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LONGFORM 2ND HALF FIESTA BOWL FILM REVIEW

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College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl
Look at my son go
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Hello again friends. You may have noticed JP took the first two quarters since he had more immediate availability after the game. This is certainly for the best anyway since I have mild PTSD from watching the first half around 30-50 feral Bucks on a cruise ship.

During the initial slaughter I thought back to what I said this preseason and again after the ACC championship: anything beyond 13-0 is a bonus and there is no such thing as failure from here on. I tried to believe that and detach myself when the one team I wanted to avoid all season ran up and down the field for the first 20+ minutes. I had all but given up — already believing Higgins was out — when Lawrence took the targeting hit and reached for his collarbone. I knew then it was over. Ironically it was the turning point.

I am still surprised it was the dime defense which confounded Ohio State run game. When Dobbins broke off long runs against the 4 down base, I thought no way Clemson can contain OSU if they can’t stop Dobbins with 4 down lineman. If you follow any real football analysts, you may have already seen this since I’m so late, but it was the inverted cover 2 look out of the dime which shut down the the OSU run game and gave Clemson time to come back.

Venables mixed in actual inverted cover 2 (corners have deep halves and safeties crash downward) and plenty of cover 3 with the middle safety staying deep while the other two safeties joined linebackers crashing underneath. This allowed Clemson to throw speedy numbers at the line of scrimmage and maintain coverage integrity downfield with great corner play and a pterodactyl in the middle with Simmons.

With this defensive adjustment, the offense eventually pieced together what it could without running lanes for Etienne and blanket coverage by the OSU DBs. OSU wouldn’t let Clemson win the normal way, and hats off to the offensive staff for finding ways to move the ball with the QB run and RB receiving game.

Briefly looking ahead to LSU, this was a phenomenal test for the title game against a far less imposing defensive line and secondary that Clemson just outlasted. If not for a demigod at quarterback and the best passing scheme major CFB has ever seen, I’d like Clemson’s chances against LSU far better than I did against OSU...and still just might.


Clemson opens the half from the 25

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 RPO skinny post to Higgins vs man cover 1 dropped but inteference called Looked like excellent coverage but the corner arrived a shade too early.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel OZ to Etienne gains 7 Great running lane, numbers advantage with an effective double and climb by Cervenka.
2nd & 3 11 shotgun vs nickel Back shoulder fade to Higgins broken up by Okaduh in man cover 1 Great coverage, Higgins still almost pulled in a circus catch on his descent.
3rd & 3 11 shotgun vs nickel Quick out to Higgins vs cover 3 from a 2 high shell, dropped Clemson got the call it wanted, Okudah was bailing deep and Higgins was open. Chalk's underneath out got in Higgins' way and his late reaction to the ball's flight path caused the drop.

OSU ball, 14:06, OSU 3, 16-14 OSU lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 10 shotgun vs dime (3-2-6 with Wallace playing Sam, Simmons middle safety) Comeback route complete in front of DK in cover 3 for 13 Great route, tough to account for the comeback when the receiver sells the upfield go well.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime Counter to Teague stopped for 1 A linebacker up the A gap shut down an inside run, get used to reading it.
2nd & 9 11 shotgun vs dime Post complete to the slot in cover 3, gain of 22 Slot was open between Turner's underneath zone and Simmons bailing to the deep middle; Turner sat too far underneath.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime Deep curl complete for 10 vs cover 3, no one in flat coverage Wallace's blitz off the edge got under the left tackle, but obvious holding missed. LT had Wallace in a chokehold from behind.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime IZ to Teague strung out for 1 3 missed tackles before DK gets him by the feet on the edge, but bodies are flying in on the run now.
2nd & 9 11 shotgun vs dime QB power gains 3 Good work by Williams to fight into the hole and Simmons crashing down.
3rd & 6 11 shotgun vs 3-3-5 (Simmons at OLB) Dropback vs Tampa 2, Simmons gets a free rush and Fields has to tuck for 1 before Smith meets him, PUNT. Luckily the pressure in Fields' face kept him from looking to the boundary side, where Terrell and Muse missed the dig route exchange.

