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Clemson vs UVA Film Review: 1st Half

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 03 Virginia at Clemson Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I intend to run a marathon through this UVA review by halves instead of by quarter so we can quickly turn the page to Miami. It’s BIG GAME WEEK and most of you know by now I want a full three days to marinate a narrative equally stupid and informative for my own internal hype instead of cramming some quick obligatory Miami film on Thursday night.

There’s a lot I could say about this Virginia game but it boils down to a few simple truths:

  1. Clemson’s defensive front, in its current form, was exposed by UVA’s offensive line. Clemson is down last year’s starting DEs and it shows. Down Tyler heckin’ Davis, the guy who makes it all work inside. In his stead were career backups and freshmen. The good news is Davis will be ready for Miami and Xavier Thomas may be back as well. Justin Foster remains a mystery, but he was on the sidelines Saturday night. So if it was COVID related, the worst is behind him. This is a drastically different defense without Davis and I’m not going to panic after one rough game. But everything UVA did effectively, Miami can do it and then some...
  2. Clemson’s offensive line had a pretty rough night themselves. Dabo will say how well they graded, but not busting isn’t the same as playing well. Part of that is subbing in unready freshmen, which will be a theme all year. But a larger part, much like on the other side of the ball, was just being beaten by a more experienced opponent across the line. Given these two factors, it’s insane Clemson won by three possessions, since coaches will scream about winning the line of scrimmage so much that someone will throw it on a headstone one day. The OL is what it is: serviceable at the top of the depth chart, but overall a work in progress against either comparable talent or superior experience.
  3. Despite the unease, this was perhaps the fabled “teachable moment” game we see every year! The defensive line will get healthy and the secondary will grow up. It won’t happen all at once, but hopefully there’s enough retained from the film rooms and practice fields this week to show improvement in the Miami review a week from now. The offensive line still has growing up to do for their part, and at the very least doesn’t seem to blow many assignments — though I’ve yet to see anything which makes me take anyone seriously who says this group is a better run blocking unit than the 2019 one.

Count ourselves lucky that Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne, and Amari Rodgers are here (and healthy!), because otherwise Clemson doesn’t keep UVA at arm’s reach, and quite likely falls victim to the upset. Sure, you can say that about any team without its superstars, but we aren’t used to seeing Clemson beaten so handily along both lines of scrimmage before the postseason. That’s what’s alarming — though it shouldn’t be surprising given the experience UVA boasts. Yet on the other hand, we won’t see another offense where a the quarterback runs a designed QB draw immediately after his one and only passing read.

Feed Etienne any and every way, and keep Lawrence upright. Those will be enough until the younglings come along. And if history is any precedent, there will be visible improvement next week thanks to this quasi-wakeup call.

Clemson ball, 14:50, UVA 48

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 10 shotgun (Galloway flexed widest in boundary) vs nickel (3 man front, Snowden playing a standup weakside OLB unless otherwise noted) ZR keeper gains 15. Good call and read against a 5 man box and blitz coming from the backside, Lawrence loves using Etienne as a lead blocker and has become a powerful runner himself.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel Lawrence pulls out of the IZ and kicks out to Rodgers' tunnel screen, gain of 4. This is entirely pre-snap, Lawrence saw one corner tight on Powell and the nickel and safety were 10 yards off. Yet this is where Etienne loses 3 to 5 carries per game despite this being a called handoff. It wasn't wrong to check out based on the cushion outside, and in theory it influences defenses, but I for one would rather see Etienne get a few more carries than sneaky screen constraints.
2nd & 6 12 shotgun vs 3-4 Counter to Etienne stood up for no gain. Putnam didn't seal effectively on his pull, just thumped the edge defender and fell down, whole play was blown up there.
3rd & 6 11 shotgun vs nickel Dig to Galloway against cover 0 is dropped, Potter drills the field goal. Two OLBs drop underneath and the back four plays soft man coverage, the middle of the field is open and Lawrence finds the opening across the middle. Well schemed and blocked, just dropped.

