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Clemson vs Texas A&M: 1st Quarter Film Review

NCAA Football: Clemson at Texas A&M Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

I know I’m not alone in feeling less than pleased with yet another escape after failing to put yet another team away, particularly because of all the mistakes in the secondary. I left Kyle Field with the very real sense A&M fans were happier than Clemson fans (this wasn’t merely my own frustration framing my thoughts, it was my impression in countless conversations with very wonderful Aggies on my way out). I wanted to do a full 1st quarter review and then simply re-watch the rest of the game before detailing my thoughts in this column preceding the review, but believe it or not three hours in the IAH terminal were only enough to barely finish detailing the 1st quarter. I’ll have more detailed thoughts on the entire performance later in the week, for now, all impressions beyond this quarter are from a simple re-watch.

Fisher, as usual, will run plenty of misdirection and stretch constraints to try and create a few cutback lanes against a quick and aggressive Clemson front, but I think it’s unlikely A&M will find an approach which Clemson won’t eventually shut down unless Mond became Jameis Winston this offseason.

First I have to apologize for writing that sentence because it’s exactly what happened. Had you told me Clemson would allow 70 rushing yards but only win by 2, I’d have thought neither team hit double digits. Next we have to give A&M and Kellen Mond all the credit for his performance. Mond made Clemson pay for its blitzes from the beginning and the A&M offensive line largely “held” up against the 4 man rush after Mond made Clemson tone down its pressure packages, and from there the coverage issues in the back end were due to be exposed. The coverage busts were glaring and Clemson’s weakness was proven worse than most anyone feared, and when your only solid player at safety tips two picks into touchdowns (plus dropped two more interceptions) you know it can’t get much worse.

There’s an obvious lack of safety depth which won’t be fixed for another year or two in recruiting, but I’m not quite ready to panic on this secondary yet. Against any other quarterback on the schedule we would’ve seen twice as many sacks and a handful of interceptions. In addition to Mond’s amazing plays, it must be noted he and A&M also enjoyed some crazy luck on tipped passes, dropped interceptions, and countless missed holding calls to stay in and ultimately fight back in the game. If one of those tips is picked (or simply not caught) or one holding flag thrown (seriously, the only holding call was on the final 2 point try) it’s a different game. I’ll have serious fears if we haven’t seen tangible improvement before Ryan Finley and NC State come to town next month.

Additionally, I’m concerned with the screen game, the interior offensive line, and punting. A&M threw pressure up the middle all night (this plus awful center and guard play are why Clemson running backs got so few carries), which Clemson usually counters with wide receiver screens and the tight end routes over the middle. A&M knew this, and without any receiving threat at tight end A&M was able to send pressure while flying to the screens. Perimeter blocking outside of Tee Higgins once again left much to be desired, and when Trevor Lawrence entered the game A&M threw even more pressure up the middle to prevent him having the time to stretch the field. It’s why he was ineffective in his two 2nd half drives and why Bryant played the remainder of the game. Right now I think you’ll see teams try and handle Lawrence like this until Clemson gives him max protection, or hits a heavy dose of screens to make teams think twice about selling out to pressure him before he can pick them apart. I would think screens can be effective since Lawrence gets the ball out so much faster than Bryant.

Lastly, Kelly Bryant’s improvement cannot be overstated; 2017 Bryant probably doesn’t win this game. His 3rd down check and throw to Amari Rodgers (which you’ll see below) and his 2nd half scoring drives were real evidence he has truly upped his game like the staff said all summer. When Lawrence started the 2nd half I thought we might be witnessing the changing of the guard, but Bryant proved a better option against A&M’s middle pressure and he delivered the win. This may be unpopular given it’s an unbelievably unique position in which Clemson has found itself, but this QB rotation is working. Clemson has the best of both worlds with two QBs at the moment, and each made crucial plays which the other may not have made to ultimately win the game.

Jimbo Fisher of course also deserves a tip of the cap for bedeviling Clemson once again. He threw his formation strength to the the boundary frequently, he threw a bunch of empty sets with two tight ends to stress the defense before the ball was even snapped, and he had options all over the field for Mond no matter the pressure he faced. Thankfully we’ll have a full season of film before we face the Aggies again.

A&M ball, 15:00, A&M 25

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 12 pistol vs 4-3 ZR keeper gains 3. A&M blew the blocking assignment, Bryant was on the RB and forced the keep, Simmons was on Mond and forced him inside to his help.
2nd & 7 21 shotgun vs 4-3 Inverted veer give to Williams, Simmons doesn't set the edge and it's a 5 yard gain for the fullback. Simmons lets the blocker carry him outside rather than forcing the runner inside where Lamar would've stuffed it.
3rd & 2 11 pistol vs 4-3 ZR vs the entire front 7 on the LOS, Mond keeps and has an easy lane off tackle, Simmons flew straight to the RB. Gain of 20. A&M took advantage of Simmons' aggression on his fire blitz and Lamar get sucked inside instead of filling Simmons' vacated gap.

Opening drive cont.

