Virginia defense getting Tony Elliott's attention

by - Senior Writer -
Tony Elliott and the Clemson offense faces a test against Virginia
Tony Elliott and the Clemson offense faces a test against Virginia

CLEMSON – Most of the attention on the Virginia Cavaliers centers on dynamic quarterback Bryce Perkins and an offense that can score from anywhere on the field. Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott isn’t forgetting about the Cavalier defense, however.

Virginia’s defense is ranked 27th nationally in total defense, giving up just 336.5 yards per game. They are 41st in scoring defense (23.5 points per game), 27th in rush defense and 51st in pass defense. The Cavs are also sixth nationally in sacks, forcing 3.58 sacks per game and 20th in tackles for loss (just over seven per game).

Virginia gets pressure from their outside linebackers, and Elliott said the Tigers have to be mindful of where each linebacker is lined up.

"With the versatility of their outside linebackers, they have the ability to be very multiple, so they can create some problems just from an identification standpoint,” Elliott said. “And then the players, you can tell they believe in what they are doing. They understand the details and are very smart, which allows them to play fast and also take advantage of mistakes from the offense because you have so much to get ready for.”

Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall was a defensive coordinator before becoming head coach, and Elliott said you can see Mendenhall’s fingerprints on the Cavs defense.

"It's very difficult when defenses can jump in and out of structure with the same personnel that doesn't give the offense a tip on the structure,” Elliott said. “They can go play-to-play in a different structure, and especially in the run game that causes you problems with how you're blocking things. And the athleticism of their outside linebackers they can create problems, and that also frees up the inside 'backers because you are so worried about their pass-rushers outside."

Clemson scored 38 points and had over 500 yards of total offense against South Carolina last weekend. Wide receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross each had over 100 yards receiving, much of that a result of the coaches moving the receivers to different spots on the field.

"Especially when you have two weeks and it's a huge game. Just wanted to try to break any tendencies that we have going into our championship phase,” Elliott said. “Had a lot of success last year this time of year moving guys around. Any kind of schematic advantage you can get with personnel matchups, we are going to try."

Two of the touchdowns came in bunched sets.

“They were pretty consistent in how they played it, and we felt good about the percentages of what they did versus that particular alignment that allowed us to change up some things that (South Carolina) thought had seen before, but it was actually different,” Elliott said.

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