Since Clemson’s Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables’ arrival, the Tigers defense has been one of the top units in college football. Outside 2012 (Venables’ first year) the Tigers defense has found itself in the top 25 in Defensive Efficiency, finish #1 twice (2014, 2019). The Tigers have a unique brand of aggressive four-down defense in a time were the Tite Front is king.
One thing that makes Venables stand out among his peers is his willingness to try new things. During their game against Texas A&M, Clemson trotted out their own version of the Odd Dime to combat the Aggie Spread. It was documented last Spring that the Iowa State and Clemson defensive staffs had conversed. This should come as no shock because Venables is a Big 12 guy, having grown up in Kansas, played and coached under Bill Snyder at Kansas State, and cut his proverbial DC teeth at Oklahoma under Bob Stoops.
2019 would see the Tigers play for their fourth National Title in five years. That is on the same par with Alabama who has become somewhat of a recent rival. Though the 2019 Tigers would eventually fall short versus LSU in the National Championship, the defense was still #1 in DEff for 2019.
One highlight from 2019’s defense is the jack-of-all-trades, Isaiah Simmons (#8 overall in ’20). Venables used him as a true hybrid player by placing him all over the field to create matchup issues (even at “Post” Safety!). The Tigers matchup versus Ohio State in the Fiesta bowl would highlight the flexibility of Venables’ scheme versus one of the best examples of the modern Y-off Spread. Below are three of the best pressures from that game.
The first clip is a simulated pressure that attacks the edge of the Ohio State line. The Buckeyes initially align in a Trey formation and shift to a 2×2 Pro Twin set. Clemson is in their 3rd Down Dime package with Simmons on the TE (Ni) and the Di on top of the Slot WR. As the Buckeyes motion, both the Ni and Di stay on the same side, the Safeties just rotate to the hashes.
On the line of scrimmage (LOS), the Tigers are in an “Overload” Front. This means that there are more defenders on one side of the line than the other. In this particular look, the Tigers have the DE, Nose, and Mike LB all to one side. The proximity of the Ni also stresses the defense because he is in position to blitz (along with the Ni). Away from the TE, the Tigers have the Will in the “A” gap and another DE as a wide-5.
I’ve explained before how an Overload (above) look can force the offense to do two things. First, the offense can slide to the two “bigs” and lock the backside tackle on the opposite DE or EDGE player. Second, the mugged LBs in the middle of the formation can force man blocking or five-on-five, which is illustrated in the clip below. Clemson runs a different look with the Mike and Will mugged in the “A” gaps. Venables is known for his four-down “Double-A” pressures, but this is a great example of giving different presentations to force the offense to work.
The blitz path in this clip is called Stride. The DE to the pressure side (TE) will work up field for contain. The next interior lineman (Nose) will run a “2-Face” stunt. In a 2-Face stunt, the goal is for the Nose to bring the guard with him by “denting” or “stabbing” the guard before working to cross the center’s face (that’s two faces…). Eventually, the Nose will work to the opposite “A” gap. The Buckeyes chose to man block the look, so when the two LBs drop out, the Nose is able to occupy three players (that’s a 3-for-1).
The movement of the DE and Nose clears a large path for the Ni to insert right off the guard’s backside. This pressure overloads the pass pro. by placing two defenders on the tackle. The RB has to work all the way across the formation to pick up his LB. That is a long way to go when scanning the second level for your block. The immediate pressure of Simmons (Ni) forces the QB to step up. The Nose, who is “pinning” or sitting in the “A” gap, rocks back to tackle the QB.
The second example is from Clemson’s three-high package. Throughout the season, Venables used this package to attack opponents through pressure. The added secondary players and the Safties positions on the field allow the defense to be relatively fluid and pressure from all directions. The pressure below is what a call a Smash concept, or Sam off the edge and the Mike to the “A” gap. The added value of the Will as a “green-dog,” or delayed/read blitzer places a lot of hats in the QB’s face.
The pressure puts two defenders on the RB if he blocks. The Nose again has a two-face technique and is trying to draw the center and opposite guard with him. The Mike “pins” the “A” gap and the DE to the pressure side pins the “B.” This allows the Ni to have a one-on-one with the RB. Opposite the pressure, the DE has contain.
EYES coverage is being run behind the pressure. The CBs will bail to their deep third with the Joker Safety taking the middle third. Hash Safeties will sink into the Seams literally watching the eyes of the QB and floating in coverage off what they see. This is also referred to as HOT coverage and was made famous by Narduzzi and Dantonio who would peel with the RB when blitzing six. Out of a three-down look, the defense can now funnel the RB or share.
The Ni and Will are going to “share” the RB. This means that if the RB were to flare, the Ni would peel and the Will would then loop for contain (below). The Will replaces the path of the Ni to keep the defense sound. This is a great way to attack offenses that like to release the RB because you are putting a cover man on a fast RB while giving the illusion of a soft edge, only for the QB to get smacked by a delayed LB. If the RB blocks, the Will, as shown in the clip, can insert off the opposite shoulder of the Ni. Below, the Ni has contain and sits outside allowing the Will to penetrate off the tackles outside shoulder.
By sharing the rush and pinning the “A” and “B” gaps to the pressure side, the Tigers have guaranteed someone free off that side. In the case of the clip, this was the Will LB. As illustrated above, had the RB left the box, the Will still would have been free. Placing two on the back and blitzing with delayed or green-dog rushes can have a devastating effect on an offense.
The final clip is another example of an Overload Front. Unlike the first clip, this is more of a traditional look. Initially, the Buckeyes are in a Trey formation. As with the first clip, they will shift to a 2×2 Pro Twin look. Simmons is leveraging the TE (#3) and the Ni is giving the illusion of a rush, placing five men on the line (this is standard for attacking pass pro as talked about earlier). With the motion, Simmons works with the Slot. The Tigers are now in a single-high look pre-snap and will play Cover 1.
The stunt is what I call Marauder (Pirate/Mike rush contain). To the boundary, the Nose, DE, and Will are going to stunt one gap over. This stunt crashes the O-line and forces the RB to track the Mike all the way across. As usual, opposite the Overload, the DE works contain. The Ni has what is referred to as a “hug” rush. He is in charge of the RB if he were to flare (FS has the TE). When the RB doesn’t flare and works opposite to pick up the Mike, the Ni folds into the box as a spy.
The shared and “hug rush” concepts are fantastic ways to pressure the offense while being “safe” at the same time. Above, the Ni works or folds into the box with the RB. Had the RB stayed on the Ni’s side to block him, he could have run a natural stunt with the DE, working underneath the DE’s contain rush. In fact, the “hug rush” is what makes this play. As the Ni loops around, the QB steps up into what looks like space, only to find the Ni there. This gives the field DE enough time to work the hoop resulting in a sack.
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