UVA ball, 13:30, UVA 25, 3-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-3-5 (Henry playing Will) Quick fade against cover 2 between flat corner and deep safety incomplete. Last year's dime look makes an appearance off the bat, with Henry playing actual Will linebacker, not a hybrid DE/OLB role.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-3-5 Flare to the running back against man, thrown into his back incomplete. UVA had a lot of rubs built into this play but Skalski read it and was moving toward the flat once the WR motioned inside, would've been a big TFL.
3rd & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Delayed QB draw (this option is built into every play) gains 10 against cover 4. Henry stunted into and promptly right out of the running lane, Spector took a bad angle, and Skalski cleaned up just past the marker.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 IZ gains 8. Williams was there to make the stop but whiffed an arm tackle, DK cleaned up from the edge.
2nd & 2 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Sprint out against tight man cover 1, linebackers pressure on green dogs (they blitz when their man coverage responsibilities stay in pass protection), thrown away. Not often you see max protection on a sprint out play. No safety valve for Armstrong beyond his legs and he has nothing to do but toss it away.
3rd & 2 11 shotgun vs 4-3 QB sneak gains 4 while Clemson's scrambling to substitute, horrible. Skalski was looking around for a Will linebacker (Maguire) to run on to the field and had his back turned fussing at him while the ball was snapped.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Armstrong tucks after his first read against cover 4, gains 8. He opted out of a wide open tight end seam to tuck and run, still made decent yards on a bad choice. It's gonna be this kind of night...
2nd & 2 11 shotgun vs 3-3-5 (Murphy at Will) OZ redirected inside for 4. Skalski got outside to set the edge but Jefferies was pancaked and there was an inside lane.
1st & 10 02 shotgun vs 3-3-5 Sprint out against man cover 1, incomplete. Another opening underneath but Armstrong is a raw passer with horrible mechanics, or else UVA probably could've eventually won this game.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 TE post vs man cover 1 beats Skalski across the middle but he knocks it incomplete. Iffy catch/fumble situation here. Regardless Skalski did well to knock the ball out while trailing in man.
3rd & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-2-6 Skinny post vs cover 1 knocked out by DK, punt. Great coverage, this looks open out of the break until it's not.

Clemson ball, 10:16, Clemson 10, 3-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 12 pistol vs nickel OZ to Etienne redirected inside for 8. McFadden made the key block to clear a lane inside and Travis dragged Snowden (backside contain) for 5 yards.
2nd & 2 12 shotgun vs 3-4 PA power rollout, free blitz from the backside forces intentional grounding. Looks like Clemson wanted the sneaky wheel route to Etienne, he didn't chip the free rusher at all since he was booking it downfield. A great idea but there has to be some backside protection for a long developing backside wheel route; Clemson accounted for the rollout to buy it enough time.
3rd & 16 11 shotgun vs nickel Angle route to Etienne wide open underneath, easy 21 yards. Soft cover 4 didn't have a chance; only a Mike is in the middle of the field and that's a joke against Etienne in the open field.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 IZ to Etienne gains 3. There was a hole but no one climbed to the Mike and he filled easily.
False start, 2nd & 12 12 shotgun vs 3-4 PA, deep comeback route to Rodgers knocked away. Good coverage, could've only been caught if it were thrown farther outside or lower.
3rd & 12 11 shotgun vs nickel Deep post to Ladson complete against soft cover 4 fire zone for 30 yards. Great read and throw, even better catch. Perfect execution. Clemson's remarkable success and 3rd & long was the literal difference in the game, since UVA averaged 5 yards to go on 3rd downs and Clemson averaged a full 10.
1st & 10 12 shotgun vs 3-4 Draw to Dixon absolutely stuffed, loss of 3. Dropping into a pass block set may seem sneaky when you're getting no push up front anyway, but we're having to get cute already since UVA is winning up front.
2nd & 13 11 shotgun vs nickel Sprint out draw to Etienne gains 2. Normally Etienne on the edge is a big play, but UVA was ready and Travis wasn't sure where he should run.
3rd & 11 (right where we want them) 11 shotgun vs nickel TE wheel against man cover 1, dropped (PI?) by Galloway. It was understandable live, but upon a closer look the defender definitely kept Galloway from getting his second hand on the ball, it was held down at his side and all Galloway could attempt was the one handed grab. Should've been a flag.

