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2018

The Bottom Line: Offense vs. Alabama ’18

Clemson 44 Alabama 16

What is the greatest force in college football, Alabama’s offense or Clemson’s defense? The answer, we’ve learned, is neither. It’s just the Clemson team period.

What has been reflected statistically and in the film room about this team, materialized on the highest level college football has to offer. Clemson won the 2018 National Championship in convincing fashion. This team left no doubt on the table that they are the best team of the Dabo Era and the most dominant team in Clemson Football History. The previous worst loss of the Saban Era at Alabama was 14 points (OU 2014, SC 2010). Clemson was up 28 at the end of the 3rd quarter. Clemson’s 30 unanswered points were also the most in the Saban Era.

After the game, Dabo echoed what I saw on film prior to the game by saying they thought they were better and if they caught some breaks, they could pull away. There are a lot of ways to win a football game, but the “high risk/ high reward” style we (and really, both teams) used in this game had to be really entertaining for casual fans tuning in. No, I do not think that Clemson is 28 points better than Alabama. I think Clemson got a big enough lead to induce desperation from Alabama and they took risks they would not have taken if the game were close. Since, I’ve been asked this question a few times, I’ll answer it here: I think if we played 10 times, Bama would win 2.

The action on the field played out a lot like I thought in my preview:

  • There was wildness at the beginning of the game.
  • The defense was feast or famine trading blows with Bama.
  • Offensively, there were opportunities for big plays and hitting on them won the game.
  • We weathered the storm and kept chopping.
  • Defensively, we won in the Redzone where we forced them to kick FGs and go for it on 4th down.
  • As the game moved along, Clemson won more and more of their 1-on-1 matchups.

Still, the final margin of victory was a surprise. Putting the game into garbage time in the 3rd quarter was surreal. “The Genius Kid” showed up in a big way and wrecked shop on the scoreboard. I’ve been a broken record all year saying “all we have to do is throw over the middle” and what we saw in this game was an attack of all areas of the field. When we do that, we are containable, but not stoppable. We were 10 of 15 on 3rd down because we have playmakers that can make plays and an OL that can force a stalemate with the Bama DL.

So, it’s now obvious to me that this staff isn’t incompetent or blind. They’ve been holding back in order to break tendencies. I’m not going to lie. Since this requires the staff to know and proceed as if they are the superior team in most games, I am surprised about this and we’ll be discussing this more in the off-season.

As bad as we were beating teams after Trevor took over, it could’ve been much worse. In the same way that Tua sat out most of the 2nd half every game, we could’ve done the same thing if we challenged all areas of the field. We gave every opponent on our schedule a scouting report that says “cover outside the hashes, not between them, and you can blitz the ILBs with no repercussions.” Yet, we still won, usually in blowout fashion.

Thanks to the best called game and best offensive performance of the year, the Alabama coaching staff had to take risks to keep up, and by and large, those risks did not pan out. Had they hit on a couple of these, they could’ve dragged us into the 4th quarter, but they didn’t.

I did not think I would ever see Nick Saban try a fake FG against Safe FG Block with the kicker as the lead blocker. Imagine if Dabo had done that circa 2009 or 2010. The phone lines at the AD’s office would’ve exploded. But that’s what Nick Saban, the greatest college football coach of all time, had to resort to in this game.

I’m proud of this team and grateful they gave us another great season. We will greatly miss the leadership and talent of the DL, and I will always be appreciative that they came back for another year and fulfilled their mission.

Offense

DabScElliot came out in 4 wide to spread Bama out. Alabama came out in the dime showing 5.5 in the box and 3 DBs over 2 WRs on the outside. This is a definitive “run look,” which means that the QB should check to a run. However, that’s not what we did. We came out trying to attack the perimeter with a swing, a BS, and a quick out. I felt like this was a show of respect to Bama’s DL, but especially #92 Quinnen Williams, who had to be double-teamed (or beat his man) on most plays. When we brought Garrett Williams into the game, they brought LB Dylan Moses back in and gave us 6 in the box.

