Clemson has experienced offensive success early in games under co-offensive coordinators Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott.
The Tigers have outscored teams 52-10 in the first quarter and scored touchdowns on the opening drive three out of six times. Since the start of the 2015 season, Clemson has scored a touchdown on its opening drive 15 out of 36 times, which is almost 42 percent.
That success is attributable in part to Tigers coach Dabo Swinney having his team ready to play, but part of it is Clemson scripting plays.
“We script our opening nine plays; we take a lot of time as an offensive staff,” Scott said. “It’s not just Tony and myself sitting back there deciding what we’re going to call, there’s about 12 people in that room. We take a good hour to decide our first nine plays, and then we also get some of the players’ feedback and take that into account.”
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Clemson decides its first nine plays early in the week and runs through them on Wednesday and Thursday. It then goes over them again in the walk-through the day before game day and discusses them in meetings the day of the game.
“Now, whenever it’s time to go out there for that first drive, everybody’s confident and knows what we’re doing,” Scott said. “We understand with the type of defense we have, if we can get out there and get to an early lead it really changes the game for what the other team’s doing.”
The Tigers started scripting the first nine plays under former offensive coordinator Chad Morris, who is now the head coach at SMU.
Clemson uses its scripted plays only on first and second down, allowing the Tigers to pick a play based on distance for third down.
The Tigers typically try to throw a lot of different looks and types of plays at a defense early to get an idea of how the opposing team will play them.
Last weekend against Wake Forestm Clemson’s first nine plays that did not occur on third down consisted of five runs and four passes. The Tigers scored on their opening two drives against the Demon Deacons.
“They just have a lot of confidence in going out there and executing it because they know what’s getting called,” Scott said. “It’s part of the cat and mouse between coaches schematically to see what kind of adjustments they’re going to make that is maybe different from what you’ve seen on video.”
Swinney added that scoring a touchdown on the opening drive or even flipping the field can set the tone for the rest of the day.
“When we’ve got a great defense, it puts them (opponent) in a hole right out of the gate. I think they deferred last week, and we were excited about that,” Swinney said. “Sometimes you don’t score, but just creating the field position and putting the defense out there on a long field, that’s a win too.”