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2015 Clemson Football Season Preview: Offensive X's and O's

Mouth salivating. Hard to breathe. Chest pounding. Football is almost here and after thinking about what this offense can do, I am seven shades of hot and bothered. You're welcome for that potential imagery.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Where to Begin

This offense has insane potential. Watson is a stud. The running backs improved as 2014 moved along and we have 5 viable players at the position. The receivers are absolutely stacked with blue chippers everywhere. The line is...well they're present on the field but in performance that remains to be seen, they can't be any worse than last year (and if they are, holy S#!%).

As Kraken mentioned in his Defensive preview, Clemson faces 7 top 45 offenses from last season, so the 2015 offense may be asked to score and score in bunches to out boat race other teams. Hopefully, the first two games can allow for us to get some younger players in the game and also build cohesion before starting into the real meat of the schedule.

Basics of Clemson's Scheme

Clemson will typically employ 11 personnel, meaning that we have 1 running back and 1 tight end on the field. We will however, flex and place the tight end (denoted as the "3 man" in our scheme) all over the formation. The tight end sometimes will line up in the backfield in a H-Back position, other times the tight end will flex out to the slot. You can view all of our basic alignments here, and couple that with this article to know which receivers will man the 2, 5, and 9 man spots for the 2015.

Really, there's not many complicated things that this offense does. As we saw in the bowl game vs Oklahoma, at lot of our plays were extremely simple with screens, jet sweeps, and underneath throws ruling the day. Although, this was more likely due to the physical limitations of Cole Stoudt and not a true overview of our scheme, so take the bowl game with a grain of salt. Between the spring game with backups at QB and the bowl game with a limited QB, I'm having a tough time truly projecting the 2015 play calling of ScElliot. One thing I am confident of though, is that ScElliot will be running this show at a break neck pace, it'll be interesting to see the fluidity of the system with two heads doing the thinking. (Oh and we must be wary of Dabo Dabbing).

Running Game

Now, during films reviews, I often say things such as 'inside zone', 'outside zone', and 'read option'. Now, while I don't want to seem like I'm trying to insult people's intelligence but let's review some of the basic run plays that Clemson will run.

Inside Zone

The inside zone (as shown above) uses zone blocking concepts by the offensive line stepping all in one direction to get the defense flowing in one direction. The running back's initial aiming point will be the butt or outside shoulder of the frontside guard. The tight end will crack the backside defensive end (or try to.....). The goal of this play is that a crease or seam appears and the running back has the vision to hit it and get a nice gain.

Outside Zone

In the outside zone, the initial goal is simple to again flow the defense to one side and wait for running lanes to open up. In the outside zone, the aiming point is on the tackle instead of the guard. On some outside zones, you will see some fold blocks, similar to the one the LG and C execute above. The fold block is for when a player may not be able to reach their responsible man effectively thus the guard will come down onto the centers man and the center pulls to lead out on the Will. It must also be noted that the frontside tackle (or tight end) much reach the end on the play to seal off the edge. If the tackle cannot do this the play can bust quite poorly, unless the tackle can run the end way out to open the seem for the guard to lead on the Will.

Now both of these plays have variations that can be ran in the read option. In both plays, the backside defensive end is left unblocked and the quarterback reads the end. If the end crashed down the line of scrimmage to attack the running back, the quarterback should pull the ball and hit the seam. If the end stays at home to honor the QB, the running back should be given the ball.


The power running play is more of a downhill run. The frontside offensive linemen crash down, attempting to wall off the interior defenders and work up to the backside second level. The backside guard pulls frontside as well as the TE to take the uncovered frontside defenders. The TE in this play has to kickout the end whereas the guard will lead up on the MLB, but the roles can be reversed. Often times last year, our powers failed due to inability to block the frontside defensive end. Either our TE's failed to matchup physically or would miss entirely, or our backside guards were too slow to reach the frontside end. The ends would often crash quickly though with Cole in the game because of his inability to run, thus taking any sort of read of the end out of the game making his read easier.

Passing Game

Screen Game

This is one of our basic screen plays. It involves trips to one side with the running back strong to the formation. On the snap, the offensive line blocks downhill as if it is a running play, leaving the frontside defensive end unblocked. The intent is the running back flowing downhill to the ball holds the defensive end in place and takes him out of the play without sacrificing a blocker, as the frontside tackle needs to climb to the second level and seal off the Will. The most important guys on the play are the 3 and 5 man, they must get good leverage on their defenders and maintain contact without holding. Doing this in space with guys who....aren't necessarily good at blocking has yielded some poor results in the past. This is a play that we will run early and often in games to get the cylinders pumping.

