Elliott hopeful consistent downfield passing game will soften defense and open up the running game
It’s easy to assume since Clemson is playing both Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence at quarterback that playcaller Tony Elliott has a difficult task calling plays.
Bryant is a dual-threat quarterback whose ability to run with the ball poses a different threat than Lawrence, who has a cannon for an arm and can fit the ball in tight winds and is extremely accurate on deep passes.
“It really has not been a challenge for me thus far,” Elliott said. “Obviously, both guys have shown they have deserved the right to play. Both of them have grasped the game plan. So obviously, the biggest thing for me, the biggest challenge is how defenses are going to defend us.
“I’m trying to see if there is a difference in the way they defend the two quarterbacks and thus far they have played them both the same way.”
Texas A&M’s game plan, early on, was to stack the box with seven people and blitz the inside linebacker up the middle with a safety high. Defensive coordinator Mike Elko wanted to take the running game away and force Clemson to beat his defense with the perimeter passing game.
It was the same strategy Clemson saw a lot last year and because the Tigers were unable to make big plays downfield in the passing game on a consistent basis it worked a lot of times. It did not work on Saturday.
Bryant connected with Amari Rodgers on a 64-yard pass play to set up the first touchdown. He later found Tee Higgins down the sideline for a 50-yard pass and Hunter Renfrow down the sideline for a 40-yard completion. Both completions set up Clemson’s third and fourth touchdowns.
Those three completions went for 154 of Bryant’s 205 passing yards.
Lawrence also connected on a deep ball to Higgins, and the sophomore wide receiver turned it into a 64-yard touchdown.
“Basically he was bottling up the run up the middle so you had to have the ability to throw the ball on the perimeter and we just found ways to make plays,” Elliott said.
“I think it goes back to being explosive,” Clemson’s co-offensive coordinator continued. “When you are explosive down field, now they are going to have to respect Tee Higgins. I think there were some unknowns last year, and obviously we took some shots down the field and we did not connect at a high rate last year. Now you can see we are connecting and the quarterbacks are putting the ball where it needs to be.”
The more and more Higgins, Rodgers and Renfrow can show they can consistently make the plays down field then the running game should begin to open up more and more. Clemson ran for just 115 yards on 32 carries against A&M. However, 122 of those yards came in the second, third and fourth quarters.
The Tigers averaged a respectable 4.3 yards per carry after hitting Rodgers on his 64-yard completion and Higgins’ 64-yard touchdown reception.
“You have to be able to run the ball when it presents itself and figure out which schemes are going to give you the best opportunities when they are bringing the pressure,” Elliott said. “You have to make sure your protections are solid. You have to take advantage if they are going to bring pressure. That means they have more guys close to the line of scrimmage so they are going to be a little bit softer in coverage so you just have to throw and catch.”