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TRIGGER WARNING: Clemson vs Syracuse Film Review, 1st Quarter


NCAA Football: Clemson at Syracuse Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Why are you here? What sort of self-hateful sadism led you to this most derisive and painful of articles? You have no excuse to do this to yourself; it’s bad enough for me to revisit and cope with Friday night all over again on this canvas. To those of you brave/foolish enough to dive into this with me, seriously, why? Because misery loves company? I disagree with such a depressing, unhealthy outlook. Or because, like me, you need to understand in order to move forward? I warn you, understanding won’t be found here; from the game plan, to the play calling, to the elephant in the quarterback room, nothing makes sense.

I’ll get this out of the way early: Clemson was straight up destroyed Friday night in every single facet and the game should not have been nearly as close as it was. I thought Kelly Bryant was healthy enough to play and that Clemson wouldn’t need him to run in order to beat Syracuse. I was confident Clemson could ride its running backs and very good offensive line to victory, with play-action sprinkled around to keep Syracuse off balance. This was a defense with next to no sacks on the season which struggled to generate a pass rush even on blitzes. It turns out the Clemson game plan was to make Bryant a sitting duck and let Syracuse tee off on him. Clemson abandoned its running backs when Cuse consistently threw an 8 man box at them and tried to win with Bryant’s arm; for about a quarter, it looked possible with Bryant’s perfect start, but it was never going to be sustainable. Bryant is an elite runner who hits the openings based on the run threat; without the run threat, he will struggle. When hampered by injury as he was, Clemson gambled with his future wellbeing and lost.

When Bryant was knocked out (literally knocked out; not removed as he should’ve been), Clemson turned to Zerrick Cooper as expected. Give Cooper a few series to see what he can do, sure, but when it’s obvious he doesn’t know the play calls (getting himself blown up in the process) and can’t throw accurately downfield, try the next backup. You know, the 5 star who’s listed as the co-backup, who looked superior to Cooper in every snap this year. The defense recovered in the second half, and had Clemson found a spark other than Travis Etienne, might’ve snuck home with an undeserved victory. It was clear Cooper was not going to provide the spark when he didn’t even know the play calls. It’s less clear why each of the quarterbacks who played weren’t removed for their own safety, to say nothing of Clemson’s chances for victory.


Syracuse ball, 14:53, Syracuse 28

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 15 Empty shotgun vs nickel Dropback vs man cover 1, nobody open so Dungey tucks and runs outside for an easy 21 yards. I was surprised to see man coverage given Dungey previously being the entirety of the Cuse run game.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Power handoff, Joseph and O'Daniel both get washed outside and there's a gap up the middle, gain of 11. Both LBs saw the pulling guard and rushed outside, nobody there to fill the backside cutback.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel RPO deep fade to Ishmael dropped, Fields in coverage. Caught a break; with Smith in the box and Muse in the deep middle, it's an easy read for Dungey to pull and hit his best receiver 1 on 1.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Dropback vs man cover 1, pressure gets to Dungey but he escapes O'Daniels contain and gets to the edge, gain of 8. O'Daniel expected Dungey to escape up the middle, not work around outside.
3rd & 2 11 shotgun vs nickel Man cover 0, Dungey flushes almost immediately and beats Muse to the edge, breaks his tackle and gains 3. Clemson had 2 spies and nobody deep because they expected the scramble but he still got it.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel IZ, Bryant moves out to deter a screen and there's a huge hole off tackle, 8 yards before Smith makes the stop. At this point I took an hour long break from review to tip a few back, feeling much better now but also worse.
2nd & 2 10 shotgun vs nickel IZ literally bulldozed through the line and bowled Joseph over, gain of 7. This is embarrassing.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel ZR keeper and it's an easy TFL for Ferrell, loss of 5. This wasn't a misread, Ferrell simply played it perfectly with elite quickness and savvy.
2nd & 15 10 shotgun vs nickel Double post/wheel routes from double stacked receivers vs cover 4, nothing open and eventually Dungey rolls out and throws it away. Yay cover 4! Forget man coverage against Dungey and these underrated receivers.
3rd & 15 10 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM Delayed RB screen vs weak side overload blitz, screen thrown right into it, Fields misses the tackle and it's an easy touchdown. Perfect call, at least one staff scouted their opponent well.
Perfectly baited.

Clemson ball, 11:39, Clemson 38, 7-0 Syracuse lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 20 shotgun vs 4-3 Dropback vs double A gap bullet, quick curl to Cain complete, gain of 6. Excellent blitz recognition from Bryant.
2nd & 4 11 shotgun vs 4-3 RPO slant complete to Renfrow, completely uncovered, gain of 15. More great recognition from Bryant, if we were (or stayed) healthy Clemson likley wins comfortably. Sigh.
1st & 5 10 shotgun vs 4-3 Counter draw to Feaster, huge lane up the middle, untouched, touchdown. Giving the ball to the running backs is in fact very good! Falcinelli and Richard (the two biggest question marks on offense this preseason) each pulled and had excellent seal blocks to spring Feaster.
This should’ve been the rule, not the exception. 100% blame on the offensive staff.

