OSU Goal: Stop Clemson Before It Gets Started

Much has been written about Clemson's high-powered passing offense, but less so about how the Tajh Boyd- and Sammy Watkins-led attack can be slowed down. The Buckeyes can look at the way Florida State and South Carolina teams stopped the Tigers to get some tips on keeping Clemson from getting started.

It looks like an almost impossible task, doesn't it?

How the heck is Ohio State going to stop Clemson in the Orange Bowl Friday night?

Going into the bowl season, the Tigers were ranked eighth in the nation in passing efficiency, 11th in scoring offense (40.2 points), 12th in passing offense (329.3 yards), 13th in total offense (502.0 yards) and 15th in first downs (303).

The biggest concern, though, comes through the air. Not only does Clemson boast decorated senior quarterback Tajh Boyd and Biletnikoff Award finalist Sammy Watkins, Ohio State ended the regular season 102nd in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, including 304 to Michigan State quarterback and Ohio native Connor Cook.

Then there's the fact that the Buckeyes are likely going to be working three new starters on defense. Gone will be the team's sack leader in Noah Spence – suspended for three games for breaking Big Ten rules – as well as first-team All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby (who is likely out as he battles a knee injury), while senior safety Corey Brown seems likely to be replaced in the lineup by true freshman Vonn Bell.

So how can Ohio State do what many might think is unthinkable – how can the movable object that is the Buckeyes' defense stop the irresistible force that is Clemson's offense.

Well, they can take a page out of the books of Florida State and South Carolina, the two teams to beat the 10-2 Tigers during the season.

At the head of the list is to force turnovers, as Florida State forced Clemson into four turnovers while South Carolina earned six. Not only did that help get the Tigers' high-powered offense off the field, it led to 24 points for the Seminoles and 21 points for the Gamecocks.

In the last eight games, the Buckeyes have forced 12 turnovers, a solid but unspectacular number, and the team is right near the middle of the pack in the nation when it comes to how many they've gained.

"We've been trying to focus as the season goes on getting more turnovers," OSU defensive tackle Michael Bennett said. "Interceptions, forced fumbles – I don't know how many forced fumbles we've had that haven't been sacks. I think that's really important for us to start trying to do."

That, of course, is a fine line. Focusing too much on going for interceptions or big hits that can force fumbles can lead to fundamental slip-ups that go the other way, making it a rough balance to strike properly in the eyes of linebacker Joshua Perry.

"You can't really," Perry said. "You want to force turnovers, but you can't press. You just have to play sound defensive football and that stuff will happen. You want to see more. I think we've done a decent job, but you know there's always one more game to go out there and try to do a little extra."

Another key that plays into the first one is getting pressure on Boyd. Florida State ended up with four sacks and South Carolina had five, something that assuredly also factored into the five interceptions Boyd threw in those two games.

Clemson allowed 33 sacks on the campaign, making Boyd one of the most sacked quarterbacks in the nation, and scouting reports indicate that the senior is prone to making mistakes when the heat is on.

"With Clemson, if you get pressure on Tajh, he might start throwing some up that we can get," Bennett said. "I think that's important that we get some pressure on him, let him know we're here and that he can't just sit in the pocket and pick us apart."

Meanwhile, Ohio State enters the game as one of just five teams in the country with at least 40 sacks, but the Buckeye linemen wish they had even more in order to help the pass defense out.

"I don't really know what's going on behind me," Bennett said. "I I don't know what all of their assignments are, and when I turn around, I don't really know what the receivers did. All I know is the D-line didn't get to the quarterback. The only thing I can control is what I do and what my unit does so when they throw a long pass, all I can do is put the blame on the D-line because we didn't get to the quarterback."

In the end, it's a simple concept – stopping Clemson before it gets started. And if the Buckeyes can do that, they might be able to turn around what has been a weakness and pick up an Orange Bowl win in the process.

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