CFB Preview: Clemson Attacks the Middle

The Clemson Tigers host the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on Saturday night, in a matchup between two top ranked teams. The Irish come to town ranked #6 in the country while the host Tigers check in at #11. There are many storylines to this game, and Mark Schofield looks at how Clemson attacks the middle of the field.

In their victory against Appalachian State, the Tigers made a huge play before halftime. Quarterback Deshaun Watson is in the shotgun with an 11 personnel group: a dual wing tight end look to the right and a pair of receivers in slot formation on the left. The Mountaineers deploy a 4-2-5 nickel package, and show Cover 2:WatsonStill1

Rolls the coverage to Cover 1 off the snap, cornerbacks Latrell Gibbs (#5) ‒ blitzes off the edge, toward the double tight ends, while safety A.J. Howard (#10) drops deep to occupy the single-high safety role:


The Tigers send three receivers on pass routes: The wing TE and the slot WR run underneath crossing routes and outside receiver Charone Peake (#19) runs a deep post:WatsonStill3

Watson fakes a handoff to running back Wayne Gallman. and the RB tries to block Gibbs, but the defensive back is evades Gallman. With pressure off the edge, the Watson must climb the pocket. He rolls to his right, creating space to escape the blitz.

Then, Watson plants. He has spotted Peake behind the coverage, and unleashes the throw:

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Peake is behind the defense because when the QB is flushed from the pocket, the safety Howard focuses on the crossing route, leaving Peake 1-on-1 with the corner outside.

Watson displays great vision, spotting the WR behind the coverage on the other side of the field. He has the athletic ability to stop, reset his body, and get into position for the throw. His arm strength delivers the ball to his receiver deep downfield: Watson releases this throw from the Clemson 38-yard line. Peake makes the reception at the Mountaineers 3-yard line. This throw covers around 59 yards on the fly:

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But sometimes, an offense needs to use a little sleight of hand.

Against Louisville, the Tigers utilize a quick huddle, something they had yet to do on this drive. They line up in a very tight formation against the Cardinals’ 4-3 defense:ClemsonHuddle

Then the offense shifts, sending two receivers wide left, and three receivers to the right:ClemsonShift

On the left side of the field both of the receivers are staggered off the line of scrimmage. On the right side, three players and two receivers are on the line of scrimmage, with the middle receiver off the line. That inside receiver on the right is not a WR ‒ it is left tackle Mitch Hyatt (#75):


This means that the player on the left edge, ‒who is uncovered, ‒ is an eligible receiver. That player is Jordan Leggett (#16).

At the snap, the five offensive linemen, including Hyatt on the outside, drop into pass protection. The other five players, all of them eligible receivers, release on vertical routes. This includes Leggett, running a seam route from his left tackle alignment:ClemsonPlay1Still2

The defense drops into Cover 4, which is likely a safe call they used after the shift. But four defensive backs fail to account for the TE-eligible coming off the edge, and he is wide open:

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Watson hits him with an easy toss, the Tigers have a big play, and another touchdown, attacking the middle of the field.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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