The Most Important Play of the National Championship

There is one play, more than any other, whose success will affect the outcome of the national championship game.  The play is a designed run for Deshaun Watson, the quarterback power.

Clemson’s offense works off a relatively simple formula: outside, inside, deep.  They spread the field with their formations.  If the defense doesn’t commit adequate defenders to the receivers on the outside, Clemson attacks the edge.  The simplest way to do this is to throw a hitch to a receiver.  They also use jet sweeps and tunnel screens often.

Jet sweep is the play where a receiver from one side sprints across the formation.  The ball is snapped and either handed or tossed to the receiver as the passes the quarterback.  The receiver, now the ball carrier, runs to the outside to turn up field.  The tunnel screen is a screen pass in which a receiver from the outside comes back toward the middle of the field.  The offensive lineman release both down field and to the outside to block.  It sometimes looks like the receiver us running through a tunnel.

If the defense adjusts to the outside plays, usually by placing more defenders outside, Clemson will then try to attack the middle of the field with their running game.  Despite being a “spread” offense, Clemson’s running game borrowers heavily from archetypal power running teams.  They do run a zone read, and they couple it with sweeps and powers.  The most important play they run is the quarterback power.  (If the defense tries to adjust to this play, Clemson will throw intermediate and deep.)

For a refresher, here is the typical, off tackle power, as run out of the I formation.

I form Power

The elements of the power are:

  • Combo Block at the Point of Attack
  • Down Blocks
  • Lead Blocker
  • Pulling guard

Notice the quarterback just hands the ball off and gets out of the way.  Other than the threat of a bootleg or play action pass, he is no longer part of the play.  That leaves 9 blockers for one ball carrier.  Look at one of Clemson’s power variations.  (They run a few).  Here’s how they did it against North Carolina.

Clemson Power 1

Look familiar?  Combo block at the point of attack, pulling back side guard, additional lead blocker …  They key improvement over the traditional power is that the quarterback is running the ball.  That also Clemson to spread the field and still create a numerical advantage at the point of attack.  Here’s another variation on this theme.

Notice there are some differences on this variation.

Clemson Power 2

The center pulls, rather than the backside guard, and there is an H back who leads the play as well.  There are three blockers leading Watson.  The play is designed to go off tackle, but on this particular one, there were too many bodies inside, so Watson bounced it outside, something he does often.

Why is this play so important?  It’s important because this, and other power plays, are what the Tigers are going to turn to if Alabama either takes away the quick passing game or over commits to it.  If Clemson is consistently successful with this, their offense will have an advantage over the Crimson Tide.  On the other hand, if Alabama can stop this, especially out of a base set, then the Tiger offense will become much less effective.

About Billy Koehler

Billy Koehler is the founder of and a contributing writer at He has been covering college football since 2006. You can follow him on twitter @billykoehler.
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