2019 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS – National Championship Preview

Posted: January 14, 2020 in All Things Power Spread

PS Pro Ready to Go!

  • An 80 yr reunion of College and Pro Football through PS Pro.
  • LSU OC Joe Brady winning the Broyles award with his PS Pro Offense.
  • Longtime assistant Steve Ensminger syncing with Brady to form a powerful PS Pro hybrid in a Canada/Moorhead/Payton style.
  • Clemson Co-OCs Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott learning from PS originators Rich Rodriguez and Chad Morris.
  • Clemson Offense still evolving from PS to a PS Pro / PS 2020 hybrid.

So where does this leave us for the College Football Championship tonight?

Surprisingly, after my film review, I feel the scheme edge may favor Clemson – not only on Defense with the brilliant Brent Venables, but on Offense as well!

Clemson vs LSU

My first impression after the Semifinals was that Clemson will get blown away by LSU in the Championship game. Here’s why:

  • LSU definitely had the best year and toughest schedule of the four playoff teams.
  • Clemson was very fortunate to get by Ohio State.
  • LSU has Home Field advantage with the game being played in New Orleans.
  • More than anything, LSU’s Offense seems unstoppable with the two Joe’s on Offense:
    • Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady – Broyles Award Winner
    • QB Joe Burrow – Heisman Trophy Winner

I was excited to review this record breaking offense in their best game of the year. I had reviewed some plays from LSU’s Offense throughout the regular season, but never a full game.

I was surprised. Not so much for what I saw, but for what I didn’t see.

Brady’s PS Pro Scheme Overrated?

I won’t go as far as to call the 2019 Broyles Award Winner overrated, but lets just say I wasn’t impressed.

That’s not to say I wasn’t impressed by the players or coaching. I just mean the scheme. The talent is there and the technique is solid. The execution is excellent. These are all hallmarks of CO-OC Steve Ensminger, who doesn’t get enough credit.

I was surprised by the lack of anything really that special. Sure, the route designs were great. They had a lot of WCO route concepts with a Gillman Style flair for stretching the field vertically. Actually, its Joe Moorhead who has fleshed out this philosophy of Power + Vertical Spread.

I also saw a great use of RPOs (RunPassOption), which again is a tribute to Moorhead’s innovation and Ensminger’s teaching. Brady also has to get credit for the way Burrow is executing and the simplicity of design that enables easy syncing with his WRs.

What I don’t see is the Fly Sweep PS Pro stuff used by Canada and Ensminger at LSU before Brady got there. I saw it earlier in the year, just not in the OU game.

I also didn’t see any of the amazing play calling and inventive scheme design you will see from Ryan Day’s PS Pro Offense at Ohio State.

The simplicity and execution of the LSU offensive design is fantastic. Just not innovative. The Offense is great due to Talent and Execution, not innovation. Plus a bad OU Defensive performance.

Defense
OU – Alex Grinch

Alex Grinch, OU’s new DC this year, is very good. He was slowly turning around a horrendous 2018 Defense by the end of 2019. The problem was that he was still short on talent and experience, which wasn’t helped by injuries and suspensions.

The Film guys on ESPNU were yelling that Grinch needed to be more conservative and run more Cover 2 instead of Cover 1. I disagree. Backing off even more would have made no difference. LSU would have pounded the ball with runs and short passes, drew the defense up, then struck deep for TDs that way.

I think Grinch needed to be more aggressive, not less. Bring more blitz pressure. Mix pressure as well as coverages. But he’s not the one to blame. Even with a perfect gameplan, OU may have gotten destroyed. Defensively, with all the issues still happening with their personnel, they simply weren’t ready for a great Offense like LSU.

DC – Brent Venables

While Venables doesn’t have the same experience or talent as his previous Clemson Defenses, he still has the speed! He explores the best Aggressive Variety on Defense in all of Football by using simple Coverage mixes combined with tricky Zone and Phantom Blitzes.

More importantly, he increases the Margin of Error for his players. In other words, they aren’t “trapped” into perfect execution, which creates a freedom for their Individual and Team instincts to flourish.

Here’s my breakdown of their last play of the Semifinal game when they intercepted Justin Fields. At least one or two players roamed instinctively away from the scheme and the play still worked to end the game.

Venables again uses simple flexible disguise better than any DC in football.

