The anticipation is at an all-time high. The wait is almost over. Saturday night, at 7:30 PM, Georgia and Clemson will tee it up in one of the most coveted season-opening matchups in the last several decades.
As legendary Towson football coach Phil Albert would say, "The hay is in the barn." Meaning, all the work is done. The preparation is complete and it's time to play some football.
So, here's what I thought I would do. After watching upwards of 20 hours worth of tape on Clemson over the last several months leading up to this game, I'm going to tell you exactly how I would attack this defense — as if my opinion matters.
This Clemson defense struggled with communication for the better part of the final three games a year ago when teams were playing with tempo. Dozens of times on tape, they simply weren't lined up when the ball was snapped, including the opening touchdown against Ohio State.
Watch for yourself in this clip, you'll notice that Clemson's entire defensive front is standing up, looking at the sideline when the ball is snapped.
After explosive plays, sprint down the field, get on the ball, and run a play. It will lead to success. Though nothing in Kirby Smart's history as a head coach would lead you to believe he wants to play at a blazing pace on offense, that's okay because the Notre Dame tape proved that they struggled with presnap motion as well. So, if you don't want to play fast, play with motion.
East and West
This starting defensive front averages 6'4, 276 pounds. They are extremely big. And they are really strong. Notre Dame tried to line up and bully them for four quarters, and it resulted in 30 carries for 44 yards in the ACC Championship game. That is not the way to rush effectively against this football team.
If you want to have success — like Ohio State did — rushing for 254 yards on 44 attempts, then you've got to stretch the field in the run game. You've got to make this massive defensive line work east to west to open alleyways and lanes to run through.
Backs on Backers
Similar to their daunting size as a defensive line, Clemson's linebackers are much bigger than the conventional SEC backers that hover around 230 pounds. These Clemson backers, James Skalski and Baylon Spector, average 240 pounds and are limited in space.
If you can get any of Georgia's running backs in space paired up on these linebackers, you've got a favorable matchup.
Play Action Shots
If you can create any semblance of early-down success in the run game, you've got an opportunity to take your deep shots downfield off play-action. Georgia's offensive coordinator Todd Monken prides himself on being an explosive shot taker, and the way to do that against Clemson is through play action.
On film, they rush the passer extremely effectively in standard passing situations. However, they struggle at creating pressure off play-action which requires defenders to convert from run fits to pass rush. This will give JT Daniels the time it takes to get receivers open downfield.
Capitalize on 12 personnel
This portion of the game plan became much harder with Darnell Washington expected to be unavailable for this game. But, Clemson struggles against 12 personnel — one running back, two tight ends. The reason being is because instead of trusting a nickel corner or safety to cover the additional tight end, they run a third linebacker onto the field. Even with Washington's expected absence, I expect the freshman Brock Bowers to win these one-on-one matchups a lot more than he loses them.
Automatic Runs vs Five Man Boxes
For some reason, and I don't know why, against Ohio State on several occasions Clemson's defense lined up in 5-man boxes. Meaning, for Ohio State six blockers, a running back, and a quarterback, and Clemson had five defenders in the box. And every single time it happened, Ohio State handed the ball off and ripped off runs of 10+ yards on each occasion.
It's simple math, if they want to play with a lightened box, you run the football. Every time.
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