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Fulton Analysis: Attacking the Clemson Defense

The word that best describes the Clemson defense is ‘multiple.’ In his Fiesta Bowl preview press conference, Urban Meyer described Tiger defensive coordinator Brett Venables’ group as playing “three different defenses.”

According to Meyer, it is not just that Clemson mixes and matches looks. It is that Venables goes out of his way to break tendencies and sew confusion. For instance, Meyer stated that the Tigers will mix an aggressive blitz one first down with a pass-conscious, cover-3 cloud strong rotation (field corner plays the underneath flat, strong safety plays the deep outside third) the next.

Nevertheless, Clemson does have some consistent elements. Although the Tigers do mix and match coverages, one favorite is cover 6 (cover 4 to the field, cover 2 to the boundary) – also known as quarter-quarter-half. Cover 6 allows a defense to bracket the boundary single receiver (generally Noah Brown for Ohio State), while also applying the boundary corner as a force defender.

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But Venables will also call for cover 4, cover 3, cover 1, and blitz packages.

Up front, the Tigers frequently use a 4-3 over with Sam linebacker Dorian O’Daniel in a walkout role, similar to Ohio State. What differentiates Clemson from many college defenses is that they provide force support outside-in. The Tigers seek to funnel the runner back to the interior (as opposed to spilling the ball-carrier outside).

The strength of the Clemson defense is its defensive line – particularly in rushing the passer. Led by 310-pound defensive end Christian Wilkins, the Tigers are fourth in S & P+ havoc rate (for comparison, Michigan is first). Venables frequently slants or stunts his defensive line. On passing downs, Clemson often uses an odd front (like Ohio State) and brings a variety of zone and man blitzes.

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