Editor's note: This is the second story of a three-part preview of Ohio State's Orange Bowl opponent, the Clemson Tigers. Today's preview focuses on Clemson's defense Tuesday's focused on the offense. Thursday's will center on the special teams and coaching.
COLUMBUS, Ohio-For Ohio State, the best was saved for second to last.
Defensively speaking, that is.
The supreme defense Ohio State faced in 2013 was Michigan State. In a loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game, the best offense in the conference struggled against the conference's best defense.
Going up against a Spartan front that ranks near in the top of the nation in nearly every statistical category, the Buckeyes had their worst offensive outing of the season. Ohio State scored 24 points and gained 374 yards, both season lows. Their 5.94 yards per play average was the second worst performance of the year (5.74 against Wisconsin Sept. 28 the worst).
Ohio State's offense shouldn't have as much trouble against Clemson. But while many are expecting a shootout in Miami come Jan. 3, the Tigers do possess some of the weapons necessary to give the Buckeyes' offense some issues.
Clemson's defense, by the numbers:
o 350.4 yards allowed per game
o 197.8 yards passing
o 152.2 yards rushing
o 21.1 points allowed per game
o 30 turnovers forced
o 16 interceptions
o 14 fumbles
o 33 sacks
o 113 tackles for loss
o 38 passes broken up
o 31 quarterback hurries
Clemson's defense has holes. None of which, though, appear to be on the defensive line. The Tigers pass rush is one of the fiercest the Buckeyes will have had to face in 2013-14.
The battle between Ohio State's offensive line and Clemson's defensive line can be centered on the matchup of Buckeye senior all-American offensive tackle Jack Mewhort and Tigers' junior defensive end Vic Beasley. A junior, Beasley is projected to be a first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.
"I'm leaning toward coming out," Beasley told reporters after a practice Saturday, per greenvilleonline.com. "I haven't made a decision yet whether I'll come back or leave."
Beasley led the Tigers with 12 sacks in the regular season. He had 27 tackles, 19 tackles for loss, and a fumble returned for a touchdown. Beasley broke up six tackles, had five quarterback hurries, and forced four fumbles.
Beasley isn't the only Tiger that can get to the quarterback. Six other Clemson defensive lineman recorded sacks.
Against the rush, Clemson's defensive line is fairly average, at best. The Tigers allowed 1831 yards rushing and 19 touchdowns. On short yardage situations (third down, one-to-three yards to go), Clemson stopped the opposition short 58 percent of the time.
Carlos Hyde and the Buckeyes' offensive line should be able to run the ball against the Tigers' front. Syracuse gained 323 yards on 48 attempts in a 49-14 loss Oct. 5.
Not all of Clemson's woes against the rush should be attributed to the Tigers' defensive line. Some need to be given to the linebackers corps.
Senior Spencer Shuey, who recorded 89 tackles in 2013, leads Clemson's linebacker's unit. Junior Stephone Anthony was a close second with 78 tackles. There's a drop off after those two, as Clemson played a number of two-linebacker sets. While Shuey recorded the most tackles, it was Anthony who made most of the big plays. The junior was second on the team in tackles for loss with 14. Shuey totaled 5.5.
Against the pass, Clemson's linebackers can struggle. Florida State, in its blowout win in Death Valley, used tight end Nick O'Leary often. Buckeye tight ends Jeff Heuerman and Nick Vannett could have big games.
The defensive backs
Clemson's pass defense was good for most of 2013, with the exception of two games: Georgia and Florida State. Not coincidentally, those two contests were against teams with talented quarterbacks who throw to deep receiver units.
Ohio State has a talented quarterback and a deep receiving unit.
The Tigers' secondary allowed 323 yards passing to Georgia and Aaron Murray, and 444 yards through the air against Florida State and Jameis Winston.
No other team passed for 300 yards against the Tigers' secondary. Only two others teams passed for at least 200 yards (North Carolina State and Maryland).
Braxton Miller and his receivers could have the success they would have liked to have against Michigan State in the contest against Clemson.
What Ohio State needs to do
o Mewhort wins the battle against Beasley
o Hyde rushes with success up the middle
o Miller performs through the air near the level Winston and Murray did