Clemson ball, 10:39, Clemson 1, 16-14 OSU lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Deep go to Ross vs cover 3, incomplete Ross doesn't quite have the jets to make a living on go routes against man, I like the call from the 1 though to loosen the defense. I don't like throwing that to Ross when Okaduh is on him and not Higgins.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Rollout curl to Higgins gains 10 Tough running after the catch is good to see from a banged up Higgins.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Called IZ, Lawrence zips it out to Higgins for 3 Simpson was beaten by an inside swim move so Lawrence checking out was fortunate.
2nd & 7 11 shotgun vs nickel Speed option keeper gains 1 I'm only here for Lawrence throwing spin moves on Chase Young.
3rd & 6 10 shotgun vs nickel (2 deep) Deep fade to Rodgers against man cover 1 incomplete I like the call against man, but not a fade to our shortest receiver. In the other slot, Ngata beat his man down the seam and the middle safety was running away from him.
ROUGHING THE PUNTER, 1ST & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Sweep to Dixon immediately cuts back and gets a block from Lawrence for 17 I've lamented the drop off behind Etienne for 2 years now but Dixon has good vision and change of direction; the two traits which made this play happen.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Flare screen to Etienne against man cover 1, one slipped tackle and he's gone Once the Mike who was manned on Etienne whiffed, the secondary was either already blocked are still had their backs turned. No chance to recover.

OSU ball, 7:54, OSU 25, 21-16 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 ace vs dime PA corner route vs cover 3, DK drops a pick right in his hands DK played the route perfectly so at least we can take solace in the coverage.
2nd & 10 10 shotgun vs dime IZ to Dobbins gains 2 Here's some inverted cover 2! Corners bail and safeties crash with the linebackers on the run. This is the defense's counter to spread power run games.
3rd & 8 11 shotgun vs dime Front 6 jailbreak in front of cover 3, Spector comes free for the sack and all of a sudden I'm certain Clemson would win After nearly an entire half with Venables on his heels, Day has lost round after round and this is an exclamation point.

Clemson goes 3 & out after the ensuing punt thanks to some help from the replay booth. Looking at it live, it seemed like an obvious incompletion; in slow motion, an obvious reception. The only surprise to me is that the booth chose to overturn the call rather than let it stand. Perhaps because on fumbles refs are taught to let the play go to replay when in doubt, and thus the normal rule for inconclusive evidence to overturn doesn’t apply? This is the only “break” on which I can empathize with Buckeye fans.

OSU ball, 4:47, OSU 45, 21-16 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime QB sweep gains 2 Henry and Smith each defended the edge well and Skalski was free to roam to the sideline.
2nd & 8 01 shotgun vs dime Deep go vs DK incomplete Good downfield coverage from DK yet again, got his head around to avert a flag.
3rd & 8 11 shotgun vs dime Corner blitz in front of cover 2, Fields tries the go route behind it, thinking he had Muse beaten. Wrong Fields never imagined Simmons would have opposite deep half BEHIND Muse, pick, much hype

Clemson ball, 4:13, Clemson 36, 21-16 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Quick slant to Ngata vs cover 3 gains 12 Great catch with an inaccurate pass, held on after a big hit.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel QB counter gains 6 Dixon actually ran the wrong way and was supposed to lead block, but his whiff gave us another chance to see Chase Young get juked by Trevor Lawrence.
2nd & 4 10 shotgun vs nickel Tunnel screen to Higgins blown up for a loss Obvious play call when Clemson stacks receivers, a lower throw might've found 1st down yardage however. Then a better block by Pollard might've scored.
3rd & 6 11 shotgun vs nickel Man cover 1 OLB fire gets around Anchrum, sack Young was lined up inside and Anchrum didn't get outside quickly enough; Young split the interior double team and would'be been there half a second later.

