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Clemson vs. Syracuse: 2nd Quarter Film Review

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It’s officially scary season

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

Folks, I have to come clean. I’m not much of a Halloween guy anymore. I used to go out with friends in college for multiple nights during Halloweek. However, those days are far in the rear view. I’m not much of a scary movie guy either. But there is one spooky tradition I have engaged in for most of the past few years during autumn: Syracuse v. Clemson. Though last year was an uninteresting blowout, the prior two years were two of the scariest Clemson games I’ve watched since Venables came on board. This year I thought I would be spared of the horror; I was assured that this year would be different due to the combination of attrition, inexperience, and just downright awful play. Yet, for the 2nd & 3rd quarters I was back inside that familiar nightmare.

So, of course, I’m assigned the quarter where Syracuse starts to make things scary for us. Not only did I have to watch it live, but I have to relive it like a Wes Craven directed Groundhog Day (the actual horror version of this movie is called Happy Death Day FWIW...I did not watch). However, upon review of the 2nd quarter, I really didn’t find it to be as frightening as I remembered it. The pick 6 was a fluke from the best quarterback in college football, and while the blocked kicks/punts are happening a little too frequently recently to wonder if they’re also flukes, I expect those to regress to the mean of “not happening ever.” Other than that, I think we did a decent job moving the ball despite drops, a few errant throws, and Etienne having to sit snaps out. As Alex said in his review, the defensive woes mostly came down to our three best defensive players being out, and the inexperience provided some...interesting pursuit angles against the run. However, part of it was #34 Sean Tucker making some magic happen. Syracuse leaned on their best player for much of the 2nd quarter and he rewarded them with a touchdown from good field position.

Let me know what STS nation has to say about the 2nd quarter in the comments.

Syracuse ball, 15:00, Clemson 22, 17-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
FALSE START 3rd & 12 10 personnel vs Dime Quick slants concept vs. Cover 1 w/ both linebackers blitzing, gain of 15 Blitz didn't get home and because there was 6 man pressure, there was no man to cover curl/flats to field. Easy completion with that much time
1st & Goal 12 personnel vs Okie Wide Outside Zone run by Tucker, TOUCHDOWN If you needed any more proof that Sean Tucker is Syracuse's best offensive player, at least with Taj Harris out, here it is. Tucker sells that he's bouncing it outside, which gets Nolan Turner to move too far toward the sideline, and then bangs it inside back by him for the score. Getting spooky in Death Valley

Hard to say what went wrong here without knowing Venables’ call, but there are some things to point out to perhaps better explain why a bad Syracuse offense was able to get a 7yd TD run here. Clemson fans have been quick to point out that we were pretty hamstrung without Kendrick/Davis/Skalski, but I’m not sure their presence would have affected this play any differently. I suppose having Davis at Nose might have made a difference, but the center gets a suspiciously good block on Bresee (we won’t get into that, this is a Clemson blog after all, not an Ohio State one). You could place blame on Turner for missing the tackle, but I think the main issue is that Xavier Thomas probably needs to do better here. If you look at the endzone angle, he’s driving through to the B gap...until he moves to the edge for some reason. Now, I have an admittedly limited understanding of defensive play calling, but I’m not aware of anyone installing a scheme where the nose slants to the playside A from a 0, a DE slants to the D, and two interior gaps are taken by a safety and a LB. It doesn’t add up.