UVA ball, 6:17, UVA 13, 3-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 21 shotgun vs 3-3-5 QB draw into bullet blitzes, sacked by Spector for a loss of 4. And there was much rejoicing. All Spector -- he bull rushed a guard like Ben Boulware and got home himself.
2nd & 14 02 shotgun vs 4-3 Quick curl gains 11 against cover 4. Just the correct read against the coverage. Spector had to cover the flat against the running back flare and the hook zone was open underneath the safety.
3rd & 3 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Jet out against cover 3 fire zone, Jones Jr. reads the out and is there in the flat the entire way, incomplete. Perfect timing on the hit by Jones to force the incompletion. He's been off the field in the new look 3-3-5 where a DE literally plays linebacker, and this defense is much better with him on it.

Ok, I was halfway through another drive chart here but it’s a lot of simple, methodical stuff where there isn’t much insightful analysis to be found. That, and I’m trying to get all the UVA film done with plenty of time to look ahead to Miami. And there are two plays on this efficient drive which are just pure TRAVIS.

Just a counter with some extra jet motion. It was defended extremely well, though Galloway fell into blocking two guys and Etienne did the rest. If he had more than simply 16 yards to go, this would’ve been perhaps his best highlight run.

2nd Quarter

UVA ball, 15:00, UVA 29, 10-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
2nd & 6 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Deep go route vs cover 4, incomplete against DK. Tight coverage, sound cover 4 all around. Can't help but notice 2 UVA linemen leak downfield because of the QB draw constraint built into every play, it's low key hilarious.
3rd & 6 Empty shotgun vs 3-3-5 Quick curl wide open against cover 6 gains 10. Charleston had a deep quarter and looked to help DK outside before crashing on the TE with a free release too late.
1st & 10 02 shotgun vs 3-2-6 Quick out vs cover 4 gains 12. Sheridan Jones made a shoulder thump tackle and it was of course broken.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Alert curl against a boundary corner blitz gains 8. Armstrong's single passing read happened to be the blitz key.
2nd & 2 11 shotgun vs 3-3-5 Armstrong flushed against 8 man zone, Henry and Spector clean up for a loss of 1. That's one of the four TFLs on the night. So so so far below the usual standard, the relatively poor DL play is already evident.
3rd & 3 21 wishbone? vs 4-3 Fake jet dive gains 2. Not sure how I feel about Pinckney's wrap-around stunt in short yardage but luckily Mascoll was able to penetrate into the vacated gap.
4th & 1 11 shotgun vs 4-3 IZ gets off the edge for 5. Henry did well to get inside his block and was in line to get the TFL, but was tackled from behind, a horrible missed holding call. DK didn't set the edge at all and it was easy to get to the corner. Even with all this, Turner was able to get in the backfield and dive for some ankles, but was a step too late to trip up the back.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Quick out vs cover 4 gains 16. Zanders. Against trips, the inside slot split out wide and Jones Jr. went with him wide in the flat, leaving Zanders isolated on the now most inside slot with a 10+ yard cushion. The out was open because of the motion but Zanders whiffed on the tackle.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Rollout against cover 3, deep out incomplete against DK. Finally some cover 3! Armstrong, well, doesn't have the arm mechanics or weapons to warrant 2 deep; everything has been underneath or wide, and cover 3 defends underneath better than cover 4.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Scramble off a covered tunnel screen against cover 4, what is effectively an extra delayed QB draw gains 8. This is worse than anything Paul Johnson at Georgia Tech ever did to us since like 2011. By us I mean me, personally.
3rd & 2 11 shotgun vs 4-3 IZ stuffed for no gain, field goal good. Bresee was sealed out and Murphy ended up running across and past the play (still a freshman...) but Spector and Skalski were in the gaping hole.

The broadcast link I have cut off the 1st play after the kickoff, on which Etienne gained 5 yards so we’ll get back into this on 2nd down.

