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The Bottom Line: South Carolina ’18

Clemson 56 South Carolina 35

Credit South Carolina for coming and playing with great effort and determination, unlike two years ago. They fought us hard all over the field. They really wanted to come in and compete physically and it showed.

After watching the film, I can say with confidence that Clemson won the 1-on-1 matchups across the field similarly to how they won them in the past two meetings. Had it not been for that one particular play call, Clemson probably wins this game somewhere in the neighborhood of 63-17.  That play was, of course, the post route they ran out of the inside slot that they completed 7 times for 264 yards in the game. They used this play on 3rd and long and anytime they needed a play to steal back the momentum. This was a schematic advantage based on how we were playing them and I didn’t see any adjustment out of Coach Venables to stop it. They pulled K’Von Wallace out of the game, but that didn’t do it. Their success with that play continued on. I can’t overstate how shocked I am that we never shut that down.

We did shut down the run as they only had 12 yards on 9 carries at halftime and averaged just 2.36 yards per carry until we got the 4 TD lead in the 4Q. They got half of their rushing yards after that. They finished with 90 yards on 25 carries for 3.60 yards per carry. Somehow, we allowed a one-dimensional team to drop a season-high 35 points on us and that is the tell-tale sign that this is on the defensive staff. More on the defensive issues below.

As bad as the defense performed, the offense was that good. We could do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted. There weren’t any bad play calls. We could’ve pulled plays out of a hat and they were going to work. At the same time though, I did like the playcalling. On many drives we just went medieval on them and ran it down their throat.

Muschamp told the announcers this week that “They (Clemson) don’t see what we see on a weekly basis.” He is correct; SEC play is tougher up front in the box than the ACC. No argument there. The ACC is down this year. No argument there either. South Carolina had a lot of injuries on defense. No argument with any of that. However, after the previous four years, it is up to SC to prove they can stop us offensively. For the 5th straight year, they did not do that. More on the offense below.

One thing about this rivalry game that struck me watching the film was that we seem to have less and less players that actually grew up in South Carolina. It became obvious to me that the the former South Carolina high school “legends” had a little more juice than their out of state counterparts. You could see that from guys like Tavien Feaster, Derion Kendrick, Hunter Renfrow, J.D. Davis, Kendall Joseph, John Simpson, and Gage Cervenka.

The All ACC teams came out this week and Clemson swept the major awards with Travis Etienne winning the ACC Player of the Year Award, Clelin Ferrell winning Defensive Player of the Year and Dabo Swinney winning Coach of the Year. The only starters I saw that didn’t at least make Honorable Mention All ACC were Isaiah Simmons and Garrett Williams.

Offense

The play that best encapsulates the state of the rivalry happened on Clemson’s last play on offense. With less than a minute left at the SC 7 yard line, Dabo hurried the team up to run another play. He wanted the three TD lead back as evidenced by that being the narrative in all of his press conferences this week. Etienne got the ball on an inside zone run. Justin Falcinelli and Gage Cervenka drove Clemson transfer, Josh Belk, backwards 7 yards into the endzone and deposited him on the ground. Etienne followed Falcinelli over Belk for the score.

SC played with great energy up front, they just got beat. The numbers were gaudy. Clemson averaged 6.38 yards per carry for the game, the highest YPC of the season allowed by South Carolina. The running game opened up the Run/Pass Option and Play Action passing plays and those were effective over and over. Trevor Lawrence, after being “off” against Duke last week, was most certainly “on” this week. He was 27 of 37 for 393 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs, 10.6 YPA, and a 73.3% completion rate.  This was the most yards passing against SC all season and the 10.6 YPA tied Georgia for the best against their defense.

When you combine the rushing and the passing dominance, you get the best Yards Per Play against SC this season at 8.09 YPP. That is a yard and a half more per play than Georgia. Clemson racked up 744 yards of total offense which is 271 yards more than Georgia did.

  • We did a lot of playing Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins together in the game, and really, the past few weeks the frequency of this is increasing. This goes back to fall camp when we discussed what a post-Renfrow WR corps might look like. Both of them have been playing the slot and sometimes on the same side.
  • Finally, we have a complimentary play off our best running play this year, Counter H. Teams have been sending a lot of 2nd and 3rd level players to the hole, so now we have a simple play-action bubble screen to the opposite side off of Counter H action.
  • Our first four possessions were TD drives of 75, 70, 95, 97 yards.
  • One of Coach Swinney’s primary explanations for offensive struggles in the past has been that we had bad field position. With three 95+ yards TD drives in the game, it was clear that field position did not matter against SC.
  • Gage Cervenka: poor pass blocker, excellent run blocker. I already foresee him giving up a sack while looking bad doing it and somebody asking me why he’s in there. He’s the best run blocker on the team, that’s why.
  • Adam Choice. 5th year senior and the light comes on? He has never looked better than he has the past two weeks.

Defense

Let’s start with the “free 264 yards” we gave up in the Slot Post and I’ll try my best to answer the questions I think you might have.

Why did this play work?

First off, Scheme. Remember this article: Team Field/Team Boundary. We have two “teams within the team,” one for the wide side of the field and one for the boundary side of the field. Imagine an invisible line that goes from the Center’s head to the endzone dividing those two teams. SC had their WR start on one side and cross that invisible line, thereby making it difficult on our assignments. In man, it’s easier to run away from the safety across the field. In zone, it’s easier to get open by attacking the invisible line between zones.

Yes, but other teams run this on us less successfully, right? Why did it work so well for SC?

It was a combination of things: A lack of pass rush, a lack of adjustments by Venables, a lack of awareness by the safeties, a lack of fundamentals from Wallace, and strong play from Bentley and his receivers.

