The Ohio State offense has had its ups and its downs in 2016. They’ve played two of the better defenses in the country and somehow found a way to score 30 points on both of them — albeit one in double overtime.
The Buckeyes will face a very talented Clemson defense, who has allowed a lot of points against good teams. Clemson let up 36 to Louisville, 34 to Florida State, 43 in a loss to Pittsburgh and most recently 35 to Virginia Tech in the ACC Championship. Don’t be fooled by the scoreboard though; this defense is legitimate and is stacked with future NFL guys — especially on the defensive line.
The defensive line is led by Dexter Lawrence (6’5”, 340 lbs), Christian Wilkins (6’4”, 310 lbs), Carlos Watkins (6’3”, 305 lbs) and Clelin Ferrell (6’5”, 265 lbs). Lawrence, who’s only a freshman, leads the Tigers with 20 quarterback hurries and is second on the team with 7 sacks. He is a 19 year old freak who could probably play on Sundays right now and will cause major issues for the interior of the Buckeye offensive line.
Lawrence isn’t the only one who makes an impact, it’s the entire defensive line. As a team, they are second in the nation with 46 sacks. Watkins leads the team with 8.5 sacks, while pressuring the quarterback 12 times. Wilkins leads the team with 12 tackles for loss and has pressured the quarterback 17 times. Meanwhile, Farrell has registered 19 pressures on the season. Their defensive line is massively disruptive and Ohio State fans should be worried about how their offensive line will hold up.
Even though they excel at rushing the passer, they are susceptible against the run. This was proven a few times, such as Dalvin Cook’s 169 yards and four touchdowns, Lamar Jackson’s 162 yards and two touchdowns and James Conner’s 132 yards and a score against Clemson’s defense. This plays into Ohio State’s favor. The Buckeyes were able to rack up 291 yards on the ground in Oklahoma, 185 rushing yards against Wisconsin and 206 yards versus the Wolverines vaunted rush defense. No matter the opponent, the Buckeyes will stick with their bread and butter.
When Louisville traveled to Death Valley, most knew it would be a shootout between two great quarterbacks — and it was well worth the price of admission. The game tallied 78 points, eight (!) turnovers, 57 first downs, a whopping 1,075 total yards and a Louisville receiver deciding to take a business decision on fourth down, in a 42-36 Clemson victory. But, even with an overall talent discrepancy favoring the home team (besides Lamar Jackson), Louisville was able to gash Clemson for 273 yards on the ground and 295 yards through the air.
Here’s what the Buckeyes can learn from Bobby Petrino’s offense when they put up over 568 yards of total offense on Clemson that night:
Clemson’s linebackers flowing too quickly
Louisville used an Urban Meyer staple to get Lamar Jackson into the endzone here. Above, they ran something Buckeye fans see a bunch of times on Saturdays — the outside zone read. Jackson takes the snap, holds the ball at the mesh point while the defensive end flows with the running back, keeps the ball and finds the seam in the defense. Louisville began to get some good yardage out of their running back, so you can see Clemson’s linebacker flow with the running back, leaving a seam for Jackson to exploit. Ohio State runs this in their sleep with J.T. Barrett and Curtis Samuel (see above) and Barrett is one of the best in the game at reading the read defender at the mesh point. If Samuel and Mike Weber start to gain positive yardage on the regular, expect Barrett to take advantage.
Establish the run to open up play action
As mentioned, Louisville began to gain positive yardage with their running game, and Clemson’s linebackers decided to go all out to stop that. Bad decision. Louisville’s offensive coordinator saw the perfect time to dial up play action, and Jackson hit his tight end down the seam for an easy touchdown as both linebackers on that side of the field bit for the fake. Ohio State does a great job doing just this once they get on a roll running the football.
Here is a good example of how Ohio State manipulates the defense off the power read:
Attack them horizontally
What’s the best way to beat a big and disruptive defensive line? By attacking them horizontally. We saw the Buckeyes do this after the 2014 Virginia Tech debacle and they executed this to perfection against Oklahoma this season. I mentioned that the Sooners had a big defensive line — that stuffed Houston in the A and B gaps 14 times — but were susceptible on the perimeter. Fast forward to the game and we saw Barrett, Samuel and Weber shred the Sooners on the edge. Lamar Jackson and co. were able to exploit the Tigers on the perimeter (especially the right side of the line of scrimmage) and most should expect a heavy dose of Samuel and Barrett. Barrett’s supreme execution at the mesh point should leave the Tiger defense out of position and guessing.
Overall, Clemson is a very talented, yet sometimes lazy and flawed defense. On paper they’re right up there with Alabama and Michigan as a top defense in the country, but offensively, Ohio State matches up pretty well with them. What the Buckeyes do the best on offense is what Clemson had serious troubles with against Louisville in Death Valley. As Buckeye fans know by now, the offense will ultimately rely on Barrett and his arm if the defense starts to stack the box, and he needs to be up to the challenge. Get Barrett in a groove early and the offense should have its way.
Will Isaiah Prince be more reliable than he was against Penn State? Can the Buckeyes take advantage of Clemson’s over-flowing linebackers? Can a receiver not named Curtis Samuel get open? Will Clemson’s frightening pass rush dominate Ohio State’s inconsistent offensive line?
Saturday will be a chess match between two of the better coaching staffs in the country and there will be a boat load of future NFL talent on the field. The team that takes advantage of the opposing team’s weaknesses the most will advance to play Alabama