Wesley Goodwin doesn’t need to be reminded how quarterbacks are performing against Clemson’s defense so far.
Georgia Tech’s Jeff Sims completed nearly 64% of his passes and threw the Yellow Jackets’ lone touchdown in the Tigers’ opening win on Labor Day night. Five days later, Furman’s Tyler Huff one-upped Sims, carving Clemson up to the tune of a 77% completion rate on 40 attempts.
“Obviously the completion percentage was real high,” Clemson’s defensive coordinator said Monday.
Clemson ranks in the bottom half of the ACC in pass defense to this point despite one of its opponents being of the FCS variety. Furman averaged nearly 9 yards per completion with Ryan Miller being Huff’s go-to target. The Paladins’ tight end caught 13 passes for 95 yards, part of the damage Furman did with the quick passing game.
“We’ve got to do a better job in press man,” Goodwin said. “Twenty-five of the 31 completions were within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, so the ball was coming out quick.”
A big part of Furman’s passing attack was screen passes to counter the Tigers’ pass rush and blitzes. Some went to receivers, but most of them were dumped off to running backs who racked up chunks of yardage after the catch. Devin Abrams and Dominic Roberto combined for three receptions that covered a combined 66 yards. None of the backs’ catches went for less than 19.
Goodwin said they expected some screens from Furman given how much of a challenge the Paladins were expected to have fending off the Tigers’ front seven up front. And the Tigers get plenty of work against it on a daily basis, Goodwin said, since recognizing and defending screens is something Clemson takes time to drill during each practice.
On Saturday, Goodwin said his defense was simply too aggressive in its pursuit of the ball on those plays.
“That’s a good question,” Goodwin said when asked how he keeps his players’ pursuit in check. “I’d rather say woah than sic ‘em and have to get after people. But it’s a just a feel thing more or less. Just have to feel that you’re coming free (into the backfield) for a reason, be able to put on the brakes and play the ball.”
As the Tigers turn their attention toward their next opponent, Louisiana Tech, they’re expecting to get another crack at defending some of the same looks. Louisiana Tech is going through its first season under head coach Sonny Cumbie, a former Texas Tech quarterback under Mike Leach who’s a disciple of the air-raid offense.
The Bulldogs come into Saturday’s matchup averaging better than 276 yards a game through the air, good for 42nd nationally. Quarterback Parker McNeil, a Texas Tech transfer, is completing just 52.9% of his passes but has already thrown for five touchdowns in two games.
Louisiana Tech, which has also gotten Matthew Downing (21 of 38) some reps at quarterback, has shown some big-play ability, averaging more than 13 yards per completion. The Bulldogs do it in a variety of ways, including throwing their share of short-to-intermediate passes that Goodwin figures will once again be part of the game plan against Clemson’s defense.
“That’s what all those (air-raid) guys do,” Goodwin said. “Running back and receiver screens. Quick game. Mesh routes. We’ve got to be prepared.”
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