Elliott discusses Clemson's recent struggles in the run game
Self-scouting during the bye week last week, Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott identified a couple of the biggest issues that have contributed to the Tigers’ recent ineffectiveness at times in the run game.
“The biggest thing we discovered is when you’re talking about the offensive line, run game, offensive football, it’s all 11 on the same page,” Elliott said this week. “And a lot of times it’s one breakdown, a guy loses fundamentals on the play and it results in an unblocked guy.”
Heading into Saturday’s game at Florida State, fourth-ranked Clemson is coming off its two fewest rushing yardage totals of the season. A week after managing only 106 yards on the ground vs. Boston College on Oct. 31, the Tigers’ rushing attack was stifled to just 34 yards by Notre Dame’s defense in South Bend on Nov. 7.
The Fighting Irish were able to bottle up star running back Travis Etienne, who carried the ball 18 times for 28 yards – the fewest rushing yards he has had in a game since his freshman season in 2017 when he recorded 22 yards on four attempts in the College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama.
With Trevor Lawrence sidelined by COVID-19 and freshman D.J. Uiagalelei starting at quarterback for the Tigers, Boston College and Notre Dame both made Etienne the focal point of their defensive game plans, loading up the box and selling out to stop the run in an effort to make Uiagalelei beat them through the air.
“As you study, especially the last couple weeks with D.J. in there and Trevor being out, you saw where they were committed to stopping the run,” Elliott said. “So as soon as there was any kind of run action, you’d have a safety fitting, you’d have a nickel-SAM fitting. And D.J., still learning the process of how to manage the run game, I thought there were some opportunities where we could throw the ball on the perimeter and try to keep those guys honest.”
After breaking down the film, Elliott says the Tigers are putting an emphasis on cleaning things up fundamentally and simplifying certain aspects of the run game to help the offensive linemen better execute their assignments and ensure everyone on the offense is in sync.
“So, just a couple of things that we’re going to tweak just in terms of making sure from a fundamental standpoint we continue to work those things, have a good understanding, maybe simplify just a little bit some of what we’re doing,” Elliott said. “But the biggest thing is just challenging our guys that every time we snap the ball, all 11 have to be on the same page, whether it’s the run game or the pass game.”
Elliott admitted he and the staff have given thought to tinkering with the starting five on the offensive line, though he said nothing is imminent in that regard. Right now, the Tigers are still trying to groom their young backup offensive linemen and get them ready to contribute in meaningful game situations.
Clemson’s starting O-line has played a lot of snaps through eight games, so ideally, the Tigers would like to be able to roll in their reserves to spell the starters when needed and keep the unit fresh down the stretch of the season.
“We’ve had some discussions,” Elliott said when asked about a potential lineup change. “Nothing’s formalized in terms of making a change. The biggest thing is we need all those guys to prepare and be ready to play what you would consider ‘starting’ snaps. It doesn’t matter if you play, you come in in the second quarter, you’re in the game – you’re considered a starter.
“So, I think the biggest thing for us is just pushing those guys to be ready to play those meaningful snaps, and as those guys get ready, once they get ready, then you’ll have opportunities to discuss that. But nothing formal other than hey, we’ve just got to get more than one guy ready to play so we can spell some of these guys.”
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