The Clemson secondary is not the main problem, Buckeyes have some catching up to do and more

Colin Gay

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Today is Wednesday, Dec. 28, and this is your Ohio State Wake-Up Call. 

The main issue for the passing offense

One of the main stories coming out of Arizona before the Fiesta Bowl is what Clemson safety Jadar Johnson had to say about J.T. Barrett, the quarterback who will be behind center for No. 3 Ohio State.

“I’m not really strong on J.T. Barrett’s arm,” Johnson said.“We’ve definitely played better quarterbacks.”

The 2016 co-Silver Football Award winner threw for 2,428 yards this season while rushing for 847 yards, combining for 33 touchdowns. Barrett politely disagrees with Johnson’s assessment.

“To go out and say that, ‘They can’t throw,’ that we are not a good passing offense, or we can’t throw the ball,” Barrett said, “I think that’s a reach.”

However, the passing offense may have a more serious problem on its hands than the actual throwing of the ball.

The truism is that they are gigantic,” Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said of Clemson’s defensive line. “They are real big at the defensive end, 310 pounds, inside they are 310, 315, they are big, highly recruited athletes. You can see that.”

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, according to Barrett, has developed a particular style for his defense that relies on relentless pressure on the quarterback.

“That’s what they do,” Barrett said. “They are an aggressive-style defense. He’s not going to let you sit back and march the ball downfield. He’s going to definitely take some shots at you. As a coordinator, that’s been his style.”

It’s worked for the defense thus far. Clemson has 112 tackles for loss this year, including 46 sacks. For the Ohio State offensive line, this may not be a good sign after letting the Michigan defense sack Barrett eight times a month ago. However, from the moment that game was over, OL Billy Price chalked that up as a learning experience.

“When a number is that staggering, when you are talking six, seven, eight sacks, that’s not a good feeling,” Price said. “It gives us an opportunity to work and to grow from something like that.”

As practices continued preparing for Saturday’s game in Glendale, Ariz., Price and the rest of the offensive line has worked hard on finding that bond again as a unit.

“There are so many things that can be put into it,” Price said. “Communication between the offensive line and to really continue to polish our skills with each other and to make sure that chemistry is flowing.”

For Ohio State center Pat Elflein, it seems to have already worked.

“Our passing offense, pass protection got a lot better,” Elflein said. 

Head to Head: A look back 

Ohio State hasn’t played Clemson very often. The Tigers and Buckeyes have only met twice ever, and Ohio State has been on the short end of the stick in both games.

Here is how the two meetings have played out:

1978 Gator Bowl: This was the game that is engrained in every Ohio State fan’s memory because it was Woody Hayes’ final game as the legendary coach of the Buckeyes.

No. 8 Clemson beat No. 20 Ohio State 17-15 after Clemson CB Charlie Bauman picked off OSU QB Art Schlichter with 1:59 left in the game. As Bauman celebrated near the Buckeye sideline, Hayes hit him in the throat, which ended his coaching career at Ohio State as he resigned the next day.

In the loss, the Buckeyes rolled up 355 yards, scoring the two touchdowns on runs by Schlichter, who led the Buckeyes with 70 yards rushing in the contest. The freshman quarterback also completed 16 of 20 pass attempts for 205 yards.

The Ohio State defense allowed 207 yards on the ground and only 123 yards through the air, with Clemson QB Steve Fuller only completing nine of 20 pass attempts. Both of Clemson’s scores came on runs.

For Ohio State fans, the actual statistics from this game have become irrelevant because of the Hayes incident. The Buckeyes did not get a chance to play the Tigers again until 36 years later.

2014 Orange Bowl:  Clemson, this time ranked No. 12, got the better of No. 7 Ohio State again, beating the Buckeyes 40-35.

The current Clemson offense is very similar to what the 2014 Clemson offense ran. Both teams have a clear leader at quarterback, which proved to be a huge factor in the five-point win. QB Tajh Boyd threw for 378 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions in the win.

The majority of his throws were to WR Sammy Watkins who, like current wide receiver star Mike Williams is expected to be, seemed to be leaps and bounds better than any other receiver in the stadium. Watkins had 227 yards receiving and two touchdown catches on 16 receptions. Boyd also beat the Buckeye defense on the ground, rushing for 127 yards with a touchdown, averaging just over 6 yards a carry.

As for the Ohio State offense, the game plan revolved around the quarterback and the running back. Sound familiar? QB Braxton Miller threw for 234 yards with two touchdowns and two picks. RB Carlos Hyde had 113 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. However, when it came to Miller in the rushing attack, the Buckeyes struggled, as he has only 35 yards on 18 carries with two touchdowns.

Maybe Ohio State can use this loss to Clemson to their advantage on Saturday night.

Former Buckeyes help out

Alumni still play a very important role in the Ohio State football program. Three former Buckeyes are even putting their shoulder pads back on. LB Bobby Carpenter, FB/LB Zach Boren and WR Brian Hartline came to Arizona to give Ohio State some depth on the practice squad as the Buckeyes prepare for Clemson.

Carpenter played in 2004-05 for the Buckeyes, was drafted in the first round by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2006 NFL Draft and played in the NFL for eight seasons with the Cowboys, Miami Dolphins, Detroit Lions and New England Patriots. He is currently hosting Carpenter & Rothman, an afternoon radio show on 97.1 The Fan in Columbus, Ohio.

After playing fullback for the Buckeyes for three seasons, Boren switched to linebacker his senior season and recorded 50 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss including a sack. Playing from 2009-12, the 2012 captain also had three career touchdowns, including two rushing touchdowns in his senior season. Boren has not found much success at the next level, being signed and released by three NFL teams between 2013-15.

According to Pat Elflein, facing those veteran linebackers really helped the offensive line as a whole.

“Going against those guys was great,” Elflein said. “Zach [Boren] and Bobby [Carpenter] are great football players here, obviously, and going against them as experienced linebackers, and they were playing a little bit of defensive end too, that’s how you get better.”

On offense, Hartline played for the Buckeyes from 2006 to 2008, recording 1,429 career yards with 12 touchdown receptions. The fourth-round pick by the Dolphins in the 2009 NFL Draft has found modest success. In seven seasons with the Dolphins and the Cleveland Browns, he has 14 touchdown receptions with two seasons in 2012 and 2013 with over 1,00 yards receiving. Hartline was released by the Browns in May.

With the Woody Hayes Athletic Center empty …

The football team is not the only one from Ohio State preparing for a performance at the Fiesta Bowl. While the Buckeyes practice in sunny Scottsdale, Ariz.,the Ohio State marching band is taking to the Woody Hayes Athletic Center for their rehearsals.

And it seems like “The Best Damn Band in the Land” is still in midseason form.


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