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September 9, 2013
In this special feature, former Gamecock football player Marty Simpson takes a look at USC's defensive performance against Georgia.
I am not buying into the hype that Jadeveon Clowney is not playing well. I watch the game tape and watch every play multiple times like I am still coaching. Clowney is playing hard and playing well. He is the central focus of the opponents' plan of attack.
Clowney is playing well. Anyone saying otherwise is not watching the entire game film.
However, there is a fundamental flaw in the Gamecocks' defense. The cumulative total of ability versus an offense like Georgia's provides a mismatch. By mismatch I mean the nine players that Georgia played with against USC's 10, since they use two to account for Clowney every play, were just better than the Gamecocks at the point of attack most plays.
Georgia clearly decided that they were going to block Clowney with more than one player or they were going to run away from him. This means that Clowney is forced to hustle from the back side to run plays down and this in turn makes him more fatigued than if half the plays came toward him. On straight passing plays, Clowney is forced to deal with two and three people accounting for him.
When I was coaching I was faced with a similar scenario. We were playing a team in the playoffs that had beaten us 44-6 during the regular season. They had one player we literally weren't capable of blocking. My father and I noticed that when that defensive lineman touched the ball carrier, we averaged 0.2 yards per play. That's 0.2 yards per play. And when that player didn't touch our ball carrier, we averaged 11 yards per play. The problem was obvious but hard to solve. How do we keep that one player from touching our ball carrier?
My father and I decided that we would go into the game with one plan and one plan only: To not allow that player to touch our ball carrier and find out what happens. We didn't know if this plan would be successful, but we knew our normal plan failed to the tune of 44-6.
That night we assigned three of our players to account for that one defensive lineman. We called our running plays at the line of scrimmage to go in the direction away from where he lined up. The first blocker to face him would attempt to cut him. The other two would hustle to get play-side and wait for him to defeat the cut block and then just get in his way and frustrate him. We left two defenders unaccounted for by design and hoped for the best.
Our eight players defeated the 10 on the other side by a score of 27-7 that night. When that one player was not involved in the play, the other 10 just weren't that good. I say all this to illustrate what is happening to USC's defense this year. Last year USC was good enough at the other positions to dominate while playing 10 versus nine. This year USC may not be. That was made clear against Georgia. Of course, the nuances of the college game are vastly different from the high school game that I coached, but the theory is the same. Georgia's nine beat the Gamecocks' 10 every time they put two players on Clowney.
Yes, Georgia probably has the best offense the Gamecocks will face until Clemson, but there are fundamental and schematic problems that must be addressed.
Schematically, the Gamecocks should assume a few things from this point forward in the season. Teams will be running the ball away from Clowney. Therefore, USC should be predisposed to slanting and stunting away from Clowney. This will give the other defenders a leverage advantage at the point of attack. This could help negate some of the "youth and inexperience" along the way.
The Gamecocks have also drastically changed something from last season. It would appear that Clowney may get to decide on his own when he rushes inside or outside. Maybe he got to decide last year too, but I noticed he did it about half the time (or more) against UGA, and last season he only jumped inside the tackle a few times per half. My hunch is Brad Lawing is being missed on this front more than we can possibly imagine. My memory of the times Clowney jumped inside were times we were in the "Rabbit" package and another player was looping outside for contain.
The biggest plays in Saturday's debacle came when Clowney jumped inside and Murray was able to squirt outside and roll out and make a huge play. This accounted for touchdowns multiple times. Of course, the secondary break down was catastrophic on the long touchdown, but still, the edge was not set on this play.
It is very frustrating whenever you look back at a third-and-long play that ends in a touchdown and the extent of the imagination utilized by the opposing quarterback to create the good play can be summarized as, "Hey, dude, just run straight down the field and I'll throw it to you in a few seconds. No, seriously, no one will be guarding you I promise. Just run straight for a while."
Yes, Coach Bobo for Georgia is that innovative!
Clowney is frustrated with how the coaches are utilizing him and well he should be. But schematically the Gamecocks need some fundamentally sound answers. If Clowney is shooting inside on a shot-gun passing play, then someone on the defense needs to be assigned to quarterback contain outside of him. Both touchdowns where Clowney was pinned inside and Murray rolled outside, it seemed like the plan was simply to hope that Clowney made a big play by shooting inside. This is flawed from an X's and O's standpoint. Some player, a particular player, should be assigned quarterback contain on every play. If they are not, then this is not fundamentally sound defensive football. Where is the "Rabbit" package? Where is the player assigned to set the edge when Clowney jumps inside?
I'm certain every high school coach who is a Gamecock fan was yelling at their televisions every time Murray broke contain and was running free outside. If Murray is made to stay in the pocket on those two touchdowns then maybe the secondary breakdowns wouldn't have been exposed quite as bad. If on those two touchdowns, Murray was forced to step up in the pocket and glide to one side or the other, and then had time to find those receivers running free because of the secondary break-down, then at least the blame could be placed squarely on the secondary (with a little blame on the A and B gap linemen.) Judging solely on Saturday's performance, USC's defense is just a train wreck combination of poorly-executed, poorly-designed schemes, none of which seemed to put Clowney in much of a position to excel, all of which seemed to be completely anticipated by Georgia's offensive execution.
It's like the defensive strategy was stubbornly sticking with trying to "not do what Clemson did," which was to bring pressure from all angles. Clemson dialed up blitz because their front four weren't capable of doing anything on their own. It honestly felt like USC was consciously deciding to not bring pressure at times, which was perplexing to me given how ineffective the front four was at getting to Murray in the first half. I assumed the second half adjustment would have been to bring more pressure with more bodies. I am sure there were good reasons why this wasn't the case, I just can't determine what those were given only the television broadcast and not the behind-the-scenes conversations.
But I have been emailed and texted and tweeted by Clemson fans asking me what the heck was going on with our coaches fighting. I was asked on twitter, "Why were those coaches fighting on the sidelines?" I tweeted back, "They were defensive coaches, so I assume it was because they were watching the game."
Unfortunately, for Gamecock fans, we were watching the game too.
But, seriously, believe me on how well Clowney is playing.
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