Syracuse ball, 10:37, Syracuse 25, 7-7 tie

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel WR pass, wanted a throwback to Dungey but it's defended, almost intercepted by Ferrell. Why try a trick play when you gashed Clemson on the previous drive? Likely scripted; either way I'd have scratched it given the success found on the first drive.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel IZ gains 3. Way more push from Cuse than I expected/find acceptable.
3rd & 7 10 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM Strongside overload gets the sack, O'Daniel gets there first, loss of 7. I'd run a screen on every third down just to avoid this.

Clemson ball, 9:12, Clemson 32, 7-7 tie

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 PA flare to Richard gains 5. Cuse is sending blitzes to attack Bryant's ankle and deter the run, so I'm actually fine with the quick passes.
2nd & 5 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Rollout corner route complete to Renfrow, gain of 16. Taking what is given...
1st & 10 10 shotgun vs 4-3 Double post/wheel combo vs cover 4, post complete to Richard, gain of 25. At least one thing in my scouting report was correct; this is how I wanted Clemson to attack cover 4 and cover 2.
Cuse showed cover 4 and Bryant checked into the perfect call to attack it.

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 ZR dive to Feaster, Sam fire off the edge fills the initial hole, no gain. Here's where the lack of run threat from Bryant hurts.
2nd & 10 10 shotgun s 4-3 Screen to McCloud actually blocked well, but Cuse had too many bodies around, gain of 1. Fumbled and recovered by Renfrow thankfully. The execution on this screen was actually very good by Clemson, Cuse just defended it better.
3rd & 9 Empty shotgun vs dime Dropback blown up when Pollard allows a free edge rush, Bryant eludes and gets the ball out to Thompson, gain of 2. Cuse confused the OL and Bryant was fortuntate to avoid the sack. Field goal missed horribly; I won't pil on Spence since kicking is fickle and a solid game plan makes kicking moot against an "overmatched" opponent.

Syracuse ball, 5:52, Syracuse 20, 7-7 tie

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 Empty shotgun vs nickel Delayed slant complete between Ferrell and Mullen in cover 4, gain of 10. 3 man rush gave Dungey all the time in the world.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Skinny post complete up the seam, easy touchdown, busted coverage. I struggle to pick out who is at fault here. Carter played an underneath zone like it was cover 4, but Smith played man. Given Muse and Carter played it like cover 4, I think Smith is the likely culprit.

Clemson ball, 5:08, Clemson 28, 14-7 Syracuse lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Counter draw to Etienne, Sam fire pulls him down from behind, gain of 1. Selling out against the run...
2nd & 9 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Strong side overload jailbreak, Bryant sees it and throws to Cain on the out route against soft cover 3. The more I watch, the less an issue I have with the play calling. Bryant was playing very well, recongizing pressure and getting the ball out where Cuse was vulnerable. If he isn't knocked out, Clemson likely pulls this out in the 2nd half.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Perfectly timed A gap bullet but the IZ to Etienne zips right past it, gain of 9. FEED THIS MAN.
2nd & 1 11 shotgun vs 4-3 PA rollout, wanted the flare but it's taken away, Bryant jogs out of bounds just short of the marker, first obvious sign he wasn't healthy. Bryant has pulled up just short of the marker many times this year, so I didn't recognize this as an indicator of his health until hindsight told me otherwise.
3rd & 1 12 shotgun vs 4-4 IZ to Etienne is stoned, no chance. The first signs of real trouble on offense now are now apparent.

Syracuse ball, 2:17, Syracuse 7, 14-7 Syracuse lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Dropback vs man cover 1 Sam fire, Dungey quickly tucks but O'Daniel makes the sack, loss of 2. Cuse wanted to take a deep shot while backed up, good blitz to prevent any chance of a big gain.
2nd & 12 10 shotgun vs nickel QB lead draw, stop made by Huggins and Joseph, gain of 5. Cuse just sent a 290 running back as a lead blocker...can we bring this back in short yardage?
3rd & 7 11 shotgun vs nickel Dropback vs man cover 1, slot comeback route at the sideline incomplete in front of Carter, roughing the passer on Wilkens extends the drive, a recurring theme. First (almost) stop for this defense took an entire quarter. Then undone by penalty Woof.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Dropback before defense is set, Ferrell makes the scramble sack anyway. The staff is playing with fire; so unprepared and unorganized.
2nd & 12 11 shotgun vs nickel Power handoff stoned by O'Daniel and Bryant, gain of 1. Finally some solid run defense; O'Daniel set the edge and made the stick.
3rd & 11 11 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM Same RB screen vs same strong side overload blitz, this time Fields makes the beautiful form tackle instead of diving straight for the ankles, loss of 3. Solid play from Fields to make up for his TD gaffe, but can't take those points off the board.

End of quarter, it’s all downhill from here...