The layoff between a team’s last game of the regular season or its conference championship game and its bowl matchup can sometimes be harmful.
The team can potentially lose all of its momentum because it hasn’t played a game in about a month. The squad may also not look as sharp in the bowl contest for that same reason.
The extra time off is beneficial in Ohio State’s case, however, because the Buckeyes need all the time they can get to prepare for Clemson’s unpredictable defense.
“There’s three different defenses we’re going to face,” OSU head coach Urban Meyer said of him team’s encounter with Clemson on Dec. 31 in one of the two College Football Playoff semifinal games. “They’re very game-plan specific. Usually in the first two series of the game you’ll see what you’re going to get. They’re very multiple, and they’re very unorthodox about what it’s called.”
He went on to explain that the Tigers’ defense does not line up in formations the opposing offense would typically see, based on the down and distance. For example, a run defense is normally implemented on first down because that is the down the offense is most likely to call a run play. But with Clemson, Meyer explained, it is not afraid to call a defensive package that is built to stop the pass on first down.
What makes it even more difficult for an offense to game plan against Clemson’s is that the Tigers’ coaching staff does an excellent job of mixing up when certain defensive formations are used. In other words, Clemson does not line up the same way on a majority of first downs, which makes it unpredictable.
For all those reasons, Meyer enjoys the fact that he has the extra time to get his offensive guys ready for an unorthodox opposing defense.
“I'm glad we have this much time so we can spend a lot of time on those multiple defensive looks,” he said.
To prove just how exotic the Clemson stoop troops can be, all 11 defenders dropped into coverage for one play against Virginia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship game.
You read that correctly. Not one defender rushed the quarterback on the play – in a conference championship game to boot.
Granted, Virginia Tech picked up 42 yards on the play because the quarterback had plenty of time to eventually find an open receiver. So Clemson may not be going to that defensive package any time soon, but nonetheless, that instance shows just how unusual the Tiger defense can be.
The strength of it starts with its linemen.
“They have some big boys up front, they’re all 300-plus across the board,” Ohio State junior right guard Billy Price said. “They’re big, athletic, strong, fast; they’re everything a Clemson player is supposed to be. Being able to reload from last season like they did (nine players were selected in the 2016 NFL draft) will make it a big challenge for us, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Freshman defensive end Clelin Ferrell (6-5, 265) is the only starter for Clemson who is not above 300 pounds.
In order for the OSU offensive line to handle Clemson’s defensive front, fifth-year senior center Pat Elflein said it comes down to one thing.
“To be consistent. At times we’re inconsistent, other times we are consistent,” the recipient of the 2016 Rimington Trophy said. “It’s not whether we are physically able to do that, we just have to walk in and do it every play.
“Sometimes we look like the best offensive line in the country, sometimes we look the exact opposite of that. So, really just bringing that together. I always say this, ‘It starts in practice.’ We have to do that in practice every day or it’s not going to happen in the game.”