clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

STS Film Room: Too Many Points of Failure

Clemson doesn’t run the qb sneak, Cade Klubnik doesn’t run QB power. Short yardage just got much more complicated.

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

Hi folks, it’s your friendly hate merchant here. It’s been a rough few days on the internet for your boy. I thought I would change things up for you today and show off some of my football acumen. I do these articles for Kansas State and Purdue, and they’re always well received, so I thought I would bring them over to you fine folks.

I wish I could start this off with a more exciting play, but there weren’t many to choose from on Monday night. Instead, I’m going to talk about Clemson’s short-yardage woes. I don’t see much in terms of explosion (implosion...plenty of that) from this offense. If we’re going to score, it’s going to require, at worst, a functional short-yardage package.

Here’s the issue. Clemson doesn’t have a quarterback sneak in their playbook. Apparently teaching a quarterback (any quarterback on the roster, it doesn’t even have to be the starter. Hell, you could have the backup center and backup quarterback spend one practice a week perfecting the under-center snap for the sneak...but I digress) how to go under center is a bridge too far. That hasn’t been much of an issue because Clemson replaced the quarterback sneak with quarterback power. That’s basically the sneak out of the shotgun. Guys like Taj Boyd, DeShaun Watson, Kelly Bryant, Trevor Lawrence, and DJ Uiagalelei were quarterback power machines.

Cade Klubnik is not.

I know Cade spent some time in the weight room this offseason and is looking a little heftier than last season, but no one will confuse him with any of the guys I listed above. Throw in the fact that Clemson has absolutely no experience on the bench, and slamming your scrawny, and (as far as we know) only functional quarterback into the line becomes much less appealing.

With the quarterback sneak and quarterback power off the board, picking up a yard becomes much more involved. Instead of only one potential point of failure (the snap) you’re adding at least one more with a handoff. The Tigers upped the difficulty even more with an attempted zone read. While the short-yardage turnovers were shocking, Clemson, Dabo and to a certain extent Garrett Riley put them into play this season. The more you have to do to gain a yard, the more that can wrong.

The first clip I want to show y’all is from the Big12 Championship game last season.

I know you can see the ticker at the bottom, but to set the stage, TCU needs to pick up a 3rd and short in the redzone against a salty Kansas State defense. Riley has human battering ram Max Duggan in the shotgun flanked by two running backs.

Look Familiar?

It should, Clemson ran out of this look a ton on Monday, and with great success. TCU doesn’t need great success here, what they need is a foot.

QB Power

I won’t spend much time breaking this play down, because we’ve all seen a version of it and like I mentioned above, I don’t think it’s in the “Clemson Offense” version of the Garrett Riley playbook, otherwise you would have seen it after the first goal line debacle.

Anyway, Duggan (blue circle) takes the snap and immediately tucks the ball. No need for intricate reads, timing, or ball handling. He takes the snap, holds for a beat, and then follows his tailback (green box) and backside pulling guard (green box). The center walls off the nose tackle, you get a double team on the defensive end, and now you’ve got at least 500 pounds of combined beef leading a 210-pound quarterback into the hole.

Hit It Hard

Duggan doesn’t dance around in the backfield. He knows where the hole is supposed to be, turns upfield, and gets a running start. He only needs a foot, and at this point, he’s guaranteed a foot with his momentum and forward lean.

Easy Money

Max is somewhere at the bottom of the pile, and the pile is significantly past the first down line. Play successful, first down achieved. Simple football is the best football.

In Conclusion

Look at that, look how easy that was. The only potential point of failure (or a least catastrophe) is Duggan taking a shotgun snap. That’s something he does all game. Super low risk for catastrophe. Football can be an easy game sometimes. Need a yard? Let your quarterback follow a couple of blockers, find a crease, and fall forward.

As I said, we’ve all seen this play before. One version or another has been a staple of the Clemson short-yardage playbook. When the Tigers need a yard or less, QB power was the go-to call.

All That For 2 Yards?

I’m going to be kind to myself and show y’all a short-yardage play that actually worked. As we know, in the second half there were two prime catastrophic disasters, but showing the play that works makes my point just as well.

This isn’t exactly apples to apples. TCU needed a foot and Clemson needs a full 2 yards. Still, keep in mind that it’s only 3rd down, so the Tigers need to gain 2 yards in 2 downs. In the past, that’s been prime QB Power territory, and if it doesn’t work, you run it again on 4th down.

Still, Riley has Klubnik in the shotgun, flanked by two running backs. If you’ve got Max Duggan, or DJ U, or Trevor, or KB, or DeShaun, or Taj you run QB power. As I mentioned above, it’s one of the safest plays in the book. Maybe safer than the under-center sneak for a QB that’s normally in shotgun.


Second Point of Failure

Forgive the shoddy artwork, but hopefully this gets the point across. Look at this mess in front of the quarterback. You’ve got Shipley (green dot) cutting across his face at the same time Cade is executing the zone read with Mafah. I cringe looking at this, even though I know the outcome. This just screams “the QB holds the ball out too far and Shipley knocks it out with his hip.”