Clemson ball, 14:15, Clemson 25, 17-7 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 11 personnel stack left vs. 4-3 Counter run by Etienne with jet motion from the field attached, gain of 4 Etienne with good vision to see the hole backside, possibly could have been a bigger run if Stevens had held onto his block a little longer
2nd & 6 11 personnel stack left vs. 4-3 9-route to EJ Williams against man coverage Williams stems the route back inside across the DB's face and mosses the DB. It's good to be a fan of WRU with depth like this
1st & 10 11 personnel vs 3-4 IZ run by Etienne, gain of 5 Etienne bounces this outside and I swear he got pulled down by his facemask. Maybe I'm alone on thinking that though
2nd & 5 11 personnel stack left vs 3-4 Counter to Etienne, gain of Didn't get much push and and a hole never emerged so Etienne puts his head down and gets what he can, but unfortunately gets banged up
3rd & 3 idk Trevor Lawrence throwaway Couldn't tell you what happened on this play because ACC network made the bewildering decision to show footage of trainers talking to Etienne on the sideline instead of the first half of the play occuring on the field. Unless you were at the game, all we got to see was 3 DL chasing Trevor and then a throwaway
4th & 3 FAKE PUNT FAKE PUNT I love the aggressiveness. The whole right side of Syracuse's coverage bit and were being carried up field other than the player on the edge, who received a mondo block from Pinckney and Allen, which made it an easy conversion.
1st & 10 11 personnel slant left Split zone run by Dixon, gain of 3 Lyn-J has a hole but the strong safety rotates down to blow it up
2nd & 7 11 personnel slant left PA rollout to Galloway, first down I love the play sequencing here. We're running a very similar look to the previous play (slant left) and post-snap we also get a flow to the right with Galloway coming across to show a split flow block. Instead, Galloway slips underneath into the flats and picks up some yardage. Also, credit to Galloway for playing heads up and not letting an OL bumping into him knock him too much off schedule
1st & 10 11 personnel vs 3-4 Jet sweep handoff to FAKE PASS TO LAWRENCE, gain of 8 Everyone on the roster will get to throw a pass by the end of the season. This design of flowing heavily in one direction only to throw across the field to a player behind or at the line is something I've seen a few times in the NFL (though usually with lead blocking attached) and now we get to see Clemson utilizing it. Adequate throw by a receiver but if Rodgers had led him more to the outside this could've been six. Trevor does a good job her of convincingly selling non-involvement after the handoff before running to the flats. Also, give some shine to Dixon for putting some stank on that backside block
FALSE START 2nd & 7 20 personnel vs 4-3 nickel Pitch to Dixon, gain of 3 I thought this was going to be stopped in the backfield but Dixon is able to explode off of his hesitation move and get it to the 20
3rd & 4 11 personnel vs 4-3 nickel Dig route to Allen, incomplete Trevor bails early on the pressure from the interior, yet is able to still deliver a laser to the Dig route, but it's dropped by Allen. Missed FG. Yikes.

In my opinion, this is one of those plays of his where you wish he’d make the easy play before he reminds you that he’s T-16, a powerful android sent from the future to shred defenses, proving once again that he’s the greatest out-of-structure QB in the game right now. The play is a simple mesh sit concept against zone, and you’ll notice that it draws the linebackers down, creating space for Allen’s dig at the 10 yard line, which attacks the pocket of space between the linebackers and the safeties in Quarters coverage. Lawrence sees that the dig is about to come open after coming out of his 3-step drop, so he hitches and starts his windup...but pulls it down. I don’t have the all-22 angle of this play, so I can’t say that TL didn’t see Allen stumble, but it looks like he pulls the ball down because he sees the white of the DEs jersey getting off of a block and panics a bit. Now, personally, I’d like to see him finish through with the throw and take the contact, but I accept that I have never been on the receiving end of a 280lb man throwing me to the ground. However, he proves me wrong by scrambling to the left, which naturally creates a high difficulty throw for a right-handed QB, but STILL throws an absolute laser on a plate to Allen, who drops it.

Syracuse ball, 9:08, Syracuse 20, 17-7 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 12 personnel vs. 3-4 IZ run from Tucker, gain of 21 Not sure what the priorities are for defending Inside Zone when it's taugh to a defense, because I've never been a part of an install myself, but I'd have to reason that "plug both A gaps" has to be near the top. I'm also not sure what the call was here but Pinckney is clearly told to stunt backside out of the A gap, which leaves him upfield and too wide to make a tackle in the backfield. Worse yet, not only does no one account for the backside A gap, but no second level defender is even in the area because Spector runs himself out of the play. Sean Tucker gets 20 yards on a plate here from missed assignments. 
1st & 10 12 personnel vs. Pit Outside Zone handoff to Tucker, gains 6 Pinckney does a decent job of trailing from the backside but Sean Tucker is once again exposing an inexperienced backend
2nd & 4 12 personnel vs 3-4 RPO flat route dropped, incomplete This was actually a great playcall from Babers in a short yardage situation. The whole line blocks inside zone, the backside sniffer runs a wheel route while the playside Tight end mocks a split flow block across the formation that turns into a flat route. The backside tight end's wheel route carries the nickel wide toward the boundary sideline and leaves plenty of space underneath for the other TE. This should have been an easy conversion, Clemson is fortunate it was dropped
3rd & 4 10 personnel vs creeper blitz Dropback to curl route, incomplete Great decision by Venables to send a creeper blitz against an inexperienced QB. Mike and Will both mug like they're going to blitz, but the Mike drops into the zone that Zanders is blitzing from and Zanders gets matched up on a RB. Culpepper feels the pressure and rushes the throw

