Saturday provides an incremental step up in competition before our toughest three game stretch, beginning next Thursday in Louisville. In Appalachian State's spread, we face an opponent on the opposite end of the offensive spectrum from Wofford's wingbone. Similarly to Clemson, App State prefers to spread the field and attack a defense both horizontally and vertically.
First, I'll outline the only problem I anticipate for the Clemson offense. Like last week, Clemson faces a 3-4 base defense but will spend a large amount of the day against 5 or 6 defensive back sets thanks to Clemson's elite passing capabilities. Unlike last week, App State offers a potential challenge to the Clemson offense through its use of even fronts -- their defensive linemen line up directly over the opponent's offensive linemen more often than not.
Not to beat a dead horse, but this may present huge problems for Ryan Norton. Hopefully we will see plenty of Jay Guillermo who is more likely to handle a nose guard adequately. Were I to attack Clemson's offense, putting a nose on Norton is about all I could do to have any hope to slow Clemson with App State's uninspiring defensive personnel. Keep an eye on our centers vs their 0 tech nose guard -- hopefully it will not provide a blueprint for opponents to slow our offense throughout the year.
The opponent's offense is once again my focus in this column. Last week App State bulldozed an overmatched opponent in Howard, showing a variety of outside zone, stretch, misdirection, and option concepts. I saw plenty of pistol formation, often with an H-back or additional running back to form a diamond formation.
Much of App State's offense is based upon misdirection, outside zone (pay attention to how well Kevin Dodd sets the edge at SDE), and play action to get receivers open -- their QB does not appear to have the arm strength or accuracy to throw receivers open on his own. They like to roll out their quarterback and force an underneath linebacker to stay in coverage, or bail to stop the potential scramble -- allowing a simple read for easy yards through the air or on the ground. We didn't get the chance to see Clemson's pass rush last week vs Wofford's wingbone, but App State provides an opportunity to see how far our pass rush regressed without Vic Beasley and company.
Here App State lines up in the diamond in a goal-to-go situation. This is a read for the quarterback all the way, evidenced by the OL run blocking.
The QB sees the linebackers crashing and pulls from the tailback. He then has a second and third option: run it himself or throw to the H back in the right flat.
This is a short yardage play I expect to see Saturday since loading the backfield makes it difficult for the defense to account for so many players coming out of the backfield.
A potential Clemson weakness Kraken pointed out in his Wofford film review is how Clemson defends a tight end on the boundary side of the field; we find out this week since App State utilizes a tight end on the weak side fairly often. Ben Boulware is a wrecking ball at weak side linebacker, and is more than adept against the run and on bullet or fire blitzes. His weakness is in pass coverage, and a tight end route on his side of the field may prove problematic.
Here App State puts strength (TE and H back) to the boundary side of the field and runs a blast through the C gap.
Howard had men in position to make the play, but the running back spun off two tacklers and then outraced the remaining defenders to the endzone. Notice that even in 3rd & 1, App State prefers to run outside.
I feel App State is a much greater threat on the ground with its athletic QB than through the air, but our secondary still faces a tougher test this week against better athletes and frequent play action passing. I am more interested to see how we fare in containing the quarterback run in anticipation of Louisville's Lamar Jackson next week.
In summary, play close attention to Norton/Guillermo vs a true nose, Clemson's pass rush/containment, and our defense vs a tight end in the boundary. Next week we play Louisville, which means I can get my hands on some decent film and provide much more detail.