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Clemson vs Georgia Southern 1st Quarter Film Review

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Clemson’s dominant yet scoreless 1st quarter performance was undone by untimely errors

NCAA Football: Georgia Southern at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Top priority in Saturday’s game was establishing Travis Etienne, and Clemson did so emphatically...after an effective but ultimately fruitless start. Clemson moved down the field on each of the opening quarter’s three drives, only to be undone by turnovers and a wind-altered missed field goal. Trevor Lawrence began on a tear but fell into a lull in the 2nd half after Kelly Bryant’s injury; Clemson mixed and matched personnel with inconsistent results. The good news is the personnel influx builds depth for the greater challenges later in the season.

The only consistently dazzling performance Saturday (when he was on the field) came from Travis Etienne. I’ve loved power handoffs to Etienne since he burst on the scene nearly a year ago, and it’s no coincidence his emergence shifted Clemson towards power and counter handoffs in 2017, which allow him to build his momentum to the edge where he is impossible for defensive backs to bring down at first contact, but provide lead blockers for a cutback inside with pulling linemen. In addition to his usual burst on power handoffs, there were a couple of glaring differences in the run game which encourage me moving forward.

Garrett Williams’ return makes a difference on the ground and it’s no surprise the run game looked better than it did in College Station, regardless of the talent disparity between A&M and GA Southern. But I noticed a new wrinkle with field receiver Amari Rodgers which excites me. Normally, Rodgers is the farthest player from the ball, aligned closest to the sideline on the wide side of the field (hence the term field receiver). Whenever he is moved inside and off the ball to a slot position, it is usually to come in on jet motion, whether to pull defenders away from a handoff or to receive a pop pass; this has been the case in Clemson’s offense for years now. Saturday, Rodgers wasn’t merely sent in jet motion from the slot; he was shifted into an H back role, essentially creating a two-TE look from the base 11 personnel:

This is an enticing constraint which should provide more versatility to the Clemson run and perimeter games, but most importantly it’s a tendency breaker and another way to stress a defensive coordinator or graduate assistant tasked with scouting Clemson. Defenses can’t simply shift coverages and gaps when Rodgers comes in motion; now he is an extra blocker in the box rather than a decoy or perimeter threat. With his strong, compact frame and versatility, this is an ideal use for him. He is as likely to receive a pop pass as he is to block when he motions from the slot now, and it’s one more headache for a defense.

Clemson ball, 15:00, Clemson 25

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 IZ to Etienne gains 7. Anchrum sealed a lane through the backside B gap, Etienne only needs a tiny gap and it's a guaranteed 5.
2nd & 3 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Quick curl to Renfrow on the RPO vs cover 4, gain of 13. Easy pickings vs a soft zone with a Sam sucked in by the run action.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Quick out to Higgins vs soft cover 3 gains 5. Bryant is adept at taking what is given and Southern is giving 5-8 yards outside.
2nd & 5 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Bucksweep to Etienne gains 7. Rodgers motioned in to the aforementioned H slot and crack blocked the Sam, Pollard pancakes a blitzing linebacker on his pull and Etienne spins off the Mike for the hard yards after contact.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 PA vs cover 3, Bryant rolls out and heaves a deep fade to Rodgers, jump ball incomplete. Bryant needed to get this ball out earlier while Rodgers had separation, but had to set his feet and wind up.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 QB power run for no gain. Pollard was blown backward on his pull and Bryant stumbled, the hole closed before he could follow Choice's lead block.
3rd & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Dropback vs cover 3 fire zone, corner route to Galloway gains 20. Bryant beat Southern's first pressure look, victimizing the boundary corner in soft zone forced to choose between carrying Overton upfield or passing him to the deep safety. He chose neither; excellent read and an accurate ball.

But on the next play Bryant throws an interception on...a screen pass. Tough to blame Bryant here (other than the usual slow, arcing ball trajectory), the corner was in soft coverage but jumped the route when he saw the screen. Ross wasn’t expecting a contested ball due to the soft coverage and was behind the ball in an effort to gather momentum at the catch. Tendencies...

Southern ball, 12:22, Southern 24

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 10 shotgun vs 4-3 QB draw gains 6. Bryant was sealed inside and the lead block cleared Simmons.
Offside, 1st & 10 21 shotgun vs 4-3 TO dive to a defensive tackle gains 4. Southern doubled Lawrence off the ball and Lamar had to fill against a defensive tackle, ouch.
2nd & 6 12 shotgun vs 4-3 IZ gains 2. Lamar was again free to fill and make the tackle, this one much easier.
3rd & 4 12 shotgun vs 4-3 IZ stopped for a gain of 1, Lawrence with the stop. Wilkins blew up the center from 0 tech, Lawrence shed his blocker with his hands and then moved down the line to fill for the stop.