Clemson ball, 7:31, Clemson 13, 17-7 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 11 personnel stack right vs. 4-3 nickel Out route to Powell, incomplete It looks like the ball sails on Lawrence a little bit and Powell gets banged up
2nd & 10 11 personnel vs 3-4 nickel Quick out to Rodgers, gain of 15 This is a smash concept designed to hi-lo the DBs and works beautifully here
1st & 10 11 personnel slant left vs 3-4 IZ to Etienne with jet motion attached, gain of 8 Etienne comes back in the game and makes a good cut backside to get a good gain on 1st down...and then limps back out.
2nd & 2 11 personnel field stack trips vs 3-4 RPO bubble screen to Williams, gain of 1 Rodgers' block gets blown up by the field corner
3rd & 1 11 personnel slant left vs. 3-4 IZ to Dixon, first down Lyn J Dixon up the gut for the 1st down
1st & 10 11 personnel stack left vs. 4-3 Deep post to Rodgers, incomplete I'm not sure I agree with the announcers that the DB rips this out at the end. The DB definitely gets a hand in there while Rodgers is on his back, but it looks like the ball is always bouncing out of Rodgers' hands due to the force of the contact with the ground after great extension from Rodgers. This was almost an incredible play by 3.
2nd & 10 Shotgun pistol vs 3-4 nickel Dig route to Powell, first down Great delivery from Lawrence, and good catch by Powell
1st & 10 11 personnel tight vs 4-3 IZ to Dixon, gain of 1 Powell immediately runs into Trevor trying to carry his fake
2nd & 9 11 personnel vs 3-4 nickel Tunnel screen to Ngata, gain of 8 I like the design here, have Lawrence rollout on a naked and then throw the tunnel.
3rd & 1 11 personnel slant right vs 3-4 Split zone to Etienne, first down Man, this game makes clear how valuable Etienne is to our offense. When he comes on it's like the run game eats Mario mushroom. Also, good job by Allen to seal the DE off.
1st & 10 11 personnel stack right vs 4-3 nickel IZ to Etienne, gain of 3 The line gets good push, this is what we like to see
2nd & 7 Shotgun pistol vs 3-4 Fake tunnel screen into seam route to Allen against outside blitz, TOUCHDOWN And here's an example of why our passing game also takes a huge leap with Etienne in. This lookds to be Quarters coverage and therefore the free safety should have responsibility for the deep seam area Allen is running into, yet he's too preocuppied with Etienne's bubble screen that he doesn't realize what's going down until it's too late.

Syracuse ball, 2:54, Syracuse 25, 24-7 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 11 personnel vs 3-4 IZ to Tucker, gain of 15 Zanders doesn't do a great job filling here, but honestly this is mostly just Tucker being excellent excellent at navigating traffic in my opinion.
FALSE START 1st & 15 Shotgun pistol vs 3-4 nickel IZ to Tucker, gain of 7 The TE gets a good block on Spector here to snuff out any backside pursuit. Jake Venables overpursues and takes a bad angle which helps Tucker gash us for more than he should have and Zanders gives a consecutive poor effort. This is another instance where not having Skalski hurts us
2nd & 8 11 personnel vs 3-4 nickel Boundary curl route, first down Culpepper stands strong under pressure and deliver a good ball to the boundary. Was not expecting throws like this from the little bit of film I'd watched on Syracuse beforhand.
1st & 10 10 personnel vs Okie dime Screen pass, incomplete Charleston helps to blow this up before it gets going
2nd & 10 11 personnel vs Dime ZR keeper, gain of 3 Culpepper sees Murphy crashing in so he pulls the ball, but Bresee scrapes and makes a play
3rd & 7 11 personnel vs creeper blitz Slot curl, incomplete This time around Culpepper doesn't panic as much but still throws a ball to far inside, which Turner helps to break up. This is the Cuse passing game I saw earlier in the season.

The next play is the pick six. I’ll post a gif of it below if I have to, but there’s nothing to really analyze here, it’s just a bad throw. It happens. The most recent #1 pick, Joe Burrow, is one of the most accurate, smartest QBs in college football recently, and he threw a pick 6 in a bowl game. At least this was against Syracuse.

Clemson ball, 1:18, Clemson 25, 24-14 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 11 personnel vs. 4-3 nickel Quick out to Galloway, gain of 7 Smash concept gets Galloway into space
2nd & 3 11 personnel vs. 4-3 nickel Quick out to Galloway, first down Same play as last time, except Galloway decides to not immediately go out of bounds and unfortunately takes a knock
1st & 10 11 personnel vs. 4-3 nickel Quick out to Rodgers, gain of 8
2nd & 2 10 personnel vs 3-4 nickel Bubble screen to Etienne, gain of 1
3rd & 1 10 personnel vs 3-4 nickel QB draw, first down The middle was wide open, nice call there
1st & 10 10 personnel vs 3-4 nickel Quick out to Rodgers, gain of 3 Can't really tell from the broadcast angle, but it looks like we we've been using mirrored smash concepts for most of the drive
2nd & 7 11 personnel vs. 3-4 nickel QB keeper to the outside, gain of 6 Lawrence sells the handoff well and gashes the defense
3rd & 4 10 personnel vs 3-4 nickel QB draw, first down I honestly think TL could have run this the whole drive and easily gotten into FG range, with how much respect their defense was giving the pass. Regardless, it was nice to see the offense pick their head up and run an efficient up-tempo offense into FG range before the half was up