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Reminder: Clemson Is Still Your National Champion

It’s my dog’s birthday and I’m feeling loud

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Hello. It is May 21st and my dog is three years old today. He is a beautiful golden retriever who knows nothing but College Football Playoff seasons; two of his three years have been National Champion Pupper years. Thus today I feel moved to grandstand and shout online that Brent Venables is smarter than whomever Nick Saban chooses to employ for a mere season. It is Clemson’s staff longevity and scheming which overwhelmed Bama in January as much as any players did, and the staff returns intact. If you fear Clemson’s losses in the front 7 will render its defense hapless, this reminder is for you. See also, my dog, Howie:

Yes, I named him after Howard’s Rock. Yes, it is mid-May. We are months removed from football and have months remaining until football. You are likely sustaining yourself on recruiting updates (very good!!!) or maybe even baseball if you’re that bored (what is wrong with you?!?!!).

You may have read about or even taken part in the hand wringing involved in replacing the best defensive line in Clemson history — or perhaps even college football history — plus two linebackers to boot. You may think to yourself, “woe is me, if Clemson’s secondary is its strength next year we may as well surrender another 500 yards against South Carolina in a 35 point win, which is actually a moral defeat.”

Fear not dear readers, Clemson’s secondary wasn’t the dumpster fire you presumed (only feared!!). Talent and experience remains on the back end, talent which will allow Venables to stay aggressive with his front...yet it wasn’t that front forcing Bama into misreads downfield. Venables’ aggression and coverage feints (which require faith in one’s secondary) made the greatest coach of our era appear entirely unprepared. His staff, hapless and confused; his best offense ever, hapless and confused:

What happened here? A blended coverage and a fire zone blitz, combined. Tua Tagovailoa read man coverage when he saw K’Von Wallace align behind Isaiah Simmons’ fire blitz, and thought he’d have the slot out route for an easy 5 yards against Wallace. In actuality, Venables called a Sam fire in front of cover 2, and Terrell sat in the flat to jump the out route.

In playbook form:

Image courtesy of Ian A Boyd, SB Nation

Terrell, by the way, returns to lead the defense and is an expected 1st rounder spring.

Later in the half, Clemson sent a six man rush in Tua’s face and rotated a safety high and a safety low each (Wallace high, Nolan Turner underneath). Pressured, Tua again presumed man coverage when he saw double LB bullets and a single safety retreated, and threw a deep fade to the slot against whom he presumed would be Wallace. Instead, Venables’ six man rush had soft cover 3 behind it, with Mullen clear to effectively return a punt:

This was no fancy blitz or blended zone. It was a rather risky five man coverage shell; the risk mitigated only by deep corners. Skalski and Turner are charged with everything underneath, and the gamble fails if Tua gets the ball to the flat quickly. But Mullen drops into his deep third just where Tua expected Jerry Jeudy would run free past the single high safety.

This wasn’t nearly the feint which baited Tua into his first interception, but he took the bait nonetheless.