Orange Bowl Prep: The Clemson Base Defense

By Ross Fulton on December 31, 2013 at 11:45 am
Ross Fulton's Breakdown

After examining the Clemson offensive scheme and potential Ohio State response, we do the same with the Tigers’ defense. 

The Clemson defense, under Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables, bares many schematic similarities to its Ohio State counterpart.

The Tigers’ over front against spread offense enables Venables to utilize a variety of coverages and blitz schemes, with the goal of keeping offenses off-balance. The Tigers seek to get offenses into must-pass downs, where Venables often deploys a 30-odd front that features Clemson's best pass rusher, Vic Beasley.

Below I examine the Tigers’ fronts and coverages against spread personnel, Clemson's blitz frequency, and its 30-front pass defense.

Playing the Spread

Although the Tigers frequently play an under front against pro-style schemes, like the Buckeyes, the Tigers generally utilize a 4-2-5 over look against 11 spread personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1B).   Beasley generally aligns to the offense’s weak side, providing him a shorter route to the quarterback.

The Clemson coverage schemes – for better or worse – are multiple to the point of not having a standard scheme.

The Tigers play a sizeable amount of man coverage, primarily in the form of cover 1. In doing so the Tigers generally bring their strong safety into the box as an additional run defender.

Venables also dials up cover 2, man under (cover 5), particularly in passing downs, meaning that the underneath defenders play man coverages with two high safeties.

But the Tigers also play heavy doses of zone. To keep offenses off-balance from the middle of the field single high safety look employed for cover 1, the Tigers play cover 3. And a favorite against spread offenses is quarter-quarter-half, particularly when an offense aligns multiple wide receivers to the field. The Tigers played this coverage with some frequency against South Carolina.

Venable’s pass defenders generally pattern match from zone looks, particularly with cover 3.  

To Blitz or Not to Blitz... 

Although they bring pressure with some frequency, Clemson is not a blitz-happy unit. How frequently the Tigers' blitz is opponent dependent.

To stop the run, Venables is more apt to bring an additional defender in the box then to dial up run blitzes.

Clemson’s strategy on passing downs is comparatively varied. One Venables favorite is bringing a field zone blitz with a 3 deep, 3 under zone. But the Tigers will also bring man blitzes, with cover 1 behind. Florida State exploited Clemson's zone and man blitzes several times, as they were able to pick up the blitz and beat the Tigers with Seminole wide receivers in underneath zones.

Getting Odd

To run zone blitzes, the Tigers often align in a 30-odd front. This should be a familiar tactic, as Ohio State uses the same scheme. It is termed an odd front because the nose guard aligns straight up over the center.

Beasley aligns either as a wide defensive end or as a roving linebacker, threatening to blitz from any gap. 

And the Tigers do blitz from this front. But they also will rush three and drop eight. The goal is keeping the offense – and specifically the opposing quarterback – off balance.    

The Common Theme is Variation

Keeping opponents off-balance is the common theme for Venables and his defensive unit. Clemson mixes and matches the number of defenders in the box, blitz application, and coverages. In so doing the Tigers are apt to create negative plays, but are also vulnerable to explosive plays down field.

On Thursday I examine the Tigers’ defensive efficacy and how the Buckeye offense may respond.

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