Fake Screen Wheel

This is a play that we used to really burn people on back in the Sammy Watkins days. Hell, Syracuse was so scared of this play both Adam Humphries and Stanton Seckinger were running butt naked down the field and scored TD's. This play requires that the aforementioned screen play is highly successful and frustrating the defense by gaining solid yardage each time. As the snap, the general movements of the skills players seems the same as the 3 and 5 men move to towards their respective defenders and the 2 moves back to receive the false screen. The intent is to suck the corner and FS down on the fake screen and hit the 5 man over the top with a wheel route. This play can also be ran using the 3 man on the wheel route.

Route Trees

So, without getting into too much detail about specific passing plays, let's just talk about some basic routes in the passing tree (as seen above). The various routes are each effective against certain and multiple defenses. The curl takes advantage of cover 3. The drag or square in also takes advantage of cover 3. The streak or go route takes advantage of zero coverage so long as your receiver can defeat a jam at the LOS. Out routes take advantage of cover 1. For a full breakdown of what passes can defeat what coverages, I suggest here.

Often, our 5 man is the guy that we trust to go deep the most, so he will be running the 9 and 8 routes typically to stress the defense up the seam. Our 5 men this year will be Charon Peake and Germone Hopper, primarily but I could see some of Deon Cain mixed in here. The next receiver is the 9 man. A 9 receiver is typically more of a possession style receiver a la Nuk Hopkins. The 9 man will run a variety of routes but will rely mostly on crisp route running to get open, but you will see the occasional fade from this position. Outs, curls, square ins and flag routes will be staples of this position. Mike Williams, Trevion Thompson, and Deon Cain will man this spot and these routes. Lastly, the 2 man is more of a hybrid player. Smaller, more wiggle than straight line speed, this player can come through the backfield for a hand off or jet sweep pass or will catch the ball on screen plays to the outside. This spot will be manned by Artavis Scott and Ray Ray McCloud with maybe some Germone Hopper. Typically, the 2 man's routes will be under 10 yards to take advantage of their quickness and get them the ball quickly.

Blitz Pickups


The first step of blitz pickup is identifying who is in the box. The box can be identified as being as wide as one yard outside the tackles and 5 yards deep into the defensive backfield. Identifying the box helps the offensive line to define the front that the defense is in. This helps with protection calls and the TE and RB's responsibilities. In the above scheme, if the safety over the slot comes in on a blitz, the slot receiver should run a hot route to the vacated area before the safety can come down in support.

One area that the Clemson offense struggled last season was on twists and stunts by the defense. An example of a twist stunt is as follows.

See how the DT attacks hard to the outside on the snap and the lineback blitzes and loops around? The left guard need to get more depth and be ready to receive the DT from the center or to double with the center. One great part of this play was the running back. He absolutely stonewalls the blitzing linebacker. He used his eyes, spotted the defender, and laid a solid hit by being in proper position. Although, you would like to see him either cut the linebacker or use more hands rather than shouldering him to the ground, a good linebacker swim move a shoulder and continue past you to the QB.

I am highly confident that Watson can throw into the blitz, but I am not confident in our ability to pick up twists and stunts. Mac Lain and Norton suck at it and our running backs got any QB killed last year. We need better protection up front to mitigate the unthinkable. (I don't want to say it but you all know what I mean).

Final Thoughts

It's tough to really know what to expect in terms of play calling this year since we have a limited sample size with our backup QB, who was still kind of hurt, playing. I will say that tempo and developing an early rhythm will be key in all of our games, so I would expect us to have a lot of screens and short routes early combined with inside runs. This year I think we get back to the tempo that saw us run 100 plays against LSU. With our line being a weak spot, tempo will be their best friend.

I won't predict any season stats for individuals but I will say that in total the offense has a top 10 national level of talent but I would probably expect around top 15 for both scoring and total offense. With that though, with our talent on the outside and mitigated talent on the line, I would expect that most of our yards come through the air (duh), but the offense should eclipse 1,800 rushing yards especially with the amount of bodies we can throw at running back.

In the end, it's time to stop speculating. I want to see these boys tee it up and play.