In the preview, I mentioned that Bama was soft on the perimeter and that I’d swing it out to ETN multiple times in the game. Well, the first play of the game we ran a clearout to get ETN the ball on a swing and there wasn’t a single Bama player beyond the hash on that side. He would’ve gotten 15 minimum and may have scored had Jennings not knocked the ball down.

First play of the game.

On the long throw to Tee on the 2nd possession, it was just a fade/post. They had 3 over 2 on that side. The SS picked up Ross on the inside and just let Tee run right by him and stem his route inside and away from the CB. The deep safety in the middle never saw it either. It was the perfect call for that defense. Then, on the ETN TD, we ran an outside zone read towards the unblocked DE instead of away from him like we usually do. (Maybe that was the “copy-cat” thing Saban was talking about. Or maybe it was the clearouts wide for the Tee Higgins crosser coming to the boundary. We used that on a 3rd down in the RZ and then again with both Rodgers and Ross later in the first half.)

The next two pictures are going to demonstrate the sheer greatness involved in this game. This one is on the Counter H play to the right side with Simpson and GWill pulling around. Etienne shows off his awesome peripheral vision to catch #92 Quinnen Williams over-pursuing backside and opening up a huge running lane behind him. Etienne puts his foot in the ground and accelerates backside into the hole.

Etienne’s split second vision and agility

This next photo is from the same play. As it appears ETN will have a 1-on-1 with the safety for a TD. #92 Quinnen Williams, who had overpursued to the right, instantly comes back to the left and tosses Falcinelli aside to make the stop for a gain of just 3. Unbelievable. I don’t know how he even saw ETN cut, let alone reacted that fast, let alone shed Falcinelli like he was a 9th grader.

Trevor Lawrence was awesome in the game, but he can get better and here is an example. Bama brings a blitz off the wide edge. ETN slips out into the flat all alone. Just a quick toss to the right and you get ETN in the open field for a minimum of 5 yards on 1st down. With it being ETN, it could even be a TD. Instead, he forces it to Ross early and throws incomplete.

The very next play after this one was the one where he threw a dangerous slip screen to Feaster that Jennings had snuffed out. Fortunately, Feaster caught the ball on the rebound and got a couple yards, but that could have easily been a pick that created momentum for Bama.

To the right is a shot of the missed check down to Choice at the end of the first half. This was another one that could’ve gotten a big gainer and possibly a TD instead of a FG.

In the 3rd quarter, the offense was able to capitalize on the defense’s stops with more big plays. The 74 yard TD to Justyn Ross was a beauty as well as his two excellent 3rd down catches on the sideline to extend the last TD drive. We came back with the outside zone read play with Etienne for 11 and then Lawrence delivered the dagger to Tee Higgins in the endzone. Lawrence showed great anticipation on the throw and Tee made a spectacular catch.

Those kind of plays were the difference in the game. Clemson made them and Alabama didn’t. So many of them were in clutch situations where Alabama had us right where they wanted us in obvious passing situations on 3rd and long. The QB and WRs delivered back-breaker after back-breaker throughout the game.

The final drive of the game was another thing of beauty. It started on our own 1 yard line and burned the final 10 minutes off the clock with almost all run plays. The Alabama defense was both fatigued and had lost some will perhaps as running lanes that weren’t there for most of the game opened up. Mitch Hyatt and John Simpson were especially good on that drive. The staff had Trevor tote the rock on a few lead and power plays, which might be foreshadowing of what’s to come. The OL curtain call with 3 minutes to go was a great moment. Then they let the play clock run down, called timeout, and gave Lawrence his moment in the sun too. Chase Brice and the OL of Carman (LT), Bockhorst (LG), Stewart (C), Vinson (RG)/Penner (RG), and Reeves (RT) finished the game.

Offensive Stat of the Game

Trevor Lawrence: 10.8 Yards Per Attempt – This would be good for #3 in the nation over a full season and was his 2nd best YPA on the season (SC, 10.9). This was 2.5 YPA higher than Kyler Murray last week and the highest YPA posted against an Alabama defense since Johnny Manziel in 2013. The only other QB to post a YPA this high in the Saban Era at Bama was Cam Newton in 2010, also 10.8.

Offensive Game Ball

Trevor Lawrence – 20/32, 347 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INT, 10.8 YPA, 92.8 QBR

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