Clemson ball, 9:26, Clemson 15

I want to highlight the opening play of this drive on its own, the midline option:

I love this element of the zone read. A guard releases a defensive tackle instead of releasing the end man on the line like in most zone reads. This way you’re putting stress on a less athletic interior lineman (opposed to a DE or OLB) while allowing your best run blocker to immediately climb to a smaller linebacker. It’s an easy read for Bryant here, but the blocking makes this play. Simpson drive blocks a linebacker solid 10 yards.

2nd Clemson drive

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 RPO dive to Etienne gains 2. Difficult to say if Bryant made the right read here or not, but the Sam seemed more intent on the run fake than sitting on Renfrow's quick hitch.
2nd & 8 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Flare screen to Feaster gains 9. Actually well blocked outside by Renfrow and Rodgers; the safety had to fly in and trip Feaster up, which is how the play is designed.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Bucksweep to Feaster gains 8. Again beautifully blocked, Simpson and Richard pulled while the rest of the line blocked down and sealed out the entire Southern front. Simpson and Richard each made solid lead blocks and Feaster had 5 yards before delivering the blow to the Sam filling from the back side.
2nd & 2 11 shotgun vs 3-4 IZ to Feaster gains 4. Hyatt with some solid drive blocking for Feaster to follow.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Power handoff to Etienne, who of course gets to the edge where he's the most beautifully dangerous, gain of 20. Simpson's pull didn't matter because Etienne was getting to the edge from the beginning, which is fine with me because watching DBs trying to tackle him is so fun it should be inappropriate.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Power handoff to Etienne with Simpson pulling again, this time he can't bounce outside but gains 5. Credit to Richard here for providing the block to get Etienne through the line.
2nd & 5 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Bubble screen to Rodgers gains 6. Renfrow's block was enough, improved effort in blocking all around thus far.
Chop block, 1st & 22 11 shotgun vs 3-4 RPO hitch to Thompson dropped. Looked like the wrong read, the Sam was backing into coverage leaving a 6 man box. Corner again jumped the route and made Thompson pay, leaving the go route wide open if Bryant didn't lock in on Thompson.
2nd & 22 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Delayed QB power gains 12. Simpson again pulled well and sealed out the end man, Williams cleared out the back side to give Bryant a lane.
3rd & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Dropback vs man cover 1 LB spy, Bryant tries to roll out and throw on the run but is tripped and sacked, loss of 5. Field goal misses just right.

Southern ball, 4:48, Southern 22

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
False start, 1st & 15 21 shotgun vs 4-3 TO dive hit for a loss of 1. Lawrence worked off a quick double and got down the line for first contact, unfair for someone so big to have some good hand technique to boot.
2nd & 16 20 shotgun vs 4-3 Option pitch gains 5 Bryant forced the pitch but couldn't get outside quick enough, Simmons flew the alley like a safety and made the stop.
Offside, 3rd & 5 10 shotgun vs 4-3 Quick drop, Bryant was unblocked through the B gap and makes the rag doll sack, loss of 7 Simply a missed assignment, neither the right guard nor right tackle blocked anyone.

Clemson ball, Lawrence QB, 2:04, Clemson 39

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Tunnel screen to Kendrick gains 6. Weird how much better these work when the ball gets out quickly and accurately.
2nd & 4 11 shotgun vs 3-4 PA drag route to Kendrick dropped. Kendrick had to stop to get both hands on the ball but he still got both hands on it.
3rd & 4 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Dropback vs cover 3, Lawrence checks down to Chase for a gain of 5. Clean pocket, no panic, and progressing to a slot receiver crossing between zones. It looks simple but it's uncanny for a freshman.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 IZ to Choice gains 5. Choice literally fell forward for an extra 4 yards.
2nd & 5 11 shotgun vs 3-4 ZR to Choice fumbled, turnover. Choice got sandwiched by a DT on one side and a helmet on the ball from the other, about the only way this wrecking ball of a man could fumble...

Foreshadowing what was to be a rather mercurial day for the Clemson offense, so concluded the first quarter; one which Clemson dominated statistically but left scoreless thanks to an interception, a missed field goal, and a fumble.