Dual-threat headache

CLEMSON - Contrary to what the armchair defensive coordinator might believe, containing a dual-threat quarterback is easier said than done.

Brent Venables had to deal with two this season: Connor Shaw and Jameis Winston.

Winston threw for 444 yards with three touchdowns. He also gained a total of 25 yards rushing and reached pay dirt once. Shaw had 152 yards passing with a score, plus 94 yards and a touchdown on the ground.

The numbers accumulated by Winston look a heck of a lot better on paper. But Shaw's weren't too shabby either.

In his first interview since the night of Clemson's fifth-straight loss to South Carolina, Venables was asked about the breakdowns that occurred against the Gamecocks. Specifically, what allowed Shaw to have so much success while scrambling on third-down?

"There are a few different things. One, you can't give him those lanes," Venables said. "And, two, when the quarterback has the football as a designed runner, not the scramble, but a designed runner, they have you out-numbered unless you put the whole defense down there.

"Sometimes they're throwing it. Sometimes they're not. They got outside of us a couple of times early, extended some drives."

That's part of the headache that is trying to defend a quarterback that can beat you with his arm and legs.

"Anytime a guy can run and throw, it's tough," Venables said. "Sometimes you're in coverage, sometimes you're in pressure.

"[South Carolina] picked up the blitzes perfect. They did a good job of blocking us. We didn't do a very great job of putting them in better position to be successful."

Why not just stick a spy on him and go from there? That, again, is easier said than done.

"You can do that. Sometimes it's good. Sometimes it isn't," Venables said. "Sometimes it's a linebacker. Sometimes it's a DB. Sometimes it's a lineman. And, sometimes, it still doesn't work.

"It has to tie into a lot of other things. It's not just about having a guy that spies him the whole day and that's the answer. If that were the answer, then all of those running quarterbacks wouldn't be worth a dang, because everyone would just do that, right?"

Yep, you're probably right, coach.

But that's not going to keep Clemson fans from worrying what Braxton Miller might do in the Orange Bowl next month.

"He's a human highlight reel and he's done it against everybody, usually multiple times every game. He can flip the field in a hurry," Venables said.

At 215 pounds, Miller is just one part of the two-headed power running monster that is Ohio State's backfield. He and Carlos Hyde have combined to rush for 2,441 yards and 24 touchdowns.

Their offensive line is big, physical and really, really good at moving would-be tacklers out of the way.

"They're really good up front, very sound up front. They're very physical, and they've got athletic ability, they can really change direction," Venables said. "You just don't see a ton of guys coming free. We're going to have to play really well, physically, first and foremost.

"It will probably be our biggest challenge, physically, of the year, because they're physical on the perimeter, and the quarterback is a physical runner."

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