  • Instead of the standard 4 man rush with a Cover 2 or 3, Venables shows a 3-2 look with hybrid S/LB Simmons and S Muse up close on the short side(Boundary) of the field while the S that got burned for the last OSU TD, Turner, is deeper on the wide side.
  • Right before the snap one LB moves to DE to provide a 4man rush.
  • At the snap Simmons comes foward to man the intermediate middle of the field. Almost like a Robber who “robs” routes over the middle.
  • Muse and the CB on the short side play a Cover 2, with Muse taking WR Victor who goes deep down the sideline.
  • Here’s what makes this zone coverage tricky.
    • On the wide side of the field – instead of playing a cover 2, it looks like a Cover 4 as Turner takes the middle Quarter while the CB has the wide Quarter.
    • At the same time, the other LB (his partner rushed the QB from the DE position) raced back into what looks like a Tampa2 scheme. That is when a player closer to the line of scrimmage races back into a deep safety position.
  • So, in what looks to be a pretty conservative zone coverage scheme, because of the flexibility of a 3-2 alignment, Venables uses a simple adjustment to go from a Cover 2 to a Cover 6 (4+2) or possibly a Tampa 6!!
    • Easy to execute, while confusing to the opponent.
    • I’m not sure if it was Tampa, because the LB Skalski stopped short.
      • Because he was literally banging into Simmons when the pass was thrown, I have to think he made a mistake.
      • My guess is Skalski was supposed to race to deep safety to replace Simmons who moved up to the intermediate zone, replacing Skalski.
    • Skalski most likely left his responsibilies and jumped on the crossing route by Hill underneath.
      • Beautiful Read Progression by Fields drew Skalski up and out of position
      • Skalski was reading Fields eyes. When he looked at Hill, Skalski took the bait and left the deep middle open.
      • This is exactly where Olave was supposed to be!
  • Turner, who was supposed to have the wide middle Quarter of the field covered, actually jumped the post route by Olave.
    • Similar to the Skalski, Turner used his instincts as he was reading the route design and Fields’ eyes.
    • Unlike Skalski, Turner made the correct move in this case. Mainly because Skalski wasn’t where he was supposed to be – possibly..

Complicated look – simple to execute. Freedom for greatness.

Now, this isn’t even a pressure scheme that Venables likes to employ! Usually he’s blitzing a someone from somewhere almost every play. Players on the LOS. LBs spread out. Even Safeties and CBs.

Anyone player may blitz from anywhere at anytime with a multitude of looks and schemes.

LSU – Dave Aranda

Aranda is a top notch creative DC. Above is a video showing Aranda’s use of a 1-3 Defense in a 4-2 look. Two Safeties were on the line with only one DLineman! One Safety was 17 yards deep!

I love the way Aranda explores space and time with different looks and schemes. He has some real talent to work with this year, but he does use 4 true freshman in the Secondary. This inexperience may be the reason I haven’t seen Aranda blitz as much as he has in the past.

He uses a lot of man coverage. His DBs are very talented, but again, youth can get burned. They also struggled getting lined up correctly. Even on their interception, they were struggling with alignment. It was just a bad play call by OU’s Lincoln Riley and bad throw by QB Jalen Hurts.

Hurts, for all his ability and grit, had a bad game. He missed open guys and made some terrible throws. At one point I thought maybe he had an injured shoulder!

I also thought Lincoln Riley’s gameplan was sub-par as was his play calling. LSU will not see this same ineptitude from the Clemson Offense. I feel Aranda will have to go back to his more aggressive ways if he wants to slow Clemson down.

Clemson Offense

I mentioned in my preview that Clemson OCs Scott/Elliot ran the weakest PS Scheme of the four playoff teams. Well, I may have been wrong.

I was really impressed by what I saw from Clemson’s Offense versus Ohio State. Not only the surprise QB Keepers and the Tim Tebow Jump Pass at the end, but all the play calling, misdirection and timing that went on throughout the game.

I wasn’t a fan of what these guys were scheming in the years after Chad Morris left. Clemson’s Offense was innovative with Morris, but won more on Talent and Team, rather than scheme.

I saw signs this year of some interesting stuff going on with the Clemson Offense, but the Semifinal really impressed me. It’s not yet what I would call a PS 2020, but it’s a PS Pro that is heading that way.

With Scott moving on to be a first time Head Coach, it will be interesting to see what he and Elliot will do, separated and on their own for the first time in over a decade. For this game, I now have more confidence in Clemson’s Scheme as well as their Talent on Offense.

Prognostication – Clemson

It’s hard to believe that I initially had LSU blowing out Clemson before I reviewed the film. I now have made a 180 degree turn, which is something I don’t usually do.

The Football Playoffs this year, both College and Pro, have been highly volatile. I won’t pretend admit I know what’s going to happen or can even predict with any sort of accuracy. I wouldn’t be surprised by a blowout either way. Or a classic for the ages.

