The undefeated and second ranked Clemson Tigers prepare for the ACC Championship game Saturday night, in Charlotte, NC, in a match-up against the Pittsburgh Panthers, a truly less competitive team. Clemson has dealt with such conference opponents with relative ease so far this season, leaving us with no real concern that they will be defeated.

The Tigers have been a solid team. So far, they have mostly avoided close losses and dominated their opposition. They have a very strong defensive line, a good quarterback and an even better rushing attack on offense. Clemson looks every part of a college football playoff team.

The Playoff Picture

Six teams stand a chance at making the playoff:

TUSCALOOSA, AL – NOVEMBER 24: Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes against the Auburn Tigers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 24, 2018 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

It’s safe to say that the Alabama Crimson Tide are in. A truly phenomenal season, Alabama is probably on their way to another National Championship.

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish are in as well, playing themselves a truly special undefeated season. They will not face the risk of losing this weekend as they do not compete for a conference title.

The Georgia Bulldogs will most likely take the #4 spot in the Committee’s rankings this week, as the Michigan Wolverines fell to Ohio State this past weekend. Georgia will face Alabama in the SEC Championship on Saturday. A close loss could get the Bulldogs a rematch against Alabama in the Playoff, but a devastating loss would eliminate Georgia from contention.

The Oklahoma Sooners are 11-1, and feature one of the top offenses in the nation. They have merely outscored their opposition, except for their Red River Shootout match-up with the Texas Longhorns. Oklahoma will play Texas for the Big 12 Championship, and a win with a Georgia loss should slide them into the fourth spot.

The Ohio State Buckeyes are 11-1 now to, with a single blemish to the Purdue Boilermakers. That blow out loss now holds Ohio State in limbo. With Georgia and Oklahoma losses and a conference championship win, Ohio State could be in Playoff contention. It’s a long shot, but Ohio State has a chance.

Out of all of these teams, Clemson has the most glaring weaknesses.

The Book on Clemson: How to Beat Them

Beating the Clemson Tigers requires some tools, just like it’s very difficult to dig a deep hole without a shovel and a pick. Not every team is capable of doing it in the nation, but these playoff contending teamsĀ allĀ have the tools to defeat Clemson.

What we learned from the Clemson/South Carolina Game

CLEMSON, SC – NOVEMBER 24: Travis Etienne #9 of the Clemson Tigers runs with the ball against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Clemson Memorial Stadium on November 24, 2018 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

The beautiful thing about rivalries in college football is the time that is dedicated by each school to beating their rivals. Rivalry games often bring out weaknesses in teams. Schools that may have masked their weaknesses all season long certainly can be exposed on rivalry week, much like Michigan’s lack of team speed was exposed by Ohio State in The Game.

The Clemson/South Carolina game is one of the south’s biggest rivalry games every year. These two schools are located just 132 miles apart, and have been rival schools since the founding of Clemson University. Clemson leads the series, 17-10, since the two schools joined their respective conferences.

Clemson’s over-aggressive defense

South Carolina attacked the Clemson defense with a mix of attacks. Clemson’s defensive strategy is always very aggressive. They are very active with the adjustments in game to try and anticipate the offense. Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables is renown for his very active, aggressive coaching style.

South Carolina started this scheme plan early, using Clemson’s aggression against them. The first play of the game was a zone read to the right. The next play a screen pass to the right. The Gamecocks lined up heavy to the right on the third play of the game, and Clemson’s defense adjusted by going man-to-man with the alignment shifted to the right.

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Look at the left box first. Clemson has adjusted their defense to the right, the linebackers are playing with a slant to the right. Five players have lined up to the right and only three on the left. The oval over the middle of the field points out a very big fact that you see quarterback Jake Bentley looking at in the picture. There is no safety help up top. It’s man to man coverage all the way across the board.

The right box is South Carolina’s play call. Normally, Bentley’s first read is the receiver to the far right running the curl route. However, Bentley already saw the safety come down to play man to man coverage and he didn’t need the progression. He knew his man in the slot would be open over the top on the post because there was no safety help there.

The result:

Bentley saw this kind of success all night against the touted Clemson defense, throwing for 510 yards and 5 scores in the 56-35 loss in Clemson, South Carolina.

Have we seen this before?

Yes, actually, only in a sightly different scheme. Syracuse ran several plays out of the same formation in a spread look before going with the deep shot.

Clemson has a lot of faith entrusted in their secondary. They often go man to man and dare the opposing quarterback to throw the ball against their pass rush. Because of the man-to-man scheme, Clemson plays a lot of Cover 1 or Cover 2.

In this play, they are schemed in Cover 1. Syracuse knows the tendencies that Clemson runs their defense, and waited for a Cover 1 play. This play design is called a Slot Fade. The slot receivers run fade routes toward the sideline. To prevent the double coverage (and as a dump off option) the outside receivers run quick hitches. The entire play design is centered around neutralizing the safety.

Against Zone Coverage

It’s not just a man coverage issue either, believe it or not. It’s a zone coverage issue as well.

Aggression on defense can be really good. It can create turnovers, cause chaos on broken plays and even more. Jeremy Pruitt made his living as the defensive coordinator at Alabama on this.

In this play, Clemson is going with a Cover 2 defense with zone coverage underneath. It’s a fairly conservative play call, and means that the defense was expecting a quick throw and wanted to keep the receiver in front of the chains.

The tight end, Keil Pollard, ran a crossing route and Bentley found him right in between the zones. Instead of hitting Pollard, possibly knocking the ball out and buying a new set of downs, the safety, Tanner Muse, tried to jump the route and intercept the ball. He missed, Pollard made the catch and rumbled 67 yards for a touchdown.

Aggression can be a great thing. In this case, aggression was the worst thing for Clemson and it cost them a touchdown.

What to expect in the Playoff.

Clemson’s defense is liable down the field on deep throws. South Carolina torched them with a decent passing offense. Syracuse’s Eric Dungey was able to get them a few times too.

The quarterbacks entering the college football playoff are all elite. From Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, the quarterbacks that Clemson will be facing against will be better than any that they have seen all season long.

Clemson is the weakest team entering the college football playoff. Thanks to South Carolina, everyone in college football knows it now, too.

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