Alabama 24 Clemson 6
The previous Bottom Line was a simple overview. The next two will explain things in more detail.
Instead of our usual zone blocking, we started the game with a single-blocked run which was basically an old school dive play. This is where there are no double teams and uncovered OL goes straight to the LBs. We did this because Bama’s DL is there to occupy blockers and keep them off the LBs. We decided to challenge their DL to get off blocks and get them moving to the ball. It’s a risky move and it didn’t work, but I like the moxie and I like the potential problems that switching up our blocking scheme could have caused.
Alabama came out with the SS in the box on 1st down and they shifted the deep safety to Deon Cain’s side to take away the deep ball threat (C6). On passing downs, they played a lot of Cover 2, Man underneath with a LB spy on Kelly Bryant to stop him from running it. They dared us to throw downfield to Ray Ray McCloud or Hunter Renfrow.
We weren’t going to challenge them deep with Ray Ray or Renfrow. What we were going to do was to go 4 wide with Cain and Renfrow on the boundary side and Ray Ray and Tee Higgins (in the slot) on the wide side. This is very similar to what I suggested in the preseason of putting Cain at 2 WR on the same side as Renfrow and Higgins on the other side at 9WR. Since Bama used their best DB, Minkah Fitzpatrick, on Renfrow, this puts our best jump ball deep threat isolated on a Safety or LB. Unfortunately, Higgins got hurt on a jump ball in the endzone early (he was interfered with, but there was no call). He came down awkwardly on his ankle and that put an end to that strategy. In my opinion, that strategy had the potential to change the game.
Then what should we do? How do we beat their C2 Man under, LB spy?
Crossers (Mesh or Switch route preferably), which we ran a lot more of late in the game. In that defensive scheme, nobody has the middle of the field underneath (Renfrow’s TD last year was on that). You want to put that spy LB in conflict and make him choose to either cover the crosser or stop KB from running it.
Early in the game, we could not hurt them with the run game and we could not execute the crossers. We had guys open for first downs, but KB got one knocked down at the line and Cain just flat out dropped an easy 1st down on the scramble drill.
Nothing was coming easy. Etienne got knocked out of the game for a quarter or so and that hurt our run game. We also didn’t have the time or confidence to throw downfield. We were simply getting beat. We got our first 1st down of the game a minute into the 2nd quarter. This was a problem because we were unable to keep their defense on the field and tire them out. Conversely our defense was on the field more.
Because of our lack of success running the ball on 1st/2nd down, we were unable to avoid 3rd down and medium/long. When they knew we had to throw, they were getting home on the stunts and blitzes. KB was 1 for 6 on 3rd downs to start the game.
We got to the point offensively where we had to have a plus play by the QB. Whether it was a scramble like Lamar Jackson or the perfect pass that threads the needle downfield, that is where we were. All season, KB was excellent in the game manager role. He made great decisions and was able to take what the defense gave him. Alabama, though, is a different animal. They were giving him far less and showing him tighter windows with less time to throw. Because of his desire to protect the football and lack of arm talent, he didn’t like what he was seeing and wouldn’t throw downfield.
For awhile it was ok. We were in the middle of the 3rd quarter and largely in the same spot we were in last year. The game was 10-6 Bama and we were very much still in it. At that point, I can live with the argument that there was no need for KB to take unnecessary risks with the ball downfield.
In our 2nd drive of the 3rd quarter, we came out with a solid plan that also worked last year. We took advantage of the 1-on-1s on the outside. We started the drive with a backshoulder fade to Cain for 12 yards and then went right back to him on a deep fade that he appeared to have, but was stripped at the last moment. Hurting them on the outside loosened them up in the run game. We went Power Read Pitch for 7, RPO Renfrow out/KB run for 8, IZ to ETN for 8.
We got 8 yards on 1st down running the A gap against Bama. That’s NC caliber football there. Having ETN back in the game with his vision and acceleration helps. They don’t have to hold their blocks as long up front. It was 2nd and 2 at the Bama 35, and on the next play KB was hit as he threw and the ball was intercepted by DaRon Payne. Alabama scored on the drive and then the very next play was the interception for a TD by Mack Wilson.
Now, down three scores, we should be in desperation mode offensively. The methodical “protect the ball and win with defense” strategy just went off the table if we are going to win the game. Now we need luck or a different offensive approach. The best chance we have of turning this game around is to locate deep balls on the outside.
I would have put Hunter Johnson in there and tried to accurately attack them downfield and open up the offense as we did last year with Deshaun. It doesn’t matter if he throws 3 picks because we’ve already lost. The only question is whether or not we’ll try.
The two fades we threw on the last series opened up the offense. The problem now is that they know it’s coming and we’re going to see 2 deep safeties. Plus, we need a spark. We need to snap out of the shell shock. We need to believe. In the same way Tua Tagliavoa changed the game for Alabama in the NCG.
Instead, we attacked them with the short switch/mesh routes and inside zone running game. This is where my blood starts to heat up because it looks a lot like we are content to lose as long as we don’t get beat any worse than we are now.
We ended the game after a 10 play, 5:23 drive was stopped on 4th down at the Alabama 5.
- Clemson allowed a season-high 5 sacks in the game.
- Clemson finished 8 of 19 on 3rd downs which is ok.
- Clemson’s 2.69 yards per play were the lowest since the 2011 South Carolina game.