Clemson Game Analysis

Now that was entertaining wasn’t it? In a display that qualifies for the
“Beamer Ball” Hall of Fame, the Hokies went into Death Valley and used
dominating performances by the defense and special teams to whip the Clemson
Tigers 41-23.

The script couldn’t have been written much better. Facing a strong
conference opponent in a tough environment, the Hokies used the essence of “Beamer
Ball” to stun the Clemson faithful and send them home shaking their heads in
disbelief.

In the Hokie football handbook, the ideal start of any game goes something
like this — win the coin toss, defer the kick, put the defense out there
first, and set a tone of physical, tough football. Grab the field position
advantage, score on defense, or make something big happen with special teams.

I’d say this one pretty much went according to plan. The Hokies dominated
the first half, scoring on offense, defense, and special teams before the
vaunted Clemson offense tallied a first down. Trailing 31-8 at halftime, the
Tigers tried to rally behind an all-out aerial assault in the second half, but
on this night, this Death Valley belonged to the Hokies.

There is no better place to start this article than
with the defense.

Defense

How do you win a game on defense? Take away a team’s strength and make them
one dimensional.

For the second year in a row, Bud Foster’s defense did just that. The Hokie
D completely shut down the high-powered Clemson running attack of James Davis
and CJ Spiller and forced the Tigers to wind it up and air it out. After a
record-setting 67 pass attempts, I’d say the Hokies did a good job of making
Tommy Bowden, Rob Spence, Cullen Harper and the rest of the Clemson offense very
one dimensional.

And they did it a little bit differently this time around. Bud Foster and his
coaches always seem to be a couple of steps ahead of the Clemson offensive brain
trust, and so it was again on Saturday night.

Earlier in the week, Tommy Bowden publicly commented on Tech’s defense,
basically referring to it as a scheme that utilized a lot of 8-man fronts and
“robber” coverages.

Let’s define that a little bit further.

There are many aspects and variations of the so-called “robber” coverage,
but at a high level it’s a way to use one of the safeties in the middle of the
field to “rob” crossing routes and seam routes. Looking at an 8-man front,
the pre-snap read for the QB is eight defenders crowding the box, with the two
corners and one safety sitting back in some form of coverage. Usually, that
pre-snap read is either a 3-deep zone or a man-to-man coverage with that one
safety back in the deep middle to help over the top (this is usually called
Cover-1 or “man free” coverage). Against either coverage, an offense can run
receivers deep to occupy the safety and then run another receiver underneath in
that open space 10-15 yards down the field. The “robber” coverage steals
that underneath route by sliding that one safety up in that 10-15 yard area
(essentially making the actual coverage either straight man to man or some form
of a 2-deep zone). If the QB doesn’t read that safety correctly, then he never
sees him hovering right in front of those crossing routes.

In last year’s game in Blacksburg, Bud Foster shut down the Clemson running
game by using a lot of 8-man fronts and robber coverage behind it. Clemson wasn’t
ready for it (because that’s not what they had seen of VT’s defense on
film), so they spent all night running Davis and Spiller into a brick wall and
having Will Proctor air mail passes over the heads of his receivers on sideline
routes.

Expecting to see more of the same this year, Bud Foster instead mixed it up a
lot more, showing more 2-deep looks pre-snap and fewer 8-man fronts. This time,
the 8-man fronts were reserved for certain down/distance situations against a
specific personnel group (eg, Clemson’s “13” personnel group — one back,
three TE’s).

Otherwise, the Hokies’ front seven was superb in getting penetration and
controlling their respective gaps — watching Xavier Adibi sit back and wait
for Spiller to reverse field on that little misdirection play said it

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