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Clemson Football: Running Back Expectations

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What to expect from the Clemson running back group in the coming year.

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

We have grown accustomed to seeing the high-powered, speedy offense from Clemson and this year doesn't look to be any different. Deshaun Watson and the rest of this offense set quite the bar over the past two years. But let's take a look at the running backs and what we should expect from them in the 2016 season:

Wayne Gallman

Gallman has fit the Clemson running back mold perfectly. In comparison to former running backs like Andre Ellington -- and even the great CJ Spiller -- Gallman does an exceptional job of running inside zone, making himself available in the passing game, and blocking.

Gallman is great for breaking of the huge runs the Clemson faithful have come to expect and doesn't look to slow up this season. After coming off a 1500+ yard season, Gallman promises to be an even bigger threat coming into the year with a stout offensive line and a great deal of experience under his belt.

Here we see Gallman's violent strength shown against a poor Appalachian State defensive back; the key to these type of plays is the misdirection handled by Deshaun Watson; giving that split second of misdirection opens up a wide hole with two linemen breaking out as lead blockers. Clemson is virtually unstoppable if they can get to the second level of a defense, especially if there are lead blockers involved:

Gallman also has the ability to break off huge runs with the help of one solitary block. The offensive line will never get the credit it fully deserves in an offense like this; however, the ability for Gallman to hit this hole just right and break to the outside makes scoring so much easier. Clemson likes to use the pistol formation, keeping a running back a few yards behind Watson, giving him the ability to gain a few more steps of speed before hitting the running lane.

This play shows Gallman catching the outside corner on Georgia Tech and showing just how quickly he can turn a 5 yard run into a 60+ yard touchdown:

Clemson's offense is the true definition of dual-threat; providing both unstoppable running and passing plays that cultivate to bring one heck of an offense to the table. Gallman is just as much a part of the passing game as he is the running game. His elusive nature mixed with soft hands gives him the ability to be a threat in the middle of the field as well as on the outside in the flats as part of our passing attack.

Here's a play from the ACC Championship against UNC; Gallman comes out of the backfield and is matched up against a linebacker (always a favorable match-up) allowing him to use his speed to get a few steps on the defender. From there all that's left to do is for Deshaun to drop a pass over the middle and watch the wide receivers block as Gallman walks untouched, into the end zone:

The Others:

The carries weren't really spread out as we have seen in previous years. Last season Wayne carried the rushing load, along side Deshaun Watson of course. In fact, some have argued Watson got a little run-happy at times and probably could have made a few better play decisions down the stretch of the season.

The good news for Wayne Gallman is that this season there will be some help coming his way in the rushing department. Yes, we know he is our number 1 guy and will get a decent load of carries. However, the diversification of this Clemson offense, masked with ample amounts of rushers such as Tyshon Dye and Ray-Ray McCloud. Both of these guys helped out last season, as did CJ Davidson and Zac Brooks.

Let's not forget about our outside running game either. With speed coming from people like Scott and some of the young guns, the reverse and shuffle pass are just as much a threat as the hand off.

Position Expectations:

Personnel wise we will see a good mix of players coming in and out to assist in the running efforts this season; so now let's take a look at what to expect from the X's and O's aspect from this group:

The Clemson offense is run completely out of the back field. All of the formations used in the offensive scheme are either shotgun, pistol, or the occasional wildcat. These formations all require speed throughout your offense including linemen and utility players. Our running backs are used in every play of our scheme in one of a few ways:

1st- The running backs are used for the read option. The zone read has become the staple of the Clemson offense, mixing speed with misdirection to create a cluster of problems for defensive units across the country. The zone read is all based upon the quarterback reading the defensive end or linebacker (whoever is on the edge). The defensive player being read by the quarterback has two options: "crash" or "stay at home".

"Staying at home" means to freeze and stay in place to protect the outside edge from a quarterback run.

"Crashing" means that the defender will drop into the play to defend the running back in the read option.

This requires a quarterback with a high football IQ as well as running backs that has the discipline to know when to take the ball or pretend to take it. The zone read also doesn't have to be a run. As we have seen over and over, the read option can just as easily be a decoy to open up the passing game. This style of play tends to freeze defenses just long enough to open up opportunities for the pass game.

In this play, we see Watson take the snap and take a quick read towards the strong side defensive end. Since he stays home, Watson gives the ball to Gallman rather than keep it himself. This results in a numbers advantage in the running game. Notice in this play there are different blocking packages as well: the LG pull towards the outside of the line while a WR comes in to cut block a linebacker for Carolina. This provides a nice running lane for Gallman to pick up the first down.

Notice on this play from the same game, Watson reads the outside (right) defensive linebacker as "staying at home" so he again gives the ball off to Gallman who powers his way into the end zone. Also note that Watson gives just the slightest shoulder fake towards the outside allowing Gallman to get the step on the outside linebacker.

2nd- The passing game is a place our running backs have the opportunity to improve on. Not to say that the backs have been lacking in the receiving department, but there is quite a bit of room to grow in the area. Last season our running backs had 73 of our 356 receptions as well as 4 of 35 receiving touchdowns. Now of course we understand when you have a team like Clemson, loaded with offensive talent, the passing is going to be spread out. But imagine for a second what our offensive efficiency could look like if we doubled our numbers involving running backs in the passing game.

Opening up the outside is done by first working the inside. Most traditional teams would do this by running the ball up the middle, forcing defenses to collapse, which opens the outside up. Providing play calls with opportunities to get the running backs more involved could very well be one of the keys to lifting Clemson to that "next level."

An area of the passing game that Clemson does fairly well with running backs is the screen pass. Just so we're all on the same page, a screen pass involves offensive linemen breaking away from the play to develop a wall, then a short pass is made to a running back or receiver to run behind the wall of defenders. Clemson isn't the best at using running backs in this type of play, but it has been proven to work time and time again in college football. Don't believe me? Take a look at some Alabama footage of the years, their quarterbacks "impressive" numbers usually spar from a plethora of screen passes that turn into huge gains. Moral of the story, USE THE SCREEN PASS.

3rd- The running backs have been big in the passing game, but on the blocking side. Protecting Deshaun Watson is if the up most importance and our running backs are a major key to ensuring that happens. Setting up pass plays out of the shotgun formation makes it much easier for Watson to have time to get the pass he wants out of his hand and put it where he wants. The formations feature a running back that can be on either side. Watson usually reads the defense and attempts to decipher where the blitz or pressure is going to come from. After understanding where potential blitzing defenders may come from, he can adjust the running back to the side that best gives him time to make the play.

The blocking ability of the running backs has become more important as the seasons have gone on. We expect the backs to be patient as well as disciplined to stay at home and make the appropriate blocks. Occasionally running backs will have plays where they have the option of rolling out into the flat for a quick pass after blocking for a few seconds. The important aspect of an option pass play for the running back is to see the potential "delayed blitz" from a linebacker who may appear to drop back into coverage.

Overall we can expect our running backs to be a heavily used group offensively. The running game is a vital part of what we do to create offensive production and I expect it will most likely increase some in the coming year. The passing game needs improvement in relation to getting our running backs involved in different aspects of the offense. On top of these, the blocking from our running backs is key to Watson getting the time he needs to get passes off. Expect the running backs group's diversity to grow as we see more talented faces join the group. This season promises to be full of trick plays and several other shifty formations that highlight the talent we have at the running back position.