Somewhere in these United States, Auburn QB Jarrett Stidham is likely getting sacked by Clemson’s defense again, at this very moment. Clemson racked up 11 (eleven) sacks of Auburn’s signal caller in Week 2, one shy of a school record set against a I-AA team.
Stidham “was sacked an incredible 11 times in 35 attempts against Clemson, maybe the highest sack rate I’ve ever seen in a non-FCS game,” Bill Connelly wrote in the Week 2 Numerical stats review.
There were plenty of questions about Clemson coming into the season, but most of them were on offense. Nobody in their right mind could question the destructive nature of the team’s front seven, and it was on full display against Auburn.
Let’s roll sack-by-sack through the game and show how and why you should still fear Clemson’s defense.
It schemes up sacks.
Sack No. 10
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables does that here:
By slanting his defensive tackles, sending one defensive end up field and dropping another in coverage, he creates a rush lane for LB Kendall Joseph on the right side (white arrow). RB Kamryn Pettway does his job and picks up Joseph, but now there’s nobody home for the delayed blitz. Dorian O’Daniel (orange arrow) flies into the backfield.
Sack No. 7
Auburn might have just invited this sack with the way it was protected, but Clemson LB Tre’ Lamar slips in here from the second level.
It’s an unbalanced line of scrimmage on fourth-and-3, and the situation does kinda scream a run play, particularly with Stidham under center. But Auburn opts to try and beat Clemson with play action.
AU slides its offensive line to the left and puts Pettway on the edge. He’s in a two-on-one situation. He’s probably damned either way, and he doesn’t even see Lamar on the delayed blitz. This is a defensive front getting home before its defensive backs are exposed.
Wanna lose some sleep tonight, Auburn fans? The TD was probably there if Stidham had the time to hit the throw.
They get credited for sacks that don’t really exist in a conventional form.
Sack No. 2
This is pretty much a sack in name only. It was marked as such in the official game box score. Stidham gets flagged for intentional grounding, and Auburn was trying to run a similar trick play to one Purdue scored with Friday night.
Unlike Ohio against this play, Clemson doesn’t get undisciplined with its eyes, particularly in the secondary.
Safety Tanner Muse sniffs out the wingback leaking out on a delayed wheel route:
If the wingback runs free, this could be six points:
He doesn’t, and Stidham has nobody to throw to. He could take the conventional sack, but he throws the ball away and gets tagged with the sack anyway.
Sack No. 4
DE Austin Bryant actually gets washed inside here. He spins and technically breaks contain. But Stidham’s not fast enough to make him pay, so Bryant can make up for it by escorting Stidham out of bounds. It’s a sack because Stidham ran out of bounds before the line of scrimmage. It’s the box score thought that counts.
Clemson certainly can just flat whip your offensive line.
Sack No. 3
Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence are fearsome defensive tackles. They work together to meet at the quarterback.
Wilkins beats a really good right guard, All-SEC talent Braden Smith. He gets his hands on Smith first and clubs his arms down. Smith gets off kilter, leaning too far forward, and it’s game over. Wilkins slips, but Stidham can’t evade because Lawrence has shoved his blocker into Stidham’s lap:
This was a big third down and forced Auburn to kick a field goal.
Sack No. 5
Venables is a tremendous coordinator who rarely gets beaten in a chess match. But there is no scheme for what DE Clelin Ferrell does here:
He’s fully exploded out of his stance before any of the other 21 players on the field have even moved. When that happens and you’re a left tackle trying to block him, you’re gonna have a bad time:
Sack No. 6
On the next play, thanks to Ferrell, it’s third-and-14. For this defensive line, an obvious passing situation is a gift. RT Darius James isn’t able to get adequate width, and Bryant runs right by him:
Wilkins holds up the point of attack, Joseph keeps a hard edge, leaving Stidham no opportunity to even attempt a deep shot, Bryant doesn’t give up, and the Tigers have back-to-back sacks.
Sack No. 8
In theory, this isn’t horrible blitz pickup. Clemson brings six, and Auburn has enough to block it. Pettway delivers a chip on the linebacker, and Prince Tega Wanogho gets beaten by Ferrell on the left side. Ferrell spills the whole thing outside, and the jig is up:
At one point, you have to feel bad for the guy. I mean, really, imagine being Jarrett Stidham with this chasing after you:
The coverage sack: when the entire defense should get credit.
Sack No. 1
Clemson’s defense works from end to end and from tackle to safety. On the first play of the game, check out how everyone works together:
It’s your basic coverage sack, plus disruption up front. The DBs (particularly the corners) are in press coverage, and there’s little initial separation. Stidham can’t get the ball out quickly. On the left side of Auburn’s line, Ferrell and Lawrence raise hell, forcing Stidham to move and bail. Joseph closes for the kill.
Sack No. 9
Sooner or later, any defensive linemen are gonna get home. Here, Wilkins stays in position, and Stidham literally plays right into his hands:
Sack No. 11
Sometimes the coverage sacks come easy too.
With the knowledge that third-and-20 against this defense is relatively hopeless, Auburn comes out in a three-WR set, with seven in to protect Stidham. There’s a problem with that. Clemson typically lines up with five defensive backs, so from the jump, there’s a coverage mismatch in CU’s favor:
Three-on-two on one side, and two-on-one on the other. You know how this movie ends:
It was fitting that Auburn’s final three offensive plays were all sacks.
In the end, AU was so broken and stymied and bamboozled that Stidham was throwing the dang ball from his back:
That’s tongue in cheek, but the point remains that the reigning national champs still got it on defense.
With a suspect offensive line, Louisville’s, coming up next for Clemson, expect more new and inventive ways to sack the quarterback. We’ll see if Lamar Jackson can fare any better.