Silver Bullets Hoping Practice Makes Perfect

When asked if they'd faced an offense similar to Clemson's, Ohio State defenders couldn't think of an answer… until they landed on their own teammates. OSU defensive coordinator Luke Fickell believes the fact that the Silver Bullets have faced Braxton Miller and Co. in practice will help the Buckeyes get some stops against Clemson's explosive offense, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd.

For many reasons, the Orange Bowl spotlight has often shined brightest on the Ohio State defense in the days leading up to the Buckeyes' clash against No. 12 Clemson.

The Silver Bullets' sacks leader still presumably in Columbus – but certainly not in Miami – for undetermined "personal issues." The defensive secondary is undergoing a shift that includes pairing Tyvis Powell with Christian Bryant at safety and inserting Vonn Bell at nickel back. Most importantly, though, the defense simply hasn't executed in its last two games. Against Michigan and Michigan State, the Buckeyes gave up a combined 75 points and five fourth-quarter touchdowns.

Enter Clemson's high-powered offense, which ranks 11th in the country at 502.0 yards per game, including 329.3 passing yards per contest, which is also No. 11 among FBS teams. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the matter is the unanimous response OSU players gave when asked by Clemson/Miami writers which opponent best compared to the Tigers. The best simulation the Buckeyes have seen hasn't come in a game – it's been at practice.

"This is something we haven't seen before – the tempo and the combination of size and speed that they have," Ohio State sophomore linebacker Joshua Perry said. "We go against our offense in practice, and that's about all we've got. Similar style of offense. I don't know, I think the Big Ten conference is a little bit different (from Clemson) in terms of style of play."

While facing Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd will be an immense test for OSU defenders, they've seen more than enough of a mobile quarterback over the course of the season. Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller has rushed for 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns this season.

"Their offense is a lot like our offense," junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "I'd say their receivers are a little bit bigger and our O-line is a little bit bigger, but they run a power out of a spread. They rarely use a tight end, and you can tell what's going on when they do. Their quarterback is dynamic – he can throw it, he can run it. They like quarterback runs, and that's how we are."

Speaking about the similarities of the two offenses, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables noted that the styles of both Ohio State and Clemson were growing more and more prevalent at places across the country.

"It's not just them. It's a lot of these offenses that you're seeing. You watch the 49ers with Kaepernick, it's like all these boys went to the same retreat, the same clinic, and stealing ball plays from each other.

I was watching Oregon last night. Hopefully, our guys were too. I'm like, that's what they do. Whether it's formation or it's a style of run or it's a style of play action pass off of it."

Members of the OSU offense have noticed it as well and believe the team is ready to face both Boyd and Sammy Watkins in the BCS clash on Friday.

"The fact that they get to practice against us and we get to practice against them every day is definitely a plus," said wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown. "Ohio State is one of the best offenses in the country. Them seeing what they're going to see from Clemson from us every day, I think that's definitely a plus."

Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, the man tasked by head coach Urban Meyer with fixing the defensive letdowns, acknowledged that the practice reps don't offer a true sample of what to expect in the Orange Bowl.

However, he noted that the speed and personnel used by Ohio State should give the defense an adequate feel of the tempo that they'll face. Whether that will be enough remains to be seen, but Fickell is hopeful that it will pay dividends on the field.

"It helps us," he said. "There's some things we can do in practice that – you know, it's really tough to manage tempo of a lot of these offenses, Clemson, in particular. But when your offense can go out there and give you that – maybe not the specific same plays, the same blocking schemes and things, but the ability for your guys to get a good feel and a good look at that tempo and those things that take you out of your rhythm, our offense can do that for us.

"I think that's probably, hopefully, something that's really, really going to help us when it comes to Friday."


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