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Clemson - Alabama: National Championship Offensive Film Review

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Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

No matter who you were rooting for, the 2016 National Championship Game produced one of the greatest title games of all time, and without a doubt one of the greatest title game performances of all time from Deshaun Watson. Clemson's offense impressed everyone in the nation that hadn't paid much attention to the ACC Champions before the College Football Playoff, and proved it yet again against the best defense in the nation.

First Drive

On Clemson’s first offensive drive of the game they came out with an obvious emphasis on tempo, and that drive gave us the first of many Deshaun Watson highlights on a 3rd and 10 in which he was provided superb protection from the O Line, but uses his legs to create time for his receivers to get away from the Bama DBs.

Clemson’s first drive ends in a punt, but we were all only given a taste of what Watson was capable of on the biggest stage in College Football.

Second Drive

The RB run game wasn’t working at all early in the game due to a combination of Alabama’s D Line getting good penetration while also maintaining incredible gap discipline. On a 3rd and 4 comes the second of many Watson highlights. On this play, he was forced to stay in the pocket by an Alabama edge defender (as I suggested they would do in the Alabama Defense Scouting Report in the lead up to the game), and Watson sees no one open so he decides to create something out of nothing and pick up the first down.

This drive ends up in the end zone on a beautiful Watson to Renfrow connection. Renfrow runs a wheel route while the outside WR runs a 12 yd dig route. It is tough to see without the all-22 film, but the Safety is held up just enough by the combination of the play-action fake and the 12 yd dig route in front of him making him just a split-second late in getting over top of the wheel route, which was just enough time for Watson to fit a perfect pass right into Renfrow’s arms.

Third Drive

Alabama’s DBs were pretty impressive in coverage all night, but Watson was given great protection and was able to just sit in the pocket looking downfield until a seam opened up for him to get good yardage on a scramble. A combination of great protection and Alabama’s Defensive Linemen’s fear of the Watson scramble allowed Watson to be comfortable behind the O Line and just make plays like he did here.

Clemson gets another first down on the next play on a pass to a wide open Leggett across the middle finding a window past the LBs and in between the Safeties. On the second Touchdown completion forged from the Watson-Renfrow connection, Renfrow runs a superb corner-post route that you could tell that he has worked on every day since his first day on campus as a walk-on. Watson and Renfrow’s telepathic relationship is evident here because you are able to see in the second replay that Renfrow is totally blanketed in double coverage when Watson releases the ball, but Watson is able to anticipate that Renfrow will come open the moment that he makes his move to the inside. This Touchdown was simply a result of endless repetition beginning the first time they worked on Red Zone offense in practice this summer.

Fourth Drive

Clemson starts the drive by picking up good yardage on first down with a QB run, but the drive ended on the next play with a Watson interception. On this play, Alabama ends up with double coverage on the wheel route. It’s hard to tell if that double coverage was intentional, or it might have been a result of miscommunication that happened to work out in their favor. In either case, Watson doesn’t see the defender on top of the wheel route, thinking he has a huge play, and throws a pass he desperately wanted to take back.

Fifth Drive

Clemson starts out the drive just like the last with good yardage on first down with a QB run. The drive ends up in a 3 and out, which was actually a huge win for Alabama because Clemson follows a drive in which they threw an INT on the second play of the drive with a 3 and out, which left their defense on the field for much too long and kept Alabama’s offense on the field providing their own defense with much-needed rest.

Sixth Drive

Clemson starts out yet another drive with positive yardage in the run game allowing them to stay ahead of the chains. On the next play, Watson displays his amazing escapability yet again demoralizing the Bama D Line. Alabama had no way to prepare for Watson’s athletic ability in their 10 days of preparation leading up to the game.

Clemson was able to pick up 2 first downs on this drive, and it looked like they achieved a third on another amazing Watson play before it was called back for an illegal man downfield creating a 1st and 15. The next 3 plays all ended in Clemson’s backfield, culminating with a sack on 3rd and 23 setting up a punt.

Seventh Drive

On the last offensive drive before the half, Watson makes another great play out of the pocket finding a receiver downfield moving the ball to Bama’s 40. On the next play, a screen pass goes for no gain forcing Clemson to call a timeout with 19 seconds left. Clemson then picks up a first down with a curl route to the wide side of the field. Following the play was one of the worst clock debacles I’ve seen in a while, and I’ll spare the Clemson fans from having to relive it again. The clock error set up a 44 yd FG for Huegel, but it was blocked slightly at the line just enough to cause it to fall short.

1st drive of the half, 15:00, Clemson 22, 14-14 tie

1st & 10, 20 personnel, McCloud motion out of the backfield for a potential screen, IZ handoff to Gallman and he goes nowhere. The play is well blocked by the majority of the line but Joe Gore just gets abused and there is nowhere for Gallman to go. Loss of two…

(All images after this via ESPN/Cinefunk media)

(All images after this via ESPN/

Cinefunk media)

2nd & 12, empty, blitz and a line stunt is picked up by the offensive line and Renfrow does a brilliant job getting inside on a crossing hot route… 3rd & 3, empty, fade ball to either Leggett or Peake is batted into the air and we are lucky that did not get picked off. Punt.

