CLEMSON — Clelin Ferrell was watching from the sideline Saturday night at Boston College when Clemson decided to roll out the ever-popular jumbo package, and the Tigers' defensive end got a little concerned.
He saw defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence, the always-grinning faces of Clemson's fridge package, run to the 2-yard line, and he wondered where this might be going.
One might expect Wilkins to receive the handoff for the quick punch in. After all, Wilkins begs to get the ball in his hands any chance he gets.
"Literally, I did not know," Ferrell said. "I think we were on the 2, so I was actually kind of nervous. I'm like, 'Man, (two) yards ... that's really long for him to go."
Then, when the play unfolded, Ferrell looked up and discovered Clemson was actually shaking up the package.
It was a play-action call, as Clemson freshman quarterback Trevor Lawrence faked the handoff and then dropped a pass over the top and into the hands of tight end Milan Richard, as Wilkins and Lawrence served as decoys.
It was then that Ferrell realized just how creative and dynamic the wheels turn for Clemson's offensive coaches when it comes to scheming the myriad variations of this package.
What opponents know by now when they play Clemson on a weekly basis is that the possibility of seeing the package is likely. But what they don't know is how Clemson is going to use it. One day it's a handoff to 315-pound Wilkins. Another day, it's a handoff to 350-pound Lawrence. Saturday, it was a play-action to Richard.
The opportunities seem limitless for coaches to architect this formation in a different way each week — and it appears Clemson might do just that as the Tigers come down the stretch of the regular season and into the postseason.
"We're just trying to take advantage of the pieces that we have. Obviously Christian and Dexter are big, strong athletic physical guys and so why not?" coach Dabo Swinney said. "They are guys I trust. It's just something that we'd mess with in the past, but we got a little bit more into it this year and it has paid off well for us."
Swinney and and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott are the masterminds behind the jumbo package, though Elliott says it was Swinney's idea all along.
A former engineer at Michelin before he got back into football, Elliott thinks differently than most. He and Swinney sit down each week with the rest of the offensive staff to look at the opposing defense, then craft a plan specific to the coverage they are seeing.
Swinney knew two years ago — when the Tigers called a pass play to Wilkins on a fake punt in the College Football Playoffs — that Wilkins was capable of handling more responsibilities. Combine that with the fact that Wilkins and Lawrence are two of the best athletes Swinney has ever seen, and the coach simply could not resist using them on offense more this season.
"It goes back to understanding how people attack you," Elliott said. "With any package that you have, you want to kind of keep it honest.
"You got those two guys that are just special. They come over, they got a smile on their face, and they’re all asking for the ball. Dexter want his touches, Christian wants his touches. But more than anything, they want to do whatever it takes for us to be successful and they bring a lot of energy."
As Clemson heads into its final two regular-season games against Duke and South Carolina, then the ACC Championship and in all likelihood the College Football Playoff, expect to see different wrinkles in the future.
Wilkins has been begging to throw a pass; Lawrence wants to one-up him. Regardless, defenses have not yet had an answer, which speaks to the minds behind the operation.
"It's challenging. Especially if they do a good job selling it," said Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, one of the best in the game. "I lived it all week getting ready for Boston College.
"That's being a defensive coach. That's what you live through."
Opposing teams feel his pain.