the ball Watson is free to throw a bubble screen. All of these passing options serve to in theory insure that no matter what the defense does Watson, and Clemson, can always be in the position to make someone wrong. Watson ultimately chooses the QB keeper, and I'm not sure if he chose to fake as if he was passing to fake the end out or if Leggett was actually his 2nd instead of 3rd read. You can see it here if you click the arrow next to the play. Regardless Watson was able to use his acceleration to burst around the defensive end and navigate his way 30 yards to the end zone. Touchdown.
The last touchdown of the day occurred with Clemson up only 28-25 with South Carolina. Both tight ends as well as the running back are split to the left. The receivers are in twins formation to the right. Doing this threatens to overload the left side of the defense with bodies quickly as well as using two receivers to threaten all the space to the wide side of the defense. Both of Clemson's receivers have one on one matchups here, had ScElliot felt like passing. Instead Clemson elects to run at the heart of the South Carolina defense, where nine men are in the box and and an incredible six are in the box to the right of the center. For God's sake even the defensive tackle to the weak side is nearly heads up on the center.
Clemson elects, willingly, to run the ball at that many Cocks.
Clemson is running buck sweep here, with Leggett and Peake down blocking ferociously. This play does not happen without skill players willing to get their hands dirty. Even Gallman's block, while not the most impressive, served to keep the only defender in position to make a play from tackling Watson. Mac Lain and Crowder both pull. Mac Lain (78) is able to find work. Crowder (55) is too slow to get there from the backside and winds up mostly having pulled for show. Joe Gore (73) on the weak side goes up to the second level to seal off but doesn't touch anyone either. Hyatt absolutely destroys his man, washing him four yards out of the hole. Guillermo stands the nose tackle straight up before getting too high himself. They wind up leaning on each other as a result. When that much weight is being thrown at one gap (a gap blown wide open by your tackle) and a player like Watson is carrying the ball that is a touchdown every time.
I don't know if playing like this is sustainable for Watson. I doubt that over the season he could stand up to 21 carries per game. I am certain that, like so a the great players, he is capable of entirely taking over a game. In a sloppy game against a hated rival threatening to derail Clemson's national title hopes Watson played some of the best football of his life.