Clemson's Red Zone Fire Zones vs. North Carolina in the ACC Championship
Mobile QB? RPO offense? Using Fire Zones in the Red Zone can be a game changer. Wes Goodwin was locked in on Drake Maye and the Tar Heels.
Current Clemson Defensive Coordinator Wes Goodwin has been a mainstay in the program since his arrival as Graduate Assistant (GA) in 2009. Outside of a three-year stint as the assistant to the Head Coach for Bruce Arians in Arizona (‘15-1’7), Goodwin has been a Clemson lifer. When current Oklahoma Head Coach Brent Venables ascended to the Asst. Head Coach title in ‘18, Dabo Swinney tagged Goodwin as the Senior Defensive Assistant, making him next in line.
Venables would leave after the ‘21 season and head back to Oklahoma to lead the program. Clemson’s defenses under Venables have been a perennial force in college football. In addition, the aggressive style matches well against the ACC, where Clemson can recruit similarly to an SEC team yet play in a lesser ecosystem. In fact, since the initial year of the College Football Playoff system, Clemson is the only team outside of the SEC to win a national title (Ohio State ‘14).
Outside of Alabama, Clemson has the most College Football Playoff appearances, playing in 10 total games (Bama has 13!). Clemson hasn’t won a national title since ‘18, but the program is still considered a premier destination. With Venables gone, some pundits felt there would be a slight dip in production as Goodwin took over the play-calling duties. In reality, the “dip” wasn’t that drastic.
The past five years have seen the Tigers’ defense squarely planted in the top five in DFEI, which measures overall efficiency. Under Venables, you would have to go back to ‘16 to see Clemson out of the top-5 in DFEI (#7) and ‘13 to find them out of the top 10 (#17). For almost a decade, the Tigers have been one of the most dominant defensive units in college football (BCFToys).
Goodwin came up as a coach under Venables development and now has the keys to one of the best defensive programs in the nation. Even when the Clemson offense dipped in production this year, the defense maintained a high caliber of play. Goodwin has put his own personality into the defense but has preserved the high level of play.
Comparing Venables’ coverage percentages to Goodwin’s, the former is similar to his predecessor. The only significant difference is in the use of Cover 1, which rose by almost four percentage points (minimal). Every other major coverage category stayed within two to three points of Venables. Where Goodwin was different was in Blitz Rate.
In ‘21, Venables had a total Blitz Rate (BR) of 22.5%, which put the Tigers at 20th in the Power 5 (P5)—compared to Goodwin in ‘22, who had a BR of 37.8%, the 10th highest in the P5 according to PFF. The aggressiveness of Goodwin makes the uptick in Cover 1 understandable. Neither Venables nor Goodwin is simulated pressure oriented. Venables was middle of the road in the Power 5 at 13.3%, while Goodwin was in the bottom quartile with a Sim% of 8.1%.
The bulk of Clemson’s pressure system comes in the form of five-man pressures, mainly Fire Zones (3-under/3-deep zone). Goodwin is extremely aggressive on run downs, coming in 6th overall in the P5 at 38.3%. Fire Zones have become more popular as teams again use Zone schemes and QB runs. The Tigers can also run the same paths from different defensive packages, ranging from a traditional 4-2-5 to a 3-Safety system.
A powerful platform used on Microsoft® Visio & PowerPoint to allow football coaches to organize, format, and export Playbooks, Scout Cards, and Presentations efficiently.