CLEMSON -- Since the beginning of football, coaches have been trying their best to out-think their players.
It's a recipe for disaster - invent a complicated offense with a playbook that makes the NCAA's recruiting manual seem like light reading.
Seems like a good theory at first - invent a play for every situation, always be prepared. Good in theory, but in reality it's an awful strategy. The last thing you want is a quarterback with a confused look. The object of the game for the offense is to confuse the defense - not itself.
It was Vince Lombardi that made the simple offense popular. His offenses had a few plays with many options as opposed to many different plays to cover every situation the offense might face.
Lombardi taught clear cut plays (simple blocking and tackling). He strove for absolute perfection in their execution. It's hard to beat perfect execution, no matter how simple the plays.
You can find plenty of Lombardi in Clemson's offense. Lombardi would likely approve of the schemes, even with all the passing. Clemson's offense is effective, deceptive to the defense and highly productive. It has a running game to keep the defense honest, even though it's also a relatively simple running game - if you're on the offensive side of the ball and have a quarterback like Woody Dantzler.
Clemson's offense, for all it's running up and down the field with four receivers, is anchored squarely around the line of scrimmage. The receivers get the attention, but the offensive line and the backs make it tick. Without a running game to keep the defense from spreading out too far, the offense would be like the run-and-shoot - dead.
Clemson keeps three basic running plays in its playbook - the dart, the zone and the trap. Without a playbook and some knowledge of the game, they're hard to tell apart. Quarterback Woody Dantzler can end up running the ball on all three - he has the ability to take advantage the defense overplaying any part of the offense and can call his own number within each of the plays.
In this issue we'll take a close look at the dart, the play that produced Dantzler's 75-yard touchdown run against Virginia.
The dart was created by the staff while at Tulane. It's a combination of several plays.
"When I was at Baylor many years ago, we ran a counter iso," said offensive line coach Ron West. "When we were at Tulane we were looking for a play like that to run out of the three wide formation that would be able to get us back to the weak side."
The iso play is a common football power play. It takes a running back and sends him toward the line with a lead blocker who is there to take out the first thing he sees - hopefully a linebacker. A counter play is one that starts one way and then comes back the other way - like a running back taking a few steps to the left before receiving the hand off and then running back to the right. With a counter, the offense is trying to get the linebackers off balance while they're trying to keep up with the direction of the play.
"We had the blocking scheme already in," said West. "We block it just like we would the counter toss play we ran at Baylor. The idea now is we have a way to run it out of a one back set."
The play worked to perfection at Virginia last season. Early in the third quarter with Clemson leading 17-10, the play kick-started Dantzler's Heisman campaign.
With the ball on Clemson's 25-yard line, Dantzler was in the shotgun with Bernard Rambert to his right and Terry Witherspoon to his left. Virginia had a four-man defensive front with a man over the offensive guard (more on that later). As Dantzler called the signals, two of Virginia's linebackers came up to the line on both ends to blitz.
When the play started, Rambert took three steps toward Dantzler, who faked a handoff. Meanwhile left tackle T.J. Watkins pulled to the right. Witherspoon blocked the defensive tackle, who came into the backfield because Watkins pulled. Rambert tried to block the defensive end coming in from the left.
Dantzler, after faking the handoff to Rambert immediately started to his right. Virginia's end, coming in from Dantzler’s right, over-ran the play and never put a hand on Dantzler who ran around the right end with Watkins leading the way. Because two of the three linebackers had already been taken out of the play, Dantzler's first few yards down the right sideline were easy.
The middle linebacker, who did not blitz, moved five yards to his right thinking Rambert was getting the ball on a handoff. By the time he noticed Dantzler was running the other way, he was out of the play as well.
Dantzler, with the receivers blocking downfield, cut back toward the middle of the field and then toward the corner of the endzone on his touchdown run.
"There was great blocking and great execution up front," said Dantzler.
It was also the perfect call. Seven Virginia defenders never had a chance to make the tackle. The four defensive linemen were sealed off, while the linebackers were all victims of the misdirection and Dantzler's athletic ability.
If the play had been called for Rambert to take the ball and cut back to the right, Dantzler could have checked the play and kept the ball depending on what he saw the defense doing. Dantzler said that on the play against Virginia it was called for him to keep the ball from the beginning, however there have been times Dantzler has changed the play. "I'll read it if the end closes in too close," he said, "and I'll bootleg it. It worked a couple of times against Wake Forest. Right before the end of the half, I went through untouched."
On the dart, if Dantzler does decide to change the play, the only players it effects are the backs. The line will block the same way either way.
The line blocking goes like this: if either offensive guard has a man on him, the tackle on the opposite side the play is running toward will pull and lead the play. If the guards are both uncovered, the guard will likewise pull and lead the play while the tackle will stay and block at the line.
Because the line blocking scheme is the same whether the quarterback hands the ball to the running back or if he keeps the ball himself, the quarterback can change the play with only he and the running back knowing which one will be running the ball.
The play can be run out of a variety of formations. Against Virginia it was run with backs to either side of Dantzler, but it is more commonly run with one back, a tight end and three receivers.
"What we want to do with the dart play is to misdirection the ball," said West. "We want the ball going the opposite direction as the play started. If the back is running it, he'll reverse back. That's all it is - a counter play. It creates counter flow. It displaces the linebackers."
And at times it places Dantzler in the endzone.
From its own 25 early in the third quarter at Virginia, Clemson ran the Dart play to perfection. Quarterback Woody Dantzler faked a handoff to F-back Bernard Rambert, who was moving to the left. Dantzler then ran back around right end behind pulling left tackle T.J. Watkins. Dantzler then scrambled down the right sideline for a 75-yard touchdown run, tying the longest touchdown run ever by a Clemson quarterback.
Also in the 2001 Fall Preview issue of Tiger Insider:
- Woodrow Dantzler says he's ready to lead the team…is it too late for Dantzler to become a take-charge guy?
- How much was Clemson's image damaged by Gaffneygate? The answer may surprise you.
- David Harry asks and answers 20 questions about the upcoming season.
- Mark Jetton shunned what he calls the "wine and cheese" crowd of Virginia to attend Clemson. How soon will he contribute?
- "Air" Currie has been turns head with his blinding speed, but you'll be surprised when you find out he's a mere babe when it comes to the gridiron.
- Clemson's playbook: The Dart Play - a simple play that Woody Dantzler turned into a magical run down the sideline against Virginia.
- The defensive backs will be the focus of attention this season. Tom Didato takes a look at the players that will be counted on to step up in the secondary.
- Recruiting profiles: Steven Bright and Kelvin Grant. Bright is a top-notch quarterback from nearby Greenville. Grant could be the best to ever come out of Camden.
- Profiles of Clemson's 2001 opponents.
- and much more