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Clemson vs. Pitt 2nd Quarter

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[Sam Ehlinger voice] WE’RE BAAAAAAAACCKKK

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

Folks, it’s good to be back. And I think our Clemson Tigers gave us exactly what we expected to see from them after a brutal close loss to Notre Dame and subsequent cancellation from FSU: an utter annihilation of our opponent in the first half, followed by rotating a second half that was mostly focused on rotating in guys to help solidify depth. So pretty much what we’ve come to expect from a conference game against not-Syracuse for the past few years. My thought going into this season was that Dabo’s heavy dose of rotational football would help consistency in a chaotic season, in which some teams are a batch of tests away from half-a-postion-group being ineligible to play, and I think this was further proven to be the case after watching a defense with 3 starters left almost hang on to beat a good Notre Dame team.

Speaking of which, I want to give props to a guy who started out as a non-starter but who I’ve been impressed with the last two games: Joseph Charleston. I’ve gotten some pushback on it, but I think he’s performed well in place of Lannden Zanders, and honestly think he’s an improvement in a sense. He’s got very good range in coverage and I think his instincts and awareness have improved as he’s gotten more playing time over the course of the season. That ability to swarm the ball with pace while also taking good angles is something I think we’ve sorely missed this season, and I’m looking forward to watching him grow. Between his and Trenton Simpson’s emergence on defense, not to mention the two freshmen phenoms on the line, we’re going to get to see a young, exciting defense try to put it all together in December.

Also, before we get into the film review, I was reminded in the replies last game (err, last film review) that I have been throwing in funny words into my film review drive charts without offering any sort of glossary for defining them. Because I was hired to help with film reviews during the season, I wasn’t able to type up a reference article for all of the different names of fronts/stunts/blitzes/coverages that I’d like to do. So below, I’ll break down some of the defensive calls, what they mean, and explain why I think they can be good to know.

Essentially, I’d like to start referring to Venables’ front calls on each play instead of just settling for 4-3/3-4, if I’m able to identify them from the broadcast angle.

The reason for this is two-fold: for one, it’s usually hard to identify the coverage we’re playing because the broadcast angle zooms in on a more condensed view of the field, which might leave out safeties or corners. Because I don’t have access to the All-22 (or “Coaches Film”) which shows all 22 players on offense/defense the field in a clear manner (unless you’re playing Wake), I’m relying on the fronts because they’re usually attached to the coverages and being able to identify them will help both me and the reader to identify what all is going on from our end (hopefully) even with the limitations the broadcast angle imposes.

I’ll be doing a deep-dive on this in the offseason most likely, but for now here are the most common fronts that Venables uses and what they entail as far as alignment goes:

Bench = 4-3 alignment, nose (1-tech) is aligned toward the boundary, 3-tech is aligned to the field

Field = 4-3 alignment, nose (1-tech) is aligned toward the field, 3-tech is aligned to the boundary

Over = 4-3 alignment, 3-tech aligned to the TE side

Okie = 3-4 alignment, Nose is in 0, DTs are in 4i alignment with a Boundary “Jack” player walked up on the boundary side near the line of scrimmage. You’ll also see my refer to “Okie Dime” or “Okie 6-pack” which just means that we’re playing with 7 guys in coverage.

Those are by far the most common in Venables’ calls. An important thing to note is that unlike a lot of DCs, the Nose is ALWAYS aligned to the call. Therefore Nose to the boundary (Bench) is call-side, and Nose to the field (Field) is call-side

Pitt ball, 15:00, Pitt 25, Clemson 31-0 lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
2nd & 8 11 personnel vs. 4-3 nickel Dig route over the middle, caught for FDC (First Down Conversion) There wasn't much to complain about today after a stellar defensive performance but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little disappointed on this one. Clemson has 7 defenders dropping back to cover 3 receivers downfield and still allows a 20yd reception. Rewatching this, we had THREE defenders covering zones to the single-receiver boundary side, which was eventually vacated anway because the receiver was running a Dig, which left Skalski all alone in the middle of the field to cover hook/curl. Another strange thing to me is that ALL of the linebackers in coverage bite on the Play Action and yet none of them "robot" back to the crossing dig route. I'd like to write a whole article about "robot" technique during the offseason because I think it's one of the best deterrents for LBs in coverage against the modern PA/RPO game. Basically, LBs who get sucked into fake handoffs are already at a disadvantage in coverage and therefore should not be expected to reach the requisite depth that they'd need to drop into by simply backpedaling, as they would absent reading run. Therefore, the LB turns his back to the ball and runs toward the nearest crossing route to at least make the QB's window a little more difficult and to be there to minimize the gain if the pass is completed. Now, I'm not in the conference room when Venables installs his defense, but I think it would be unlikely that NONE of his LBs would be told to robot to recover from PA fake in a single high look. Other than that, I think Venables Jr. was a step slow crashing down on the receiver.
1st & 10 3-4 nickel vs. 11 personnel Sack, loss of 8 Glad to have Tyler Davis back
2nd & 18 IZ gain of 3 Apologies, the ESPN broadcast did the thing it does where it cuts off the first part of the play and I have to guess what's going on. Badly need an All-22 plug…
3rd & 15 3-4 dime vs. 11 personnel 4 Verts vs. Cover 2 Man, incomplete Pickett doesn't have anyone to throw to with Clemson dropping 8 in coverage and makes a bad throw on the run. Pitt has to punt