The primary reason we struggled getting a pass rush is because Coach Venables was only rushing three guys. He was dropping the boundary DE into the flat half the time. Most of the time, that was our best pass rusher, Ferrell. I assume this was to take away the bubble screen they had success with in the first series, but a LB can help there. This weakening of our pass rush forced our safeties to have to cover longer. I hope this answers the question of what happened to our pass rush.

After they killed us with the slot post over and over in situations where they needed a big gainer, we didn’t adjust and continued leaving the MOF open.

Two years ago in fall camp, we heard that K’Von Wallace was the “best cover guy on the team.” The staff promptly started him at NB as a true freshman (over Dorian O’Daniel I might add). That lasted about two games as Wallace was beaten deep a few times and was moved to safety. In this game, they isolated Wallace on Deebo Samuel and Shi Smith in man to man situations. He showed the same problem as a freshman, he got his cushion eaten up and blown by. I think that’s why he was pulled, but that didn’t fix the scheme, so it didn’t fix the problem.

How do you think we should’ve stopped this?

First off, by putting Jake Bentley on his butt with the best position group in college football, our front 4.  It takes between three and four seconds for Bentley to throw the slot post. We didn’t need the two extremes of either blitzing or covering with 8. We needed a 4 man rush and for Bentley to have to throw over our LB’s head in order to throw over the middle. That alone might’ve done it.

Get out of man and mix up your zone coverages.  The reason you go man to man is so you can blitz and/or stop the run. Did you see them running on us on Saturday night? No, they had no chance and Dabo admitted they knew that before the game (12 yards on 9 carries at halftime). Did you see us having success with our man coverage? No, we got worked over by the strength of their team, the WRs. The only matchup advantage they have is Deebo or Shi Smith in 1-on-1 coverage for four seconds and we handed them that on a silver platter all game.

Awareness. We should’ve known in the 1Q that, whenever they need a chunk play, they are going to attack us over the deep middle. Therefore, both safeties should’ve been on high alert for that. In zone, either safety could’ve baited Bentley for an interception and shut that down.

All of this led to what I believe was the worst coached defensive game since the 2009 ACCCG debacle. However, I still feel that Brent Venables is “the man” and arguably the best defensive coordinator in college football.

  • SC’s opening drive was big in giving them confidence. I wonder how the game would’ve gone if that drive wasn’t aided by one of: 1. The slot post for 29, 2. The Ferrell offsides extending the drive, and 3. The not checking out of the blitz/TD throw by Bentley. 
  • At the same time, if it wasn’t for A.J. Terrell, the 1st half would’ve been even worse. He had the role of “the fixer” and made plus-plays that helped us get stops.
  • Xavier Thomas has serious motor. That is all.
  • Coming into the game, we had allowed five 30+ yard pass plays in 11 games. We allowed three 30+ yard pass plays in this game.
  • Nolan Turner was the one safety who was able to cover the slot post. He only played a handful of snaps late in the game, but I’ll give him credit where credit is due. He has the most problems in coverage fundamentals, which is why he is not in there, but it was nice to see some football IQ out of a safety in the game.

Special Teams

Greg Huegel missed the 39 yard FG at the end of the half. I thought he had gotten back to being automatic inside of 40 after the slow start in September, but this miss makes me wonder now.

Stat of the Game

South Carolina Yardage on the Slot Post Route: 29, 17, 67, 75, 27, 17, 32 = 264 (15 on a PI)


Player Grades

This is the tally of all the points you saw at the end of each drive in the Film Review.


Offensive Game Ball

Travis Etienne

He didn’t break one, but he had a career high 28 carries for 150 yards.

Defensive Game Ball

A.J. Terrell

“The Fixer” did a great job making plays and limiting Bryan Edwards



  • 2018 Offensive Game Balls: Amari Rodgers (FU), Kelly Bryant (A&M), Travis Etienne (GS, GT, SC), Gage Cervenka (SU), Mitch Hyatt (WF), Trevor Lawrence (NCS, FSU), Tremayne Anchrum (UL), Hunter Renfrow (BC), Garrett Williams (DU)
  • 2018 Defensive Game Balls: Christian Wilkins (FU,UL,DU), Clelin Ferrell (A&M, GS, WF), J.D. Davis (GT), Tre Lamar (SU), Isaiah Simmons (NCS), Kendall Joseph (FSU), Tanner Muse (BC), A.J. Terrell (SC)

2015-2018 Game Ball Tally

  • 10-Timer’s Club: Deshaun Watson 13
  • 5-Timer’s Club: Christian Wilkins 7, Clelin Ferrell 6, Dorian O’Daniel 6, Ben Boulware 5, Kelly Bryant 5, Kendall Joseph 5, Travis Etienne 5

  • Hunter Renfrow 4, Wayne Gallman 3, Shaq Lawson 2, B.J. Goodson 2, Ray Ray McCloud 2, Jay Guillermo 2, Scott Pagano 2, Cordrea Tankersley 2, Mike Williams 2, Austin Bryant 2, J.D. Davis 2, Tre Lamar 2, Mitch Hyatt 2, Trevor Lawrence 2, Artavis Scott 1, Charone Peake 1, Mackenzie Alexander 1, Kevin Dodd 1, Dexter Lawrence 1, Ryan Carter 1, Jordan Leggett 1, Nick Schuessler 1, Carlos Watkins 1, Taylor Hearn 1, Tyrone Crowder 1, Justin Falcinelli 1, Trayvon Mullen 1, Tee Higgins 1, Deon Cain 1, Amari Rodgers 1, Gage Cervenka 1, Isaiah Simmons 1, Tremayne Anchrum 1, Tanner Muse 1, A.J. Terrell 1

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