Clemson did it–they scored 35 points against what some previously considered to be the best college defense of all time. Just how did Clemson beat Bama? I charted Clemson’s offense throughout the game and found they had consistent success with a few concepts; in the pass game, Clemson beat Bama with tosser and empty smash divide. In the run game, Clemson gained significant yardage with several buck sweep and jet action runs.
The Tosser pass game concept is a double slant combo from the same side of the field. The inside slant usually runs “fat,” or at a lower angle, while the outside runs “skinny,” or at a higher angle. Clemson struggled early, but was able to move the ball with tosser. On 2nd & 11 from their own 29, Clemson gets its first completion of the game on empty left tosser right early in the middle of the first quarter:
Clemson window dresses by motioning to a slot left formation out of 11 personnel, but runs tosser again on the very next play. This time, Clemson completes the ball to the outside slant:
Needing a completion after going down 14-0, Clemson completes the ball to the inside slant, once again out of 11 personnel and a slot left formation:
More than 2 quarters later, Clemson faced one of the biggest plays of the national championship: 3rd and 3 on the edge of field goal range with just 25 seconds left in the game. They came back to the tosser concept in this key situation:
This is a great example of how finding confidence in a play or two despite early struggles can be key. Although Clemson didn’t move the ball well early, they came back to a play they were confident in on one of the biggest plays of the season.
Empty Smash Divide
One of Clemson’s go to plays against 2-high is Empty Smash Divide. (Clemson had success with the concept against Alabama last year as well). Empty Smash divide is a five man route combination, with mirrored smash combos and a “divide” route. The divide route is meant to attack the middle of the field and split safeties:
On their first touchdown drive, Clemson goes to Empty Smash Divide on 3rd & 10 for a gain of 26:
The end zone angle shows the intricacies of this particular completion. First, Alabama disguises its coverage by starting with a one high safety look. At the snap, the safeties split apart and provide an opening for the divide route. But Alabama still has a linebacker that will carry any vertical threat. The divide route (#16 TE Jordan Leggett) does an excellent job of giving an inside move and getting over Alabama’s linebacker (#10) to open up a huge throwing window:
Deep in its own territory on 3rd & 6, Clemson needs to pick up a first down to avoid giving Alabama the ball with good field position and 2 timeouts. Alabama is likely playing Cover 5, but the Clemson wideouts beat man coverage and the divide route helps hold the safety:
The end zone angle shows how the corner route opens up, and also shows that the divide route is once again there as well:
Clemson only had 91 yards on 42 attempts for an abysmal 2.2 yards per carry, but they had big gains on a series of similar runs. On their first play of the game, Clemson runs jet sweep action left and gives the running the ball on buck sweep right for a gain of 12:
On its first touchdown of the game, Clemson runs jet action right with a QB lead sweep going left for an 8 yard score. Take note of running back (#9 Wayne Gallman) lead blocking with a big hit:
Clemson combines the two plays from above for a huge gain of 15 late in the 4th quarter. Here, Clemson runs QB buck sweep right with a lead blocker and pre-snap jet action going left. Clemson repeats its buck sweep success from its first offensive play of the game, and Gallman once again throws an excellent lead block:
Clemson also had success with by completing numerous backside fades to the X wideout from Trips formation. Clemson also completed tunnel screens for gains of 45, 11, and 9, none of which were in 3rd and long situations. This gives further insight into how Clemson beat Bama.