For this edition of Play of the Week we are going to look at a play action pass Clemson ran over and over down the stretch vs North Carolina in the ACC Championship game. On a day where Clemson ran the hell out of the ball (56 carries) using play action to open up the downfield passing game made sense. Particularly when Gallman is averaging 6.7 yards per carry. He finished the day with 187 rushing yards, and added 68 receiving yards to the tally. Thank god Gallman got healthy while resting vs Wake, he was needed. (As usual game images/gifs via ESPN/Youtube user Tigerray unless otherwise noted)
Clemson ran this play out of 11 personnel, with Leggett either aligned on the same side as Gallman or in the backfield.
He does this because he is required to pass block the end to the running backs side as part of the blocking scheme. This allows the tackle and guard to that side to slide over a gap. This serves to allow the guard away from the running back to pull. It looks like this diagramed.
What Clemson is doing here is running a scheme based on slide protection, essentially.
In essence in standard slide protection every lineman is responsible for a gap to their right or left, and the running back slams into the c gap left unblocked by one tackle. What Clemson has done is take that and change up the assignments, as well as adding a seventh blocker. To the left side Mitch Hyatt and Wayne Gallman both pretty much just run slide, with Hyatt taking the b gap and Gallman taking the c gap. Where things start to change is at left guard, where Eric Mac Lain is not part of the slide protection. In his place Guillermo will take the left a gap. Crowder comes to the right a gap to cover for Guillermo, and Gore comes to the right b gap to cover for Crowder. Taking the right C gap is Leggett. Mac Lain, not required to cover any gaps, is free to pull and serve as a lead blocker. The scheme plays to our lineman's individual strengths. Gore, Crowder and Guillermo get to down block. Hyatt is not asked to be drive anyone off the ball, allowing him to use his athleticism and technique to basically just not get run over. Mac Lain, our more athletic guard, is free to use his ability to pull.
This is a down and distance (2nd and 9) where Clemson is very likely to run the ball. The fact Clemson ran the hell out of the ball serves to set this play up as well. The first two threats the defense see are a Gallman carry, followed by a Watson keeper. The two would combine for 52 carries and 314 yards. That is absurd. Then the design of the pass protection scheme adds wrinkles that should serve to confuse defenders. Defensive coaches vary on which to read first, but linebackers are taught to read guards and backs to see where the ball is going. What the NC LB's see is a guard down blocking (you can see 10 step up as if to fill for a run) a guard pulling (12 basically winds up chopping his feet in place after a few shuffle steps to fill the gap against a run that never came) and the running back coming downhill. One or both linebackers will have almost certainly yelled "pull pull pull" loudly enough to be confuse a lot of the defense. Good defense requires communication not only before, but during the play. This communication translates into a lot of monosyllabic yelling. The fundamentals of the linebacker are being used against the defense. Having Leggett pass block is similarly devious. An awful lot of defensive coverages teach their force players to look at the tight end for a run/pass read. You can see North Carolina's nickel's eyes are glued to Leggett before the snap, seeing him blocking froze the outside hook/curl defender for several seconds.
Let's look at the routes now. Clemson is running a three man route concept as old as football. Seriously, the passing concept is basically the same as one taken from Knute Rockne's playbook.
Now let's take a look at how Clemson is going to run it.
First, there is the deep outside threat, provided by Trevion Thompson. He is Watson's first read on the play. If the player responsible for covering him/the deep outside area of the field is suckered by the play action he should be open for a big play. If not the deep outside player should be running far enough downfield to open up space for the deep out, run by Ray Ray McCloud. He is likely a shared responsibility between the safety and the nickel. The safety is responsible for playing him deep. The nickel has to get deep enough to make Watson think twice about throwing it in his direction. The nickel is slowed down significantly by his read of Leggett, serving to open McCloud up. Finally Deon Cain is coming across the formation, hoping to get behind the linebackers (who will naturally create space as they come up to play the run) but in front of the deep safety. He is Watson's option if the defense over rotates towards the right. Finally if everyone is covered Watson is free to just keep the ball and run it. He has a lead blocker and every route is at least eight yards downfield. To properly cover them all the defense almost has to let Watson get a four or five yard gain or someone in orange has to make a mistake. In this case Trevion Thompson drops what should have been an easy catch. Clemson returned to this play several times, especially in the second half. It's a well designed play that plays to an awful lot of Clemson's offensive strengths and confuses opposing defenders.