OSU ball, 1:38, OSU 16, 21-16 Clemson lead

OSU ball, 1:38, OSU 16, 21-16 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime Rollout, out route complete for 8 Easy yards against bail technique.
2nd & 2 11 shotgun vs dime Bubble screen gains 8 More soft coverage, Day is adjusting to it.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime OZ to Dobbins gains 5 Great hard tackle by Turner after Dobbins cleared the line clean with momentum.
2nd & 5 11 shotgun vs dime Fake screen and go, covered by Turner in cover 3, checkdown gains 2 2 good plays from Turner; Day thought he catch Clemson being aggressive after giving up a lot in the flat with soft coverage.
False start, 3rd & 9 11 shotgun vs 4-3 (Simmons MIKE, Wallace Sam, Muse Will, this is wild) Dropback vs cover 3 with a DL stunt, Fields has all day and checks down to Dobbins in the flat Fields baited Muse out of the flat before getting it to Dobbins, savvy...
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime Jailbreak in front of cover 3 and once again Spector comes free for a sack The knock on Fields is when the first read isn't there, he tries to improvize instead of going through progressions. It burned him here.
2nd & 15 11 shotgun vs dime Dropback vs cover 3, Fields moves and finds a comeback on the scramble drill for 17 Yet here the improvization helps him. You can see his reluctance to run on that knee though.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime Curl vs jailbreak cover 3 gains 9 With only 5 defenders in coverage (3 deep and 2 underneath midle) there's no flat defender to deter quick passes to the flat.
2nd & 1 11 shotgun vs dime Split zone to Dobbins gains 3 It's a 1st down but again we saw linebackers and safeties flying down every snap. It's an inverted cover 2 look even when from predominantly cover 3 calls; we know it's only inverted cover 2 when the middle safety crashes.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime Checkdown to Dobbins again gains 6 First time we've seen Clemson get immediate pressure vs when Fields holds the ball too long.
2nd & 4 11 shotgun vs dime QB run action, wants the fade but throws it away Clemson had this wrinkle covered; OSU wanted the TE seam to open up with safeties crashing. Fields saw Simmons deep and immediately looked to the covered curl before throwing it away.
3rd & 4 12 shotgun vs dime IZ to Dobbins hit immediately by Foster, gain of 2 Finally line penetration! Foster just slipped inside and held on against Dobbins' power.
4th & 2 11 shotgun vs dime PA pulls the safeties into no man's land and Turner gives up the post, touchdown. This isn't a good call. Many a time this year we've seen Clemson give up a short yardage conversion on play action because the front is aggressive and the safeties crash while a poor soul like Turner has to man up on a slot receiver.

We’re in the 4th quarter by now, y’all

Clemson ball, 11:46, Clemson 25, 23-21 OSU lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel QB lead draw gains 17 QB runs are generally better against man defenses anyway, but especially one spread out in nickel. With the RB lead there's always a numbers advantage.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel ZR keeper gains 1 Looked like the wrong read, the DE was squeezing but he was locked in on Lawrence, Etienne had a lane.
2nd & 9 11 shotgun vs nickel Nickel blitz with a stunt from Young forces an off balance slant to Higgins, broken up by Okudah in man The hot read was Rodgers but with the run action, Lawrence immediately had to reset away from him toward Higgins.
3rd & 9 10 shotgun vs nickel Another nickel blitz in front of man cover 1, this time Lawrence hits the alert hitch to Ross but is tackled immediately, punt This is the 3rd different time in the game I thought Ross was done for the year with a different injury each time.

