And here we go (insert Joker gif...)!
First, win or lose this has been an incredible ride these past five years. It should continue next season as well. Important to keep that in mind for next season. This is a monumental task ahead for Clemson and specifically this defense. But it can be done (just like no one took Clemson to win last year against the greatest offense in college football, it can be done!).
WHAT HAPPENED AGAINST OHIO STATE
OSU came out and played a lot of single high safety and our WRs were in man-to-man much of the night, and needed to win individual matchups. The plan for OSU was to get pressure with the front four (which they did) and have the DBs underneath lock up long enough to get home. Normally the Clemson offense thrives off these looks and picks defenses apart with superior wide receiver play. That didn’t happen.
The Oline struggled to give Trevor Lawrence a lot of time in the pocket. It didn’t seem that way because TL was getting the ball out quickly, but Anchrum struggled when Chase Young was lined up over him and the interior line let some guys through as well. We tried to cut Young a bunch and that didn’t work very well. Clemson also couldn’t run up the A gap early and completely abandoned it for outside runs and getting Travis Etienne the ball in space. The Quarterback run was also used because it gives an additional run blocker that was needed at the point of attack.
The OSU DBs are great, and especially good with Wade in the game (certainly the best Clemson has faced this season and likely better than LSU). Without Tee Higgins early, Clemson absolutely struggled. Very little separation and very little run after the catch. Overton couldn’t get any separation at all. Amari disappeared. Ross at the 9 spot struggled. Ross makes great catches but doesn’t have the speed to get open down the field against DBs who excel at man to man at the 9. Clemson WR’s got bullied at the line of scrimmage in a way I haven’t seen in a long while. We didn’t see as much of Ngata (who had one really nice play) or Ladson. Ross has had a hip injury all season and seemed to be dealing with that and stinger issues, in his defense.
TLDR. OSU dline got pressure, DBs played physical and kept everything in front and forced Clemson to run the QB and try to make things happen in space. They were extremely physical. Trevor grinded it out and Etienne was the difference maker with yards after the catch (the biggest player development of the offseason was arguably ETN developing his hands).
On defense, Venables came out in a base Nickel set, which is one of four different base looks we have this year (and the reason OC’s have a hard time keying in on what we do on defense—it is as multiple as any team in the country). Clemson struggled with some run fits early—one on XT’s fit on the zone read where the LBs didn’t help with scraping down and one where Mascoll had no business being in the game. Other than those two runs the run defense held up and OSU relied on Fields and the passing game. Tyler Davis was the most important recruit last year! He played a big game, getting some crucial stops and providing some pressure on Fields. Fields was deadly accurate and was able to slice up the secondary at times during the game. Clemson stiffened in the red zone, however.
Credit to Muse for the arm tackle of Dobbins. Credit to Simmons for the interception, coming from the other side of the field. Credit to Chad Smith for a couple really important tackles. Spector played his best game of the year.
The plan was clear. When Clemson went with the inverted Tampa Two look after the Nickel failed (coming from Iowa State with three down lineman and an extra Safety, with Muse playing more in the box), OSU attacked Turner and Wallace. They also went to Dobbins out of the backfield. Clemson didn’t get a lot of pressure without bringing players and kept everything in front of them, limiting OSU in the red zone.
ON TO LSU
In big games LSU has largely abandoned the run. They are pass first and probably 70/30 pass to run (maybe 80/20 in bigger games). Burrow is really good this season because he knows how to read defenses and the answers built into the offense based on the look. If it is man then he goes here for the completion and if it is zone they are going to the weak points. Brady is an offensive genius. So first you need to disguise man and zone looks to make it hard for Burrow, blending man and zone concepts and disguising where pressure is coming from. If Burrow catches the blitz he makes defenses pay and is so so accurate that he can pick you apart, the exact same way as Fields—if not better.
Burrow is also a really tough runner. He doesn’t slide. Ever. Just like TL, Burrow uses his legs to burn defenses stuck in man. The other advantage is RB Edwards-Helaire out of the backfield. Safety valve, chain mover, and difference maker. Many RBs catch the ball out of the backfield but are easily tackled—they don’t know how to go from running back to wide receiver back to running back—but Edwards-Helaire is a weapon. His health is a big deal in this game.
On defense, LSU also likes to go single high safety and try to keep everything in front. They have a bigger defensive line without many pass rushers, but Chaisson has come on to fill that role as the season has progressed. He isn’t big, but slippery and long. The insertion of Michael Divinity into the lineup for this game also gives another added pass rushing threat not many people are talking about (and he has been practicing with the team for some time). LSU likes to boast that they have the best corners in the country and Stingley Jr. has gotten much better in his true freshman season.
