Editor's note: This is the first in a three-part preview of Ohio State's Orange Bowl opponent, the Clemson Tigers. Today's preview focuses on Clemson's offense, Wednesday's will focus on the defense, Thursday, the special teams and coaching.
COLUMBUS, Ohio-The highest ranked offense, statistically, that Ohio State faced in 2013, was Indiana. The Hoosiers average 38.4 points a game, second best in the Big Ten. On a snow-covered Ohio Stadium field Nov. 23, the Buckeyes had little difficulty stopping Indiana's attack, thrashing the Hoosiers, 42-14.
Clemson poses a bigger task.
Clemson's offense, by the numbers:
o 40.2 points per game
o 503 yards per game
o 329 yards passing per game
o 174 yards rushing per game
o 6.28 yards per play
o Third-down conversion rate : 44 percent (81/184)
o Fourth-down conversion rate: 60 percent (15/25)
o Average margin of victory: 28 points
o Biggest win: 56-7 against Wake Forest Sept. 28
o Worst loss: 51-14 against Florida State Oct. 19
Like nearly every good team, Clemson lives and dies with the play of its quarterback. Tajh Boyd, a senior, came into the 2013 season as a Heisman candidate and a potential first round NFL draft pick.
He failed, to an extent, to live up to the hype. Boyd, though, was brilliant early on.
In Clemson's first six games, all wins, Boyd threw for 1783 yards, 15 touchdowns, and two interceptions.
A matchup against then-No. 5 Florida State in Death Valley Oct. 19 brought Boyd's stock way down. In the biggest game for Clemson in more than a decade, Boyd struggled, throwing for just 156 yards and one touchdown while tossing two interceptions. He completed only 45 percent of his passes.
That game was really the only one in which Boyd played poorly. In every other contest this fall, Boyd completed at least 60 percent of his passes. He finished the regular season throwing for 3473 yards, 29 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. Boyd is the most accomplished quarterback in Clemson, and potentially ACC history, throwing for 11526 yards and 102 touchdowns.
Stopping Boyd, like Florida State did, will be one of the big keys come Jan. 3 in Miami.
The skill players
If Boyd is the heart of Clemson's offense, junior wide receiver Sammy Watkins is the offense's legs, both literally and figuratively. Watkins, who is projected to be the top receiver taken in the 2014 NFL Draft by many, will be the best skill player Ohio State's defense has faced in more than two years.
Watkins caught 85 passes for 1237 yards and 10 touchdowns this season. He averages 14.55 yards per catch and 103.1 yards and seven receptions per game. Bradley Roby: you have your work cut out for you. The redshirt junior cornerback struggled against Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederris. Play well against Watkins, and Roby will have the NFL scouts drooling once again.
But Clemson isn't all Boyd and Watkins.
The Tigers' most explosive playmaker is probably Martavis Bryant. The junior wide receiver averages 20.51 yards per catch. He hauled in 39 passes for 800 yards and five touchdowns.
No Ohio State wide receiver had more than 655 yards receiving. Clemson had two surpass that mark easily.
Rushing the ball, Clemson relies mostly on Roderick McDowell. The senior had 958 yards rushing and five touchdowns. Boyd was the team's second leading rusher with 284 yards and nine touchdowns.
Clemson rushes most on first down (245 attempts/20 per game) and least on third down (81 attempts/6.75 per game). In short yardage situations (third down, one-to-three yards to go), Clemson gains 4.26 yards per attempt. On third downs, four-to-six yards to go, Clemson barely hands it off (3.5 times a game), and when it does, it's rarely successful, gaining just 0.67 yards per attempt.
The Tigers rushed for at least 100 yards in each of their 12 games. Their lowest outing came against Florida State (41 attempts for 123 yards). Their best came at Maryland (51 attempts for 247 yards). In just two contests did Clemson fail to score on the ground (at North Carolina State and against the Citadel).
If there is a weak link on this Tigers' offense, it is probably the offensive line.
Clemson is a pass-first team, so the unit is mostly responsible for pass blocking. They struggled to give Boyd time, allowing 33 sacks in 12 games.
They were, predictably, worst against the best two teams Clemson faced (Florida State and South Carolina).
In those two games, Clemson's offensive line allowed nine sacks.
Ohio State's defense has struggled this season, but the one unit that hasn't is the defensive line. Sophomore Noah Spence and freshman Joey Bosa should have little trouble getting to Boyd.
Three keys for Ohio State against the offense
o Pressure Boyd and force him to make quick decisions
o Play tight coverage against Watkins with safety help over the top
o Force Clemson's rushing attack to rush horizontally