Spring games are notoriously poor indicators of performance. Rich Rodriguez cancelled his spring game this year, stating "Whatever you’re teaching scheme-wise, you’ve got six or seven months before players use it... The 20, 30 spring games I’ve ever been a part of, all you do is worry about getting your starters hurt and not showing anything new to your future opponents." Mark Richt summed up the other issue with spring games well in his press conference "Today, like most spring games, like most scrimmages, there were certainly some real highlights for both sides of the ball, and usually a highlight for one side of the ball is probably a lowlight for the other side of the ball, so it’s kind of hard to judge it. " Other coaches, writers and analysts have been raising similar concerns since we began attempting to glean information from spring games. Any matchup in which one player blows the other out is bittersweet, given there's still a player on your team being blown out. Coaches, a pretty paranoid group, do not show anything in spring games they do not have to. Unless they're throwing in a few minor wrinkles just to mess with every coach that plays them next season. Fear of having starters injured relegates much of the play to backups, third stringers and walk ons. Quarterbacks are usually quick whistled instead of allowed to run free. With that said there were a few noteworthy plays and trends that Clemson showed on offense this year. (All images via ESPN/Youtube user Tigerray, who has a ton of old games uploaded if you're in need of some football during the offseason)
Let's start with a play I don't think we will see run much next year, but every other opposing special teams unit will have to waste time preparing for, a reverse fake on a kick return. The drawback of faking a reverse is that you remove a blocker from the play, however the threat of the reverse forces defenders to slow down and make sure they can tackle either ballcarrier. Sometimes that hesitation and confusion can be enough to spring a kick returner open. Sometimes teams do not respect the fake and a real reverse is run. I'm not sure if Clemson is going to ever use this play, but's been shown to be part of the arsenal and future opponents will have to prepare accordingly.
Clemson also ran a look you may recognize from last season, not moving the offensive line on a rollout pass, hoping the lack of offensive line movement lets them catch defenses off guard and throw the ball before the pass rush can find Watson. It looks like the quarterbacks have been instructed to run this play any time a defensive lineman jumps offside. Clemson is either going to complete the pass or accept a penalty and gain five yards. It's an aggressive move designed to gain extra yards on free plays.
The next handful of plays all build off of a play I think Clemson is going to build into the offense much more in 2016, the jet sweep. Between Ray Ray McCloud and Artavis Scott Clemson already has two receivers with an ability to run the ball. On top of that Gallman and Feaster are likely to see time in the slot. McCloud and Scott carried the ball 7 and 6 times last year, respectively. That number will almost certainly increase next year based on how often Clemson used the threat of jet sweeps to set up other running plays or downfield playaction passes. Clemson ran the play out of a few different formations, adding another wrinkle for defense to prepare for. As long as there is a wide receiver who can go in motion defenses have to be aware of the threat of a jet sweep. Malzahn has used the threat of wide receiver sweeps similarly for years. Clemson's offense, still based on the scheme Chad Morris installed, is influenced by Malzahn. First we will look at the run fakes Clemson ran off the jet sweep, starting with a buck sweep that is straight up lifted from the Malzahn playbook.
Clemson also showed an ability to run inside zone off of the jet sweep fake, both to the side of the fake with the running back and away as a weak side counter with the quarterback.
Inside zone was not the only way Clemson had to attack defenses inside, taking a cue from the wildcat and running power off of a fake jet sweep.
Finally Clemson used the threat of the jet sweep, and it looks like Israel should have faked the handoff, to run a deep play action pass to McCloud.
Another trend is evident in this family of plays, and that is an evolution in how Clemson is using their tight ends. While Leggett's role appears to be untouched the use of the backup tight ends is noteworthy. Clemson did not use tight ends as blocking backs, or blockers period, so heavily last year. Some of that is a testament to Leggett's receiving abilities. Some of it is a sign of his weakness as a blocker. Leggett will never be a great blocking back. His backups are a different story, both Garrett Williams and Cannon Smith are stronger blockers than receivers. When looking at the running plays above take note of how many key blocks the tight ends are asked to make. Whether it's sealing the defensive end in the buck sweep, cutting off the defensive end in inside zone or kicking the defensive end out in power the tight ends are hitting the defensive end from multiple angles with a running start. The tight end even blocks the defensive end on the play action pass above.
Two tight end formations showed up in the Clemson offense around either end zone last year, though in the past Clemson only really showed the balanced formation below.
In the next play Clemson has one tight end on the line of scrimmage and one aligned as a wing. Aligning like this helps Clemson run more plays and overload defenses out of two tight end personnel. The inline tight end runs a corner and the wing runs to the flats, in essence running a smash pattern.
Look how quickly the tight ends are able to get outside of the defense, this play could be a staple on the goal line or in short yardage situations. I think the future of tight end play at Clemson is going to involve a lot more time blocking or running underneath routes. Given how many skill players Clemson already has to get the ball to this can be compensated for. What Leggett allows Clemson to do is special, unfortunately I don't think there's a tight end behind him who can take the top off a defense running a corner route from the slot.