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 21 I form vs 4-3 PA wheel to the fullback vs cover 4 complete for another 20. Simmons got sucked in on the run action and didn't cover the flat at all, Mullen carried the outside receiver upfield with Wallace leaving the fullback completely uncovered.
1st & 10 11 pistol vs 4-3 Counter to Williams has a lane, Wallace fills and forces a fumble, A&M recovers for a gain of 4. Bryant gets washed outside and Wilkins is sealed off from the inside (the only way to zone block successfully vs Wilkins is to double and seal him away from the play).
2nd & 6 12 pistol vs 4-3 Dropback vs cover 3 Mike bullet, Mond misses the hook high, TE sandwiched by Joseph and Bryant as punishment. Good read and throw into a tight zone, just a bit too high.
3rd & 6 01 shotgun vs 4-3 Dropback vs cover 3 (5 underneath), Mond scrambles and completes the deep comeback in front of Terrell. A glimpse of things to come, just Mond making a great play...and an awful missed holding call vs Ferrell.

Opening drive still ongoing

Formation Play Analysis
Formation Play Analysis
11 shotgun vs 4-3 RPO bubble screen gains 3, big hit from Simmons. A&M had a chance but Wallace and Simmons played proper inside out defense. Mullen took on the blocker and Wallace forced the receiver back into Simmons.
12 pistol vs 4-3 Counter to Williams has a lane but Lawrence fights off his block from the backside, makes the stop after a gain of 2. Had Lamar not slipped past the pulling guard on a lead block or Lawrence not fought off from the back, A&M had the blockers for a first & goal.
02 pistol vs 4-3 Dropback vs a cover 2 fire zone, Mond locks in on the TE out route but Joseph and Muse were all over it, incomplete. Joseph and Muse will catch a lot of flak for poor coverage later in the game so praise is due here. With the missed field goal Clemson somehow avoids giving up points after a poor drive defensively.

Clemson ball, 9:48, Clemson 20

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Tunnel screen to Rodgers vs cover 3 Mike fire, Rodgers slips on the reception, loss of 1. Wouldn't have found many yards anyway with Renfrow and Richard blocking.
2nd & 11 11 shotgun vs nickel IZ to Etienne somehow gains 3. Simpson was pushed back but Pollard gets a seal which allows Etienne to get through a scrum, but Falcinelli whiffs at the second level.
3rd & 8 11 shotgun vs nickel Dropback vs man cover 2, Bryant never has a chance; Falcinelli got owned and gave up a sack. Disappointing effort from Falcinelli on consecutive plays given his experience. I'd run 0 technique against Clemson in perpetuity.

A&M ball, 7:57, A&M 45

Formation Play Analysis
Formation Play Analysis
11 shotgun vs 4-3 IZ to Williams gains 2. Wilkins was "sealed" (around the neck from behind) but Lamar filled for a good stop.
11 shotgun vs 4-3 Dropback vs cover 3 (5 underneath), Mond threatens to scramble which opens up the boundary in route, gain of 14. Another sign of what's to come, Mond creating openings between zone with his legs. Mullen releasing the boundary receiver underneath but Mond's movement up the pocket pulled Lamar upfield, vacating the middle.
11 pistol vs 4-3 ZR dive to Williams stoned for gain of 1. Bryant sealed the edge taking on the TE arc block and Joseph filled the C gap beautifully.
02 shotgun vs 4-3 Cover 1 jailbreak, A&M releases both TEs underneath and are both uncovered, easy 20 yard gain. Mond made Venables pay for pressure and we saw less of it from here on. And with the A&M "holding" the 4 man rush fairly well Mond was able to create.

A&M drive cont.

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 21 shotgun vs 4-3 Counter handoff to Williams hit for a loss of 4 by Ferrell. Mond bobbled the snap but Ferrell beat the pulling guard into the backfield for an easy stop.
2nd & 14 12 shotgun vs 4-3 Middle screen to Williams dropped, incomplete. Screen was set up well, only had Wallace to beat for a big gain.
3rd & 14 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Another screen to Williams set, Bryant beats the RT and forces Mond into a hurried throw while being hit, incomplete Good recovery, Clemson was flowing to the screen anyway but Bryant made it a non-issue. Field goal attempt good.

Clemson ball, 4:27, Clemson 20, 3-0 A&M lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 15 11 shotgun vs nickel Bubble screen to Rodgers, tripped by Richard on his way past, loss of 1. Wasn't going anywhere anyway...
2nd & 16 11 shotgun vs nickel Tunnel screen to Renfrow almost picked, caught for no gain. A&M is jumping the screens even in soft zone.
3rd & 16 11 shotgun vs nickel Bryant audibles and connects on the dig route to Rodgers vs cover 4, one missed tackle and 64 yards later Clemson is in business. This was the turning point in the quarter. Amazing adjustment, read, and throw against the soft spot in cover 4 from Bryant who deserves all the credit in the world here.

Clemson drive cont.

Formation Play Analysis
Formation Play Analysis
11 shotgun vs nickel Counter draw to Etienne hit for a loss of 4, Sam fire came free. Just a perfectly timed blitz from the backside, nothing to be done about it.
11 shotgun vs nickel Quick slant to Higgins vs cover 3 thrown too high, incomplete. A&M busted cover 3 on the other side, Richard was uncovered up the seam for a touchdown.
11 shotgun vs nickel Screen to Etienne vs cover 2 zone, gain of 18. Simpson sprang Etienne after the catch and Etienne trucked a DB (of course) and after that it was all Higgins. Great downfield blocking. Bryant scores on the next play with a beautiful move on the ZR keeper.

We’ll pick up with the Aggies driving to begin the 2nd quarter.