Fans do not enjoy back to back cupcakes to begin a season, particularly in early September at noon. But the 2015 Clemson Tigers lack depth at so many crucial positions, we are fortunate to have two warm-ups before a tough game in Louisville. Wofford provides the added bonus of emphasis on the option before we face Georgia Tech in a month.
We are familiar with Wofford since we played them only four years ago and Mike Ayers still leads their program. They run an option offense similar to Georgia Tech, but Wofford's "wingbone" involves more shotgun formations than Tech's spread triple option. You will see the triple option out of shotgun, two back sets -- along with plenty of QB draws. Wofford is weak through the air even by FCS standards; you won't see much passing aside from a quick tunnel screen or a rare downfield prayer. To try and throw against Clemson's secondary is folly, but attacking Clemson's rebuilt front on the ground is a valid concern. The game within the game here is Clemson's gutted front 7 vs a tricky running team which forces opponents to play assignment football each play.
On defense, Wofford will show multiple sets based on Clemson's offensive personnel, but there is little Wofford can do to present a challenge to the Clemson offense. Their base set is a 3-4 but we will likely face 5 and 6 defensive back sets since we are such a dangerous passing (and presumably poor running) team. How Wofford chooses to attack Clemson's offense matters little; they cannot match up vs our receivers and I can't see them risking many blitzes, especially since Watson attacked blitzes so well last year. Wofford's best chance to disrupt our offense is to run line stunts versus our suspect and inexperienced offensive line. Even our line should handle Wofford's front well enough based on talent alone.
With any option play, the key is to shut down the dive. If Wofford can eat away with the low-risk dive, they will sustain drives and frustrate 85,000 people all the way to the endzone. Our defense must take away the inside run and force the QB to either: keep the ball and get wrecked, or try the high-risk pitch outside where outside leverage by the cornerback should force the halfback inside towards the bulk of the defense. I compiled two basic plays Wofford runs well, and show why they are successful.
The play above is a triple option power from a two back spread formation. The right guard pulls around the center to the left (power) and the running back follows him through the A gap -- with or without the ball. The backside defensive end is unblocked, and the QB either gives to the dive or pulls the ball before he carries out his run to the left side depending on the DE's reaction.
The backside DE (circled) did not crash down towards the dive; he sat and defended the threat of the QB running to his side. Since the DE did not crash, the QB made the correct read and gave the ball to the dive back, who followed the pulling guard up the middle for 10 yards. The twist here is the QB and pitch man did not run right to attack the unblocked defender -- they counter to the left where the pulling guard created a numbers advantage to the left.
I expect Wofford to run this play 10+ times on Saturday. Implementing power concepts into option plays is a good twist, but the counter motion by the QB and pitch man are an added wrinkle which forces defenses to play assignment football or find itself at a numerical disadvantage. Against an athletically superior team in Clemson, Wofford's goal is to create advantages through these concepts and hope Clemson misses an assignment.
I also want to highlight a simple play Wofford turned into a 92 yard touchdown with less than a minute before halftime. Lining up in the 2 back shotgun with a tight end, Wofford ran an inside zone read triple option with an arc block from the tight end. At the snap, the offensive line steps to the left to initiate the zone block, and the tight end (86) arcs from the left to the right, bypassing the unblocked read defender to lead the potential QB keep and subsequent pitch to the right side.
The QB reads the unblocked defender (circled) to determine whether to give or keep. Again, he sat and forced the QB to give to the dive back (22).
You can already see how well the offensive line did its job. The left side of the line moved the Tech linemen to the outside, and the center reached a linebacker unchecked thanks to a double team on the 1 tech DT by the right guard and tackle. The line created a huge running lane in no time, while the second and third levels of the defense followed the arc motion of the tight end and threat of QB keep/pitch to the right side.
The running back has yet to cross the line of scrimmage but is already in a race to the endzone. The line created an inside running lane with effective zone blocking, and the arc motion/option threat pulled the back of the defense off of their assignments -- leaving the entire middle of the field open.
To see Wofford execute zone blocking so effectively should give pause to those who expect a dominant performance from the Clemson defense on Saturday -- especially when complemented with the option. I do not expect Wofford to seriously threaten Clemson for many obvious reasons, and I doubt their line will have similar success against our line (even in rebuilding mode it is far more talented than Georgia Tech's). Even without similar offensive line success against Clemson, Tech's arc motion bust showed how crucial it is for our entire defense to ignore the motion and sweeps -- for each man to hold to his assignment.