Syracuse lost to Clemson 16-6 on Saturday despite a strong defensive effort. The Orange defense forced four Tiger turnovers, pressured quarterback Cole Stoudt all night and gave the offense a chance to take control of the game. One of the more complex plays Chuck Bullough’s group ran was the overload zone stunt, which led to a Ron Thompson sack early in the second quarter..
This is a bit of a risky play call, and takes time to develop, but worked to perfection against Clemson. While the action of the defensive line is certainly important, downfield coverage is just as critical.
Let’s focus on the action upfront to start. Syracuse lines up in its base 4-3. Nothing is really unusual other than middle linebacker Marqez Hodge lining up to the left side of the formation (he lines up on his right, which is the left side of the offense). There is also a large gap between defensive end Ron Thompson and tackle John Raymon. This is intentional as the entire defensive line will slant to their left, ending up in the next gap over. This gives Thompson room to stunt into the middle. Dyshawn Davis is on the outside and shows blitz.
As Davis blitzes, he attracts the attention of the left tackle who sees Thompson slide over to another gap. The left tackle is no longer responsible for Thompson and therefore moves to Davis. Hodge blitzes behind Davis to the outside to prevent any type of run to that side. Because of the defensive line slanting over one or two gaps, the left side where Hodge is rushing is vulnerable to a misdirection or cutback run play. A screen to the running back to this side would also be open as a result. Robert Welsh lines up on the right side of the offense (left in the picture) and drops into coverage. Eric Crume (circled above) has slanted to where Welsh lined up, and is doubled by the right tackle and right guard. John Raymon slides over to where Crume lined up and is blocked by the center and left guard. The Clemson running back is moving up to block a potential edge rush, leaving no one available to block Thompson.
With Crume and Raymon double teamed (circuled above) and the left tackle blocking Davis, the Clemson running back (Wayne Gallman) has moved up to block Hodge’s outside rush. This opens a lane in the middle of the Clemson offensive line where Thompson has stunted. The line executed this to perfection, giving Thompson the free lane just as it was drawn up by defensive coordinator Chuck Bullough.
Thompson bursts through the lane and attacks Cole Stoudt, resulting in Syracuse’s only sack of the night. Just to be on the safe side, Raymon jumps and gets his hands in the air in case of any last minute pass attempt by Stoudt. All of this action would not be possible, of course, without solid coverage downfield. Let’s see how the Orange executed that aspect of this play.
As Stoudt takes the snap, Mike Williams is at the top of the screen covered by Julian Whigham. When Davis came down to blitz off the edge, it forces Durell Eskridge to come down and cover Adam Humphries in the slot at the bottom of the screen. All the way at the bottom is Artavis Scott with Brandon Reddish playing off coverage. The slot on the top of the screen is the Clemson tight end who went in motion. Cameron Lynch is the man assigned to cover him.
As the play develops, Stoudt is staring at the receivers at the top of the screen. The tight end is running a seem but is covered perfectly by Lynch. Wiliams is running a deep comeback, but it takes a bit of time to develop. Whigham has strong initial coverage. Humphries is running a square-in, but Eskridge is there initially. The problem for Eskridge is that he now has two receivers in his area with Reddish so far back. However, Stoudt is not looking at his primary reads and is not able to get to that progression. Also countering this is Welsh dropping into coverage, as he can cover Humphries as he crosses the middle of the field.
As Thompson bursts through the lane created by the outside zone stunt action of the defensive line, Mike Williams finally breaks open on his comeback. The problem is, Thompson is only a step away at this point and Stoudt does not have time to get it away. Humphries is coming open over the middle, but again, Thompson is only a step away. With Welsh drifting back towards Humphries, it might be a dangerous throw for Stoudt. Regardless, Thompson gets to Stoudt before he can even start his throwing motion.
Beautiful play design and superb execution from the entire defense.