I will do what I always do. Go with my gut and with my extensive study of the play on the field. With a Power Spread perspective of course. 🙂

VENABLES OVER BRADY?

First off, this is the battle everyone is watching. LSU’s record breaking Offense vs a Venables led Clemson Defense.

Back when I first started ranting and raving about Venables, not many out there seemed to know of him. That’s changed. Everyone is now talking about his Defensive brilliance.

Everyone also seems to know about Joe Brady. After what I saw on Film of the LSU Offense last game, I have no doubt that the Clemson Defense can make life rough for the Two Joes!

  • Venables is more expereniced and proven his brilliance longer than Brady.
  • Ryan Day’s PS Pro schemes are more impressive than Brady.
    • Venables gave up yards, but not a lot of points.
    • OSU is not as talented Offensively as LSU, but closer than you may think!
    • In all honesty, Justin Fields is a better talent than Joe Burrow.
      • Burrow could never beat Fields out for a starting job.
      • Fields was slightly injured, but playing his best football of the year vs Clemson.
  • Venables applies more Aggressive Variety than Brady
    • His DScheme is more innovative than Brady’s OScheme.
    • His Scheme applies more pressure than OU.
    • His players are more solid in experience and talent.
LSU OLINE VS PRESSURE

I think this is the wildcard factor to this whole game. LSU has one of the best Olines in Football. Easily better than OU’s Oline last week.

They are big, powerful and agile enough in pass protection. They also haven’t seen a barrage of pressure the likes of Clemson.

I have my doubts that they will be able to contain the Clemson blitz pressure. The few times OU brought an exotic blitz, the oline struggled, due to a lack of quickness in their adjustments. They will see this all game long vs Venables.

Venables will also blitz CBs and Safeties, which we didn’t see from OU. Burrow can elude DLineman and LBs, but it will be harder to outrace the DBs.

Burrow is great on the run – but he will need to be at his very best in the biggest pressure game of his life!

The best use of this big line is the power run game. I do think, that LSU could use the passing game as a decoy and mix in sneaky runs and misdirection.

A strong power run game may be needed for LSU to win this game.

SCOTT/ELLIOT HANDLE ARANDA?

Aranda may not be as good as Venables, but he’s right up there as one of the best in the biz. My concern is his lack of blitz mix this year and the youth in his secondary.

Clemson will need another great gameplan on Offense to free up their talented skill guys led by Trevor Lawrence. Their Oline isn’t as recognized as LSU’s but it’s close. A talented, experienced group with a little less power, but a little more speed.

A week ago, I would have thought the toss up match-up was Venables vs Brady and this was a gimmie to LSU. Not after my film review. Now I see that Clemson may be able to take both matchups and win this game!

EXPERIENCE VS HOME FIELD

LSU is basically playing at home. This can’t be underrated, though it hasn’t seemed to mean a whole lot in the NFL Playoffs this year. Still, these are college kids. It’s going to have some effect. Or will it?

Clemson has an unusual enormous amount of Playoff Experience coming in. Only Alabama has this type of experience. Been there, done that is a big factor, regardless of what anyone says.

Clemson is used to playing the underdog role. All decade, to be honest. They also have a great energy after their amazing win vs Ohio State. This is another battle that may look to favor LSU, because of where it’s being played, but may be won by Clemson due to experience.

Pick

LSU had the best Year – toughest schedule. OSU had the best Team – talent and schemes. Clemson has the best Coaching – a decade of Faith! Hands down, these are the three best for 2019.

In a way, I hate to pick Clemson. This is probably going to be their least talented team in many years. They already have massive recruiting classes coming in the next 2 years. In the end, its LSU who’s been the best team all year.

Here’s how I see the following match ups.

  • Venables over Brady.
  • Scott/Elliot a slight edge or tie with Aranda.
  • Special Teams edge to Clemson due to P Will Spiers & K BT Potter
  • Experience edge over the Home Field edge.

The Talent edge goes to LSU, but it’s not nearly the advantage it was vs OU. I think if LSU uses a power run game to support their pass game, their Offense can score a lot of points again. It will keep Venables from bringing his big pressure and control the clock and game.

If Aranda goes back to more blitz pressure, this could rattle the Clemson Offense. It will be tough to stop Lawrence and his top skill guys with straight coverage mixes without blitzing.

If LSU does those two things, then I see them winning, but in going with my theme of Flexibility for the 2020s, I will switch my Pick last minute to Clemson, even though this could very well be LSU’s year.

Like last year – Clemson is a big underdog in the mind of many. Like last year, they may just win this game anyway. In the words of Dabo Swinney – you gotta have Faith.

~PS

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