While our running game was shut down to almost nothing our passing game did a bit better. But it was still nowhere near good enough. What was the problem? Was it the OL like so many allege?
Actually, the answer will probably surprise you!
Passing Game Breakdown:
1. The OL actually did pretty well! In fact only 4 passing plays in the first three quarters had problems with the OL. It was obvious that Brent V. realized what I had been saying all year – that it was the stunts and surprising blitzes that killed our pass protection the first half of the year. There was almost always either a stunt, a blitz, or both, way more than any other team we’ve played this season.
Despite this, our OL did really well picking up those blitzes. Ty (C) and Nila (RG) didn’t miss a pass block at all and Sanchez (LG) only missed one, on the very first play of the game. O. Brown (LT) also missed a block on that first play and missed another one later on. Samia (RT) also had 2 plays where he messed things up, one a missed block and the other a missed assignment.
In addition to this there was one other play where the entire OL seemed to block the wrong direction, indicating some kind of missed call. It was such a bizarre play it’s hard to know who or what was at fault.
2. 3 passing plays were hurt because of receiver error. One was a dropped pass that wouldn’t have been a first down anyway (on 3rd and 17) and one was Quick taking a screen on 3rd and 3 who should have cut back inside but instead faked the cut and went back outside where he had no chance of picking up the first down. The other WR mistake was a wrong route, but it didn’t seem to affect the play.
3. The real problem in the passing game was at QB. Baker had a staggering 8 miscues! Far and away the most. Two were poor throws (and I’m not counting the plays where he was actually throwing the ball away because of pressure) and the rest were either bad decisions or missing wide open receivers.
It’s very clear that Baker looks but doesn’t see. It’s strange to me how he is looking right at a wide open receiver and doesn’t throw the ball. As I’ve said all year, as soon as he makes any kind of move in the pocket he goes into scramble mode which means he is looking to run and not pass. There are a couple of types of routes that Baker looks for in scramble mode, but if he doesn’t see anything that looks like those he just flat out doesn’t see it. Instead of looking at the field for an open receiver it seems he is narrowly focused looking for something specific.
4. BV’s defense is so good at mixing up and disguising their coverage that it makes post snap reads difficult. There were a few times where Baker read the wrong side of the field because he didn’t pick up the type of coverage.
5. Clemson was really good at covering the WR screens. I mean really good. That hurt our running game as well as our passing game. The slot defender when seeing some kind of screen would pursue hard to the outside making sure to keep outside leverage on the slot receiver. This forced the screen receiver back inside where his defender was unblocked and usually a LB was pursuing from. If you can’t get to the outside there’s not much you can do. The slot receiver needs to release strong to the outside as well to either get outside leverage on the defender or at least end up square on him near the sideline giving the screen receiver more room to work.
6. Their DB’s are really good as well. This was a big part of the problem, moreso than the strength of their DL. They just don’t make mistakes and could stay step for step with our WR’s. This is true of the safeties and nickelback covering the slot receivers as well. Our receivers don’t run very many routes, it’s more about position and the types of throws. Despite press coverage we couldn’t really run by them downfield and we’ve never gotten to the point where we can execute the fade route perfectly enough to have consistent success against lockdown corners.
The safeties can be really aggressive when they know the corners can lockdown the receivers! This is the level of DB’s we need and we need receivers that can win these kinds of matchups. Riley’s offense is about execution and being better at completing passes than the defense is at covering.
7. Shockingly, Riley did not run the shallow cross screen in the game. This is the first game since early in the season where he hasn’t run it at least once. And he ran it several times on 3rd and long situations against OSU and it was really successful. No one has stopped it yet. Strange that we didn’t try it. I guess he just assumed Brent would be ready for it so why even try?
8. From what I heard leading up to the game, Clemson normally runs primarily man coverage and not a lot of zone. If that was the case I would have expected Baker to have some big scrambles for first downs. However, Brent played mostly zone (although it was pretty close to 50/50) in this game which apparently is against their tendency and that might have messed up Lincon’s gameplan.
It makes sense, in order to stop Baker from making plays with his feet. Brent did a masterful job calling plays! Why couldn’t Brent V. be this good when he was at OU??? He is way better now. The players are able to understand and execute with precision and his gameplan was amazingly good. So frustrating. When Stoops leaves BV needs to be the number one candidate to replace him.
9. Possibly due to the change in tendency, but Riley’s gameplan wasn’t very good. I know it must have been very difficult trying to gameplan against Brent V knowing that there’s no telling what he’s going to do. But, Riley wasn’t really given a chance to adapt and figure it out around the 4th quarter because of all the injuries.
Losing Mixon was killer because we already didn’t have Brooks. That meant that if he went down a large part of our offense became unusable. The Mixon + Perine packages have become half of our offense, and without Mixon or Brooks it doesn’t work. And Perine not being 100% really doomed us.
10. The bottom line is that our offense has never been forced to play this perfectly before. There is no room for error. We just aren’t that good yet. Against a defense that precise and athletic you must execute perfectly in order to move the ball, and you need athletes that can make plays on their own. Perine has that ability and Westbrook showed that ability as well. No one else showed that ability.