INJURIES and REFS
Pickney is going to be limited in this game with an ankle sprain (he only played 9 snaps against OSU). Higgins should be good to go but Ross keeps dealing with the lingering hip and stinger issues. Simpson and Carman were dealing with some foot/ankle problems, but will definitely play the entire game unless something else comes up.
Pac 12 refs are some of the worst. Very inconsistent. Don’t expect any targeting calls. These were the 2015 title game refs/clock operators who weren’t even stopping the clock on a first down (other than a second) that cost Clemson a chance to score before half-time. Total bologna chaos. Ed O knows those Pac 12 refs...
HOW TO WIN
ETN is the key for the offense. Get him going and loosen up the secondary while not allowing Chaisson to key on the pass rush. If Clemson can run up the A gap then the offense should be fine. If the interior keeps getting stuffed then its the same outside runs and trying to get ETN the ball in space with QB run sprinkled into the plan. Delayed ETN counter draw for the win!
Tee Higgins and the Clemson wide receivers need to get open down the field and the Oline should have a better showing against this LSU pass rush, which should allow more plays to open up down the field. Look for more post and crossing routes, along with finally getting the tight end involved (Galloway). Clemson got stuffed on third and short and third and medium, which has to improve (looking for some Tony Elliott saved play championship magic).
Regardless, Clemson should move the ball and score consistently on offense. No turnovers against OSU—that needs to continue.
On defense—in Venables we trust. He spent the offseason working on this specific dilemma—how to stop a superior passing attack without a great defensive front that you can rely on to get consistent pressure. We will play some Nickel, but primarily Dime looks with the inverted Tampa Two. We will mix man and zone concepts. When blitzing, Clemson has to wrap up. You can hit Burrow because he isn’t going down easy. Playing UVA and OSU gave Clemson the chance to acclimate to playing good QB’s who you can’t arm tackle. Skalski, Turner, and others have to wrap up because Burrow loves scramble drills and making defenses pay down the field.
Clemson needs AJ Terrell to lock down his man. He gave up a few balls against OSU but needs to be a blanket this game. Teams have tried to pick on DK (UVA and OSU) and not found a ton of success. That must continue. This is a money game for those two—if they can’t hold up then everything falls to pieces.
Wallace had an up and down game against OSU. He dropped an interception and missed some run fits. LSU will attack him just like Bama did last year and he just needs to hold up and not give up yards after contact just like he did last year. LSU likes to put their main targets in the slot (just like Clemson), and Wallace or Simmons will draw that matchup. Wallace will also have to deal with LSU’s TE Moss.
Turner got the interception in the end, but didn’t play a great game. He missed two tackles on blitzes that were wide open shots. He didn’t come up and make a tackle on third and 15 where he was juked out of his shoes. He can’t get beat over the top. If he does then it is a long day for the defense. Same goes for Muse if we have him in Nickel. He got pulled off the field last season against Bama, but the inverted tampa two allows him to stay on the field, closer to the line of scrimmage. No busts against LSU, no early freebies. Make them earn everything. The Auburn and UGA defenses were able to limit LSU (but their offenses couldn’t do much at all).
The Clemson defensive line, however, needs to step up. It is time Xavier Thomas. We need more pass rush from the front. Oftentimes, the DE’s in our system are told to hold their positions and not over extend, which allows a running lane for the QB. That is really true against Burrow—so it isn’t a simple solution, but Clemson has to get more pressure than they did against Fields. Burrow normally gets the ball out quicker than Fields, but he also holds the ball sometimes and trusts his offensive line. His clock needs to be sped up.
Clemson has to be ready for tempo. OSU got Clemson on some quick snaps and cheap plays. They also just ran a bunch of tempo to stress BV and that will happen again. LSU likes to use tempo in short yardage. They like to use tempo to gain easy yards. The defense needs to be more aware than they were against OSU.
On special teams I want THAT WILL SPIERS to show up again! He really was the MVP of the first portion of the first half. Potter needs to step up. He can make all the kicks and I don’t care about any kicks other than in champs games when you need them. LSU’s punter also isn’t great and they don’t settle for many field goals.
Lastly, this is not a team you want to be playing against behind. They thrive off of playing ahead, being able to take chances down the field, and defending against a team that is more one dimensional or predictable (pass heavy). No slow starts in this game from the offense. The defense needs a few takeaways and the offense needs to apply the pressure by scoring because LSU is going to get their points. Make LSU uncomfortable and make some mistakes. On offense win on third down (Clemson moved the ball against OSU but came up short on some key third down conversions).
I said Clemson by a touchdown against OSU (6 points is technically a TD), but I was surprised at how physical OSU played and how dominant their interior offensive line was overall. This game is closer to a toss-up than Vegas thinks. I have Clemson by a FG in this one and I am inclined to take the under (but not confident enough to advise anyone to pull the trigger). I’m so excited, I’m so...scared.
Go Tigers! Clemson Tigers.