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Containing Clemson’s Wayne Gallman early on will be key for Ohio State

Clemson will look to establish the run early.

NCAA Football: Clemson at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

With the star power behind center and on the perimeter of the Clemson offense, it is surprisingly easy to forget about the running back who has racked up 2,529 yards and 28 touchdowns on the ground in the past two seasons — but Wayne Gallman is one of the best in the nation.

When looking at Gallman’s situational statistics, one thing in particular stands out: Clemson wants to establish the run early. Of his 196 carries, 70 have came in the first quarter. The next highest total attempts for a quarter is in the third, where he carried the ball only 46 times. When breaking down his numbers by the quarter, the first quarter represents the most rushing yards (394), yards per carry (5.63), touchdowns (7), first downs (19) and 10-plus gains (11) — and most aren’t that close. It is clear that the Tigers want to get Gallman the ball early to set up the passing game.

What separates the Clemson running back is his elusiveness in the hole. He has the ability to make a quick cut at the line of scrimmage to gain positive yardage, when most runners would have taken a loss. When watching some of his tape, there were multiple instances where he should have been stopped in the backfield or at the line of scrimmage, but he made a quick jump cut to elude the defensive lineman and get upfield.

Here’s a good example of Gallman showing his patience behind the blocker and making the safety bite on a nasty cutback before gaining good yardage.

Here’s another good example of the runner executing a jump cut out of a clogged hole, quickly cutting back to the original hole and gaining four yards when he should have been stopped for no gain.

Even with his elite elusiveness in the hole, he is sometimes let down by his inconsistent offensive line — especially in short yardage situations. They’ve only given the ball to their stud running back 11 times on third down with 1-3 yards to go, and he was only able to move the chains on three of those 11 opportunities. Quite the opposite of what Ohio State fans are used to in his power spread offense. In a high stakes game such as the College Football Playoff, the team who can typically control time of possession and keep the ball out of the other team’s hands will be given the better chance to advance.

Here’s Gallman getting stuffed at the line of scrimmage on a third-and-one against Auburn. He had no chance.

One part of Gallman’s game that would be appreciated by Buckeye fans, is his blocking ability. Per CFB Film Room, Gallman has allowed only four hurries, three hits and zero sacks on 158 pass blocking opportunities. Sure, it’s not to the level of Ezekiel Elliott or even Mike Weber (who only let up one hurry on 48 pass blocking attempts), but it has to be one of the better percentages in the country.

The Clemson back is also a strong lead blocker for Deshaun Watson, as shown here:

Overall, Ohio State will need to find a way to counter Clemson’s ground game in the first quarter. The Tigers want to establish the run early with their lead back, before opening up the passing game in the following quarters.

If Ohio State can get an early lead, they could force Clemson to go away from their ground game and make them one dimensional. Gallman is one of the shiftier backs in the country who can make something out of nothing, but the Buckeyes front seven does hold the advantage on third-and-short. It will be interesting to see if they break their tendency of staying away from Gallman on third and less than three yards, as it has yet to work this season.

Will Ohio State make Deshaun Watson beat them with his legs and arm? Or will they allow the Tigers to get things going on the ground? It’s sure to be a chess match.