2nd drive, 12:32, Clemson 20, 21-14 Alabama lead

1st & 10, 11 personnel, Artavis Scott motions into the backfield and takes a sweep read for a long gain. This is the first time I’ve seen this play, but Clemson is actually blocking for a Deshaun Watson counter away from the sweep, I’m guessing Watson is given the freedom to read the backside end and give the ball to Artavis if he crashes. Peake and Renfrow block well and Alabama safety Eddie Jackson (#4) does not want to tackle…

2nd & 1, 11 personnel, trips left, inside zone read to Gallman, first down and not much more. Norton or Mac Lain should have blocked the inside linebacker who winds up making the tackle…

1st & 10, 11 personnel, trips left, fake jet sweep to Scott, handoff to Gallman going outside right and Alabama is just too fast, Reggie Ragland almost killed Gallman in the backfield but he manages to spin off and get back to the line of scrimmage… 2nd & 10, 10 personnel, Watson pump fakes a screen to the right (and the offensive line fakes inside zone right) before coming back to throw it to Zac Brooks who follows his blocks for a nice gain then goes and drags two tacklers five yards to boot. Gain twenty plus yards. Clemson has been trying to misdirect Alabama the entire half, to mixed results, but absolutely caught them out of position here. Joe Gore threw a beautiful cut block on the outside.

1st & 10, 10 personnel, speed option blocked like power and Watson carries inside for a handful of hard fought yards… 2nd & 6, 11 personnel, trips right, Artavis motions into the backfield as a decoy, Renfrow is probably not in position to make the catch but does draw a pass interference call…

1st & 10, 11 personnel, Clemson hurries back to the line of scrimmage, play action pass but there is nothing there for Watson who barely avoids the sack by falling forward… 2nd & 9, 10 personnel, play action of some sort, it looked like Hopper had Fitzpatrick beat but he dives out and knocks the ball down. 3rd & 9, empty, Alabama showing two high safeties and pretty much everyone else is on the line of scrimmage, another line stunt is picked up well. At this point Alabama is committing a linebacker to spy Watson on every snap and the defensive line is still clearly hesitant to come too far upfield lest Watson find a running lane. The ball is dropped into Artavis’ hands but he drops the ball. 4th & 9, field goal is good

This drive, after Alabama scoring, serves to keep Clemson right in the game. The nine play drive, featuring a twenty yard gain, are huge. Alabama has had to commit to spying Watson on every single pass play. Against almost any defensive backfield but Alabama there are multiple plays on this drive that would be touchdowns. Watson is making Alabama pay almost every single time they blitz and the offensive line is mostly performing excellently. Receivers are struggling to get open outside but there are holes in the coverage inside.

3rd drive, 8:26, Clemson 40, 21-17 Alabama lead

1st & 10, 11 personnel, zone read with Leggett lead blocking for Watson. It looks like the safety is playing force vs the run and Leggett erases him from the play. Peake has his hands locked on the Alabama corner and is just bullying the poor guy. Hyatt manages to climb to the second level and blocks Rueben Foster beautifully. Crowder and Norton drop a defensive tackle in a linebackers lap. This play is blocked nearly perfectly and Watson takes advantage…

1st & 10, 20 personnel, Watson drills Leggett with a perfect pass, gain of ten…

1st & 10, 10 personnel, trips left, fade route to Renfrow broken up… 2nd & 10, 11 personnel and oh hey it’s 2nd & 15, 10 personnel, Alabama brings a NCAA blitz from the left and Watson beats the defensive end to the right to break off a long scramble. No one was spying on the zone blitz and Watson made Alabama pay…

1st & 10, empty, screen pass to Peake goes next to nowhere, 2nd & 6, 11 personnel, Gallman motions out of the backfield and catches a screen pass (Watson could have run power as well) and takes it for a ten yard gain…

1st & goal, I cannot tell what personnel we are in because of ESPN, inside zone read and Watson gets a tough four yards, 2nd & goal, 12 personnel, trips left, inside zone read to Gallman goes nowhere, 3rd & goal, 22 personnel (under center), this is as grown man football as you will find anywhere. Gallman plunges forward for a touchdown on power right.

This drive was set up by great field position and Clemson took advantage. Watson was sprung for a long run and after that Clemson was able to follow it up with a pass to Leggett. The drive had one bad play, and a first down pass to Renfrow being broken up is not the end of the world. The defense set this up and the Tigers took full advantage.