If you’re bored with this marathon just watch the gif after this table

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
False start, 2nd & 1 Empty shotgun vs nickel Corner route to Allen vs Tampa 2 gains 18. Swoon, NFL throw between zones, yes please.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Fake jet, PA go to Ladson, tripped up incomplete. Ladson had a step and no safety help, would've been a TD.
2nd & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel ZR dive to Etienne hit for 1. Numbers advantage up front but nobody climbed to the Mike, big thump.
3rd & 9 11 shotgun vs nickel Flare to Etienne against jailbreak blitz, perfect call, gain of 15. You always want to face a blitz when you call a screen but especially when it's cover 0 without anyone picking up the back. Another 3rd & long conversion, the eventual difference in the game.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 ZR dive to Dixon gains 4. The OL got some movement for the first time tonight.
2nd & 6 Empty shotgun vs nickel Cover 0 jailbreak again, Lawrence lobs a quasi-throwaway to Ngata. A check would've been good.
3rd & 6 11 shotgun vs nickel Double curl/seam combos against man cover 1 bullets, Lawrence scrambles for 14. Haven't seen Trevor move this quickly since running away from Ohioans, can't blame him.
1st & 10 11 shotgun (trips bunched left) vs nickel Tunnel screen to Powell gains 8. I thought Powell was about to break it here, good tough running.
Personal foul, 2nd & 18 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Ladson identifies the corner blitz, Lawrence flips it out to him for 5. The real takeaway here is perhaps some Lawrence and Ladson chemistry!
3rd & 13 11 shotgun (line and WR strength to boundary) vs nickel Deep wheel against man cover 0 to Rodgers complete in the back of the endzone, touchdown. Another 3rd & long against an increasingly aggressive UVA defense. Good play design without another receiver or defender within 30 yards.

Clemson stuffs UVA on an inside zone and then Nolan Turner undercuts a drag route with a clutch pick for a SUDDEN CHANGE.

Clemson ball, 4:55, UVA 36, 17-3 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Reverse to Spector gains 2. This was too slow to develop and UVA wasn't fooled. The intent is to get the defense's focus off Etienne moving forward.
2nd & 8 11 shotgun vs 3-4 IZ to Etienne has a hole but the facemask limits it. Free yards you say? No statistical yards for our son Travis :(
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs nickel ZR dive to Dixon gets outside for 7. Funny to see defenders sit on Lawrence and force the give to Dixon rather than the other way around. They are right to do so.
2nd & 3 11 shotgun vs 3-4 Bubble screen to Rodgers (option constraint off the IZ/ZR), hurdles into the endzone. Somewhere Rob Spence stopped sending receivers in motion and got a delay of game watching a bubble screen score. Powell had a good block but Rodgers just embarrassed a tentative defender.

UVA and Clemson trade 3 & outs (a particularly ugly series for Clemson) before UVA gears up an even uglier series for the Clemson defense...

UVA ball, 1:19, UVA 35, 24-3 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
Down & Distance Formation Play Analysis
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 DL stunt, Armstrong looks at his single read and rolls right into Bresee wrapping around the edge, loss of 7. I am much more fond of line stunts in obvious passing situations. Good for Bresee to play it well and for Venables to move linemen around waiting for the inevitable scramble draw.
2nd & 17 11 shotgun vs 3-2-6 Post route is wide open against soft cover 2, gain of 20. Bust by Zanders, he took and thus doubled the slot underneath while Turner was in deep half coverage. That intermediate/deep middle was Zanders' responsibilty but the average layperson will assume Turner and DK miscommunicated.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 3-2-6 Deep fade off the scramble is complete between cover 2 zones, gain of 27. Booth tried to slough out of the underneath flat and Charleston wasn't quite there over the top. Good execution by UVA, a fade or corner beats cover 2 between zones like this.
1st & 10 11 shotgun vs 4-3 Fake flare screen, quick slant against man cover 0 Mike bullets, Zanders gives up inside leverage and misses the tackle, touchdown. Running back flare motion took both Jones Jr and Spector toward the strong side flat, the slot got under Zanders on the slant and it was a walk in touchdown, burn this film.

Clemson runs out the half...