CLEMSON -- Clemson offensive coordinator Brad Scott stirred up some people in Columbia when he met with one of his former graduate assistants for dinner during Shrine Bowl week in Charlotte last December. Scott said he was doing some self-scouting.
He met with a former graduate assistant from his South Carolina days. The former graduate assistant was still a GA at South Carolina, and a few weeks later he was looking for another job when he was released from his job on Lou Holtz’ staff.
However, there was likely little that he told Scott that Scott didn’t already know about the Clemson offense – that the offense had become as predictable as the reaction in Columbia to the meeting between the two friends.
Said new quarterbacks coach Mike O’Cain, “Sometimes as a season goes along, it’s hard to change tendencies. It takes a spring or a fall.”
The most predictable thing about Clemson’s offense last fall was that it would rarely go over the middle with the passing game. Sometimes things worked out (see Gardner’s catch against South Carolina that set up Aaron Hunt’s game-winning field goal). Sometimes it didn’t -- Virginia Tech was able to force Clemson’s receivers toward the sideline in the Gator Bowl, leaving quarterback Woody Dantzler little of a passing game.
How did the passing game break down? Some say that Clemson’s quarterbacks had become reluctant to throw over the middle. The fear of having to face Rich Rodriguez if they threw an interception was greater than any benefit that could be gained.
Quarterback Willie Simmons says that isn’t the case, but does see a difference between the coaching styles of Rodriguez and O’Cain. “He’s a teacher,” said Simmons. “We study a lot of film and try to work on reading the defense better and taking what they give us. He’s inspirational as far as showing us why we do things wrong, telling us why we should have thrown to a certain route. He’s been more of a motivator and teacher as far as working with the quarterbacks.”
There will be a kinder and gentler atmosphere in the quarterback meetings. O’Cain doesn’t have a straw hat to throw. In fact, you could tell when O’Cain was really mad during spring practice when he grimaced. Other than the change in attitude of the quarterbacks, there are some routes the receivers will be running that will be attacking the middle of the field.
“We had to do something to keep people honest,” said O’Cain. “Everything had been to the perimeter. The one thing about this offense is that it makes you defend the entire field. But we weren’t attacking all areas.”
Attitude is important. Going over the middle takes mental toughness on the part of the quarterback as well as the receiver. “You’ve got to have confidence throwing the ball,” said O’Cain. If you go in with the attitude that you’re afraid of getting balls tipped, then you can’t throw the ball in there. So, you’ve got to have a confident attitude. If it happens, it happens and you go on.”
The plays carry the receivers over the middle attack the middle linebacker, who is forced to make a decision between receivers that cross in front and behind him (see illustration).
This play can be run from a number of formations and can also involve the tight end. The receiver has to make the catch in traffic and the throw from the quarterback must be well-timed. Otherwise, there is the danger of a tipped ball by a receiver reaching back to grab the pass.
“In the first ten practices, we had one tipped ball, so it’s not that big of a concern,” said O’Cain.