Clemson ball, 13:32, Clemson 20, 31-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 11 pistol vs 4-3 HB counter to Etienne gain of 4 Both pullers do a good enough job at opening up the C gap for Etienne to run into. More power football please!
2nd & 6 11 personnel stack right vs 4-3 Backshoulder go route to Ajou, incomplete Sorta grabby from the Pitt CB, but Ajou's release off the line is stilted and Trevor throws this one a little too inside
3rd & 6 11 personnel vs 3-4 blitz Sack You're never going to get that much time on a blitz, but we had 6 on 5 so it would have been nice to give Trevor a little more time than a second before someone's in his face from the interior

Carman absolutely whiffs on the DE’s stunt, who uses a nice inside swim move to get inside pressure. Etienne also gets blown up, but he’s a running back, and at least he made the rusher go through a body.

Pitt ball, 12:04, Clemson 42, 31-0 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 11 personnel vs. 4-3 Gut Jet sweep, gain of 2 Williams does a good job getting off his block and making the play
2nd & 8 Empty vs. 4-3 Bench Bubble screen behind the line, incomplete You start to feel for Pitt in this one
3rd & 8 11 personnel vs. 3-4 nickel Scramble from Pickett, 1st down Trenton Simpson is spying Pickett but doesn't react soon enough to stop the rollout. Greene also had his back turned in man coverage
1st & 10 11 personnels vs. 3-4 blitz PASS INTERFERENCE Williams gets too grabby and gets a DPI to put Pitt closer to the goal
1st & 10 11 personnel vs Okie Dime QB scramble, gain of 6 Great coverage in the endzone makes Pickett scramble, but he's able to squeeze past Spector and Mascoll to make something out of nothing
2nd & 4 11 personnel vs. 3-4 Sack, loss of 10 Spector gets home through the A-gap on a delayed blitz but this was going to lose yards anyway because the tackle threw Charleston down by his facemask
3rd & 14 10 personnel vs. 3-4 Dime Shallow crosser, gain of 12 Nobody was covering the underneath hook/curl area in right behind the LOS, Fred Davis II did an admirable job recovering to prevent the receiver from getting a first or touchdown

Hey, good for Pitt :)

Clemson ball, 9:11, Clemson 25, 31-3 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 11 personnel stack right vs. 4-3 PA dropback to Powell, huge gain At this point Powell has joined the ranks of the fan-favorite Clemson receivers who didn't have the physical/athletic freakishness of the Nuk's, Sammy's, and Tee's. Bravo, young gun
1st & goal 11 personnel trips right vs 4-3 QB power rollout to Ajou, incomplete Trevor pretty much had to rocket that one in to Ajou considering the defender was arms-length from him, but I still he needs to catch this. Not that it mattered since Trotter was hanging out in the endzone by the time the throw was attempted
*Ineligeble Trotter Downfield* 1st & goal 11 personnel vs. 4-3 IZ to Mellusi, gain of 2 The Pitt DL all wrap outside to contain and both LBs penetrate the backside A gap, meaning Mellusi has to bounce to backside A gap. #34 manages to climb across the face of the pile-up in the middle and get hands on Mellusi for minimal gain
2nd & goal 11 personnel trips right vs 4-3 nickel Out-n-up from Allen, incomplete Allen peels off an out-n-up route but the defender gets a hand on it, good coverage
*Defensive pass interference* 1st & goal 12 personnel vs. goal-line Split zone to Mellusi, TOUCHDOWN The A-gap gets super clogged here but credit to the Clemson OL and Mellusi for bullying a formidable Pitt DL into the endzone

You have to give it up for Cornell Powell. This is just deep route running 101. Watch the way Powell stacks the corner at the end to put his body in the way of the ball. This is also an excellent job by Powell of “tracking” the football, which Trevor did a good job leading him with, but I thought should have been a little more outside. And I’ve yet to mention hauling it in one-handed with a DB hanging on you. Dabo probably doesn’t get enough credit as being the best WR coach in college football and consistently developing his receivers, with Powell being another success story, but it’s clear that Powell came in and worked hard this off-season, and he deserves immense credit for his reliably excellent play this season.

