ATVS Study Session: the Clemson Running Game

Joshua S. Kelly-US PRESSWIRE

The Peach Bowl is what it is, but like we've said before, there are reasons for LSU fans to be excited about this game.

For one, Clemson offers one hell of a matchup. Statistically, these Tigers (the third edition LSU has faced this season, not counting scrimmages) offer, easily, the best offense LSU has seen this season. Quoting myself:

42 points a game and ranks in the top 10 nationally in the following categories: scoring offense, total offense, team yards-per-pass-attempt, third-down conversions, scrimmage plays of 20-, 30- or 40-plus yards as well as passing plays of those distances plus redzone scoring and touchdown percentages. And they're not far behind in passing offense, offensive plays run and offensive yards per play.

That yards-per-play stat is all the more impressive when you consider that the ACC Tigers average about 80 offensive snaps per game, which nearly accounts for an extra two drives per game compared to LSU. The man behind all this has become the nation's highest-paid coordinator -- Chad Morris.

He's mostly known as a disciple of Gus Malzahn, and it's interesting how apt of a term it really is, because he's never actually worked with him. Morris spent some 16 years or so coaching high school ball in Texas, where he adapted the Malzahn hurry up, no-huddle style and won a couple of state championships. From there, followed Malzahn as the offensive coordinator at Tulsa and kept the offensive train going until he picked up and moved to Clemson.

Back in 2010, I wrote this primer on Malzahn's Auburn attack, specifically its fast pace and how it had evolved that season to feature Cam Newton's remarkable talent. Specifically, with him featured as the primary ball-carrier in the running game.

That's obviously a major difference from this Clemson attack. Tahj Boyd is an athletic quarterback with enough speed to make some plays (and, like Newton, is a load to tackle in the open field), but Morris would prefer that Andre Ellington carry the load in the running game. Another difference is that Morris will make heavy use of a jet/fly sweep series as another way to use Ellington's, and of course, Sammy Watkins' speed to get the ball on the edge. Morris will spread the field and bring a runner in motion for a full-speed handoff. The difference between jet and fly is that one usually involves a pulling guard, while the other will feature another back, be it a running back or H-back/tight end in motion as the lead blocker.

The way assignment-based blocking works with this scheme a bit better than the more typical spread-offense zone blocking, is that an offense can mess with defensive gap control by pulling different linemen for the blocking. There's the old Delaware Wing-T bucksweep:

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via assets.sbnation.com

There are also play-side guard pulls, which can hit a bit quicker. Log blocks...

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via assets.sbnation.com

Hammer blocks

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and the short kick-out.

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via assets.sbnation.com

Defending these plays, of course, rely on the front playing well inside to out. Pressure in the a-gaps can disrupt the timing of the pull, but the linebackers/defensive backs still need to make the right reads and try to get to the point of attack before the blocks, and the ball.

In between the tackles, Clemson will rely on some of your basic lead plays such as the inside zone/zone-read, ISO and the Power, constrained with the counter. Another inside run that I expect to see a lot of come Dec. 31 is the 5-tech trap.

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via assets.sbnation.com

The playside tackle invites the defensive end up the field only for him to (ideally) be blindsided by the bookend tackle on a long pull. It creates an extra-man advantage in the direction of the running play and allows the offense to neutralize the backside end with keep-away. Barkevious Mingo would be the most likely victim here, due to his aggressiveness up the field and occasional lack of situational awareness. He'll have to be aware when he's given that free rush and be ready to shed the block. Hopefully Bennie Logan and his mates in the middle can throw off that pull timing.

We'll delve into the Clemson passing game a bit more as the game nears, though it's largely a lot of the Air-Raid standards we typically see out of spread offenses, along with play-action looks off of all these runs.

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