4th drive, 2:44, Clemson 38, 24-21 Clemson lead

1st  & 10, 11 personnel, McCloud motions into the backfield and takes the pitch on the triple option. He’s ran out of bounds by the safety after a decent gain. 2nd & 6, 11 personnel, trips right, sprint out pass and the corner route to Renfrow is overthrown. Watson is throwing to Renfrow a ton and has no reason to stop. Renfrow is getting open from the slot consistently… 3rd & 6, empty, Watson drills Leggett for yet another first down…

1st & 10, 11 personnel, trips right, fake jet sweep to Scott leading to play action, Scott continues running into the flats where he gets a couple of yards as Watson’s dump off option… 2nd & 8, 11 personnel, trips right, sprint out pass almost finds Zac Brooks but Watson is hit as he threw (Mac Lain pulled too far outside to lead block for Watson) … 3rd & 8, 10 personnel, Alabama runs yet another stunt that goes nowhere and Watson has absolutely no need to scramble. Even after shaking off a tackle from the defensive end Watson is taken down by the linebacker spying him. A rare bad decision from Watson ends the drive. Punt.

5th drive, 9:55, Clemson 25, 31-24 Alabama lead

Alabama got ten points and took nearly eight minutes off the clock since the offense last took the field. That was not good. Outside of our purview. Still not good. 1st & 10, empty, Renfrow gets open on a skinny post. It’s almost the same route Leggett is running. If Watson did not demand a spy there is a linebacker sitting in that zone. He does, and this route is abusing Alabama…

1st & 10, 11 personnel, Alabama brings a blitz off the weak side edge and no one is there to make the tackle when inside zone blocking gets Gallman to the second level. The line got Gallman four yards up the field entirely untouched, Gallman got himself another thirty plus yards, cutting right where the blitzing linebacker was originally lined up. Instead of being in position to make the tackle Ragland tenses up for a Leggett block and just sort of falls down.

1st & 10, 11 personnel, Watson and Leggett seem confused as to whether to actually block the defensive end/outside linebacker or if this is a zone read, the Crimson defender is not at all confused as to whether or not he’s supposed to tackle Watson for a three yard loss… 2nd & 13, empty, quick pass to Renfrow on a spacing concept… 3rd & 7, 10 personnel, trips right, Watson wants to throw the corner route to Leggett and nearly drops it into the defensive backs hands (a full yard out of bounds) when Leggett stops his route to look for the ball a bit early… Field goal is good

You can debate as to whether or not we should have gone for it, but with fourth and seven I think getting within four is the move. If we don’t convert on fourth down any Alabama points turns this into a two score game. Even after taking several haymakers Clemson is still in this.

6th drive, 7:31, Clemson 25, 38-27 Alabama lead

1st & 10, 11 personnel, Gallman motions out and this time Watson decides to keep on the power run. He gets nowhere. 2nd & 10, 10 personnel, Watson hits Gallman for the check down. Gallman breaks two tackles and runs for a fifteen yard gain…

1st & 10, 11 personnel, Watson steps up but there is penetration everywhere. The edge rushers beat, respectively, Joe Gore and the combined efforts of Gallman and Leggett. This is just unacceptable. 2nd & 13, 10 personnel, Hyatt is beat on a spin move but Watson runs to the outside and gets a pass off to Gallman, who proceeds to break a tackle and runs nearly the entire width of the field to gain almost forty yards. Gallman was largely shut down in the first half, as many running backs are against Alabama. Gallman is now breaking tackles and making plays, as really good running running backs do against Alabama…

1st & 10, 10 personnel, trips left, McCloud is wide open but Alabama closes in and hammers receivers on short passes. It’s what they do… 2nd & 3, 10 personnel, pass tipped at the line of scrimmage… 3rd & 3, 10 personnel, pass to Brooks out of the backfield for a first down and not much else…

1st & 10, 10 personnel, Artavis Scott is wide open. Coverage bust wide open. Inexplicably wide open. Cyrus Jones either guessed very wrong or someone was supposed to help him inside. You never, under any circumstances whatsoever, want to see someone do a full 360 degree turn on a football field. Touchdown

The touchdown keeps Clemson in the game. In a million other universes there are happier versions of us and this play was the play that turned the game in Clemson’s favor. It is not our universe.

7th drive, 1:02, Clemson 32, 45-33 Alabama lead

1st & 10, empty, Watson keeps the play alive and hits Peake for a short pass on the sidelines… 2nd & 4, 10 personnel, the pocket is kept clean and Watson hits Leggett with a lightning strike. If he throws a few feet in either direction there’s a safety there to make the play. There are not a lot of quarterbacks on earth who can make this throw.

1st & 10, 10 personnel, Watson throws the ball at Brooks back to avoid an intentional grounding penalty… 2nd & 10, 10 personnel, Peake is open on an out route and manages to stretch his arm out to get the first down…

1st & 10, 10 personnel, Alabama has not one, but two players spying Watson at this point and there’s nothing happening here. Throw the ball out of bounds and keep the game alive… 2nd & 10, empty personnel, and Leggett is barely open but that is enough for Watson to drop the ball into the window and score a largely ceremonial touchdown. That said, we covered, and the spiteful part of me feels really good most of the people who bet on Alabama lost their money. That feels fitting for a team no one, myself included, saw coming.