Pitt ball, 7:59, Pitt 25, 38-3 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 10 personnel vs. 3-4 Dime Outside Zone, gain of 1 The runningback tries to bend it back into the wide open backside gap but Turner has great awareness and gets downhill fast to stop him close to the line
2nd & 9 10 personnel vs. 3-4 nickel Pitt again tries to exploit the area between intermediate and deep in our defense with another Dig route. A better ball from Pickett picks up the 1st
3rd & 9 10 personnel vs. 3-4 nickel Scramble drill fails to pick up the first down We send Jones on a SAM blitz from the slot that nearly gets home. Pickett does a good job of keeping his head up and finding a receiver, but unfortunately the receiver is late in his route and drifts toward the sideline, allowing Clemson to clean up before he can turn upfield

Clemson ball, 6:58, Clemson 15, 38-3 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 11 Personnel vs. 4-3 nickel Shovel pass to Etienne, gain of 3 I like the playcall, but it's clear #5 caught wind as soon as Carman delivered his fake
2nd & 7 11 personnel slant right vs. 4-3 nickel Outside zone to Etienne, gain of 3 Etienne has a hole on the outside but the defender gets off of Chalk's block just in time to keep this from being a bigger gain
3rd & 4 11 personnel vs. 4-3 Swing route to Rencher, first down Pitt brings a blitz so Lawrence wisely swings it out to Rencher for the easy conversion
1st & 10 11 personnel stack right vs. 4-3 PA dropback to Swinney, nearly picked Poor decision by TL to take this risk here, especially on 1st down, and even more especially to Will Swinney in a contested catch situation
2nd & 10 11 personnel stack left vs. 4-3 Counter RPO slant to Ajou, incomplete Honestly, this is pretty incredible from Lawrence that he still manages to get this near Ajou's feet *while falling back* after the Pitt defender tips it
3rd & 10 11 personnel vs. 3-4 nickel Screen to Rencher, gain of 7 Well executed, but just couldn't manage to gain the full 10 yards we needed

Pitt ball, 4:32, Pitt 25, 38-3 Clemson lead

Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
Down & Distance Personnel Play Notes
1st & 10 11 personnel vs. 4-3 dime Curl route, gain of 7 Pitt has a curl-flate route concept to the boundary, which high-lows Charleston in his curl-flat zone and Booth is playing so far off that it makes for an easy completion. Charleston does a good job reacting and making the tackle
2nd & 3 10 personnel vs. 3-4 nickel Scramble drill, incompletion Bresee nearly gets a sack here but Pickett's able to slip by
3rd & 3 10 personnel vs. Okie Wide Dig route, first down Another dig route attacking the intermediate area of our defense. Lucky that Pickett threw this behind or it could have gotten to midfield
1st & 10 10 personnel tight vs. 3-4 Sack, loss of 10 Pickett decides to attempt to let this loose against straps coverage from Goodrich, but Thomas has good bend around the edge and is able to force a fumble that's recovered by Pitt
2nd & 20 10 personnel trips right vs. 3-4 nickel Slip screen, gain of 1 Davis IDs this quickly and gets the tackle
3rd & 19 10 personnel tight vs. 3-4 Dig route, gain of 30 Goodrich gets bullied her and is thrown off press coverage and the receiver has a ton of room in the middle with two safeties dropping deep
1st & 10 10 personnel vs. 3-4 9-route, incomplete Scissor concept between the field receivers gets the outside receiver open down the seam with a ton of space but Pickett can't hit him
2nd & 10 10 Personnel vs. 3-4 Outside zone, gain of 5 Clemson blows up the playside gaps so the back has to bend inside. Skalski cleans it up
3rd & 5 10 Personnel vs. 3-4 Tunnel screen, gain of 5 Pitt's center hustles upfield to stone Venables and the receiver is able to cut it back inside to the first down marker
1st & 10 Empty vs. 3-4 dime Quick curl, gain of 7
2nd & 3 Empty vs. 3-4 blitz Corner route, TOUCHDOWN Blitz didn't get home and it gave time for Pickett to throw a prayer here. Charleston does a phenomenal job in man coverage and manages to get a hand on the ball. Unfortunately the receiver recovers the tipped ball, not much you can do about that

Clemson proceeded to go 3 and out on the next possession, thanks in large part to a 1st down sack that set them way off schedule. This game was another in the long line examples of Clemson dominating our conference opponents in the 1st half and then rotating heavily into the 2nd half (and honestly 2nd quarter in the instance of this game), so I didn’t glean much from the 2nd half. On to the Hokies!