10 minutes to go

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 12 shotgun vs dime PA flare to the TE incomplete Unfortunately K'Von tackled a guy and that's interference.
1st & 10 12 shotgun vs dime IZ to Dobbins gains 11 Clemson was bullied here; Foster was triple teamed and everyone else was sealed out.
1st & 10 12 ace vs dime PA vs nickel fire, Wallace sheds a TE off the edge and makes the sack, loss of 11 Again we see linebackers up the middle freeing edge pressure. How Venables shut down the OSU run game with a dime defense is legendary.
2nd & 21 12 ace vs dime Deep shot against DK in man, intercepted but interference called Momentum killer to bail OSU out, DK could've gotten away with only a little bit less tug.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime IZ to Dobbins stopped after 2 Dobbins slipped at the handoff but Davis was there waiting for him in the hole.
2nd & 8 10 shotgun vs dime Cover 3 fire zone, Fields hits the comeback for a gain of 7 in front of Smith Turner was the free rush this time, just was a bit too far away at the snap to get there in time.
3rd & 1 12 ace vs dime QB sneak gains 1 Second effort got it, Fields was short initially.
1st & 10 10 shotgun vs dime IZ to Dobbins gains 1 Muse crashed and met Dobbins before he was even out of the backfield.
2nd & 9 10 shotgun vs dime Cover 3 fire zone, Fields hit the stick just before more unblocked safety pressure arrived Fields really impressed me in this game. I never expected him to be able to carry the Buckeyes without Dobbins full strength, but he did.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime IZ to Dobbins, cutback gains 6 Simmons' length and dive tackle kept Muse from another footrace to save a TD...
2nd & 4 11 shotgun vs dime Sweep to Dobbins, Clemson holds the edge and holds a 1 yard gain DK set the edge with force and Foster made a hard tackle on a dynamic back.
3rd & 3 Empty shotgun vs dime Tunnel screen, Muse slips and Smith slips a block to swallow the play, huge stop Everyone mentions Muse running down Dobbins in the 1st quarter for unsung heroic play, but this one is more important. Smith was the only defender in position to make a stop, had a lineman bearing on him, slipped it and made the wrap up solo tackle.

Clemson ball, 3:07, Clemson 6, 23-21 OSU lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Slant to Ross gains 11 vs cover 3 How is this man walking, much less dragging defenders 5 yards.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel QB lead draw gains 11 more Lawrence bounced right rather than follow Etienne then delivered the hit himself.
1st & 10 10 shotgun vs nickel PA vs cover 3, deep crosser to Rodgers gains 38 Almost hilariously, Higgins happened to break wide open on his release and would've had a walk in touchdown the moment the ball was snapped.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel QB draw action vs man cover 1, jump pass to Etienne just behind the safety gets loose all the way to the endzone Hang it in a museum. Dabo & co win the chess match. OSU lost to Lawrence's legs and Etienne's hands.

OSU ball, 1:49, OSU 25, 29-23 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime RB screen thrown into a corner blitz gains 14 Perfect call against the blitz, could've been far more disastrous than 14 yards.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime RB flare against man cover 1 robber/spy gains 9 more Nobody had Dobbins out of the backfield and nobody had flat coverage.
2nd & 1 11 shotgun vs dime Skinny post over the midle vs 6 main jailbreak, soft pattern match behind it gains 12, too easy Simmons had off coverage and there was no underneath coverage to clog a throwing lane; slot had the entire seam and middle of the field to work with.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime RB flare out of the backfield again finds 8, no flat defender Terrell was sucked inside to Skalski, Venables on his heels but players aren't helping.
2nd & 2 11 shotgun vs dime Fake audible, quick go route incomplete Luckily Terrell reacted faster than the rest of the defense, Day pulling out all the stops and almost had Venables again.
3rd & 2 11 shotgun vs dime ZR keeper fools XT, Fields gains 5 Rough night on the ZR for XT but at least he made a hit.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs dime Cover 3 fire zone gets a free rush AGAIN, Turner misses and Fields tucks for 3 Dobbins prevented a truly free rush which probably led to Fields fending off Turner, but I enjoyed seeing Turner thump Dobbins in awful pass protection.
2nd & 7 10 shotgun vs dime Dropback vs 3 man rush cover 4, Turner gets isolated on the slot again but sits on the post this time, receiver slips on the scramble drill, pick, GAME OVER Redemption. Cover 4 was honestly risky with the way OSU was throwing intermediate across the middle and short in the flat, and they got the matchup they wanted. Even with Turner playing the post he very well may have been beaten to the ball had the receiver not cut off his route and slipped.