Even if we discount a Shipley disaster, you’ve incorporated an extra point of failure with the zone read. As we witnessed later in the game, it’s not the easiest play to execute in tight quarters, especially when you’ve got a young quarterback.

Zone Read or Play Action?

A few frames later, Shipley (green dot) has cleared the mesh point and looks like he’s going to pick up the backside safety crashing down. Mafah and Cade are at the mesh point, but I do feel a little better about this play because I think this is 100% play-action. Cade and Phil already know that Cade is pulling it, making the ball handling a little easier. I could be wrong, but the play is a little too elaborate for this also to be a my humble opinion.

Either way, this play already has a higher chance of failure than QB Power, and we’re just getting started.

Make the Back Side Bite

Right about now the Duke player with backside contain knows he’s cooked. Instead of blocking, Shipley (green dot) runs right by him. On the outside, you’ve got Antonio Williams, for this play to work, he’s going to have to block. Meanwhile, Mafah (purple dot) is playing personal protector for Cade instead of blowing a hole open for him and letting him walk into the endzone.

Notice that this play is predicated on fooling the backside contain guy. If he stays home, I’m not sure where this play goes. It’s Shipley or bust as far as I can see, and he needs the defense to cooperate.

Again, look at the TCU play. It required 0 cooperation from the defense. No one had to be fooled. Yet another potential failure point on a 2-yard play.

Fade Away

Duke’s contain guy said, “I’m cooked, may as well see if I can get to the quarterback.” He comes pretty close. Klubnick has to fade away and deliver a pass to Shipley (green dot) that both clears the oncoming Duke defender and allows Shipley to make a clean catch while he runs with his chest facing the Duke goal line and his head spun around to see the ball. The turf monster is always hungry, and he’s taken a bite out of Shipley more than once. Now we’ve added:

1: Get the ball over the pass-rusher.

2: Deliver it in a way that Shipley can maintain his momentum while Shipley runs away from him, while he fades away.

3: Shipley has to be ultra-athletic to stay on his feet while tracking the ball.

So many additional points of failure. This is begging for a catastrophe.

Stay Up!

Folks, I just want to reiterate the fact that is a difficult way to catch a football. Like super difficult. He’s running away from the quarterback, he’s facing the wrong direction, and he’s looking back over his shoulder for the ball. If you think this is easy, please film yourself attempting this and send the video.

Note: try at your own risk, STS will not be held liable for any torn ACLs.

Catch Secured, Clear Sailing?

Shipley has managed to coral the pass while keeping all of his ligaments in their original working order. Now it should be clear sailing to the endzone! Except wait, No Clemson’s receivers can’t block. Shout out to Tonio (red circle mid-screen) at least he’s putting in the effort. Granted, he should be walling off the defender from the outside and should be on the other side of him, but beggars can’t be choosers. At the top of the screen, we’ve got 6’3”, 210-pound Beaux Collins using the classic, “arms up, pelvic thrust” blocking technique. It’s also possible that he’s attempting to shoot a laser beam out of his belly button. This is next-level stuff.

Elite Blocking!

Okay, so it turns out Antonio being on the wrong side was sort of a problem. His man is running down the goal line. What’s even more disappointing is Beaux failed to shoot a laser out of his belly button, or the Duke player is immune to lasers. It’s a tough call, but either way, the man he pelvic thrusted at is loose and looking to take Shipley’s head off.

Collision at the Goal Line

It’s up to Will to lower his shoulder and beat two Duke defenders. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but here is another potential point of failure. What should have been a walk-in after all the fancy ball handling is, instead, a collision at the goal line thanks to the Clemson receivers. I also want you to notice that the ball is now one yard further down the field than when this play started.

Tough Touchdown Run!

Shipley’s gearbox may only go up to third, but he’s always down to contort his body and push for the extra yard. He makes a nice little lunge forward here to break the plane.

TOUCHDOWN CLEMSON! THE FIRST OF MANY TO COME IN THIS GAME...Right Guys...Right? GUYS, WE DO SCORE ANOTHER TOUCHDOWN IN THIS GAME, CORRECT? Why is everyone looking at me like that? There are pretty much 3 entire quarters remaining, certainly this isn’t the only one! Oh no...

In Summary

I’ve spent a lot of time making a simple point. I’m not sure if that’s a feature or a flaw. Look at how TCU managed short yardage. Look how Clemson managed short yardage. TCU made football look easy. Clemson made football look extremely hard. Later in the game, Clemson would make gaining a yard look harder than running a 4-minute mile.

I don’t have an easy solution. Maybe snap the ball to Ship or Mafah and cut out the middle man if Klubnik can’t/or isn’t allowed to run quarterback power? Train up our transfer portal stud and backup center to execute a quarterback sneak? Have Cade put on his big boy pants and run QB power? I don’t get paid the big bucks to make these decisions, but someone needs to figure this out.

I’ll tell you this. If Clemson can’t figure out how to gain 2 yards without breaking out whatever this play is called, it’s going to be a loooong season.