For Clemson, last year’s playoff game against Ohio State was arguably it’s toughest from an offensive perspective. Running back Travis Etienne rushed for just 36 yards on 10 attempts and quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed just 54.5% of his passes, which was his lowest rate to that point all season long.
While both Lawrence and Etienne return this year, they will be facing an Ohio State defense that looks much differently that it did a year ago, at least in terms of personnel.
Gone are starters Chase Young, Da’Von Hamilton, Jashon Cornell, Malik Harrison, Jeff Okudah, Damon Arnette, and Jordan Fuller, and they have been replaced by a cavalcade of veterans, some experienced, others not.
The Ohio State defense hasn’t been at full strength since the season opener and will have played in just two games in six weeks when they next take the field.
This is a defense that hasn’t had much game-opportunity to fix their issues, nor have they had enough players available, but when Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney looks at the Buckeyes, he sees a lot of similarities to the defense the Tigers faced a year ago despite a new defensive coordinator calling the shots.
“Very similar. And why would it not be?” Swinney said. “They’re really, really good and not much has changed. A little bit more two-safety. Maybe just a hair more two-safety. But they believe in what they do, man. They’re built to stop the run. So more similar than not. And personnel-wise, I mean, they’re no different than we are. They lose good players every year, just like we do. But they replace them with good players every year, just like we do. And they do a good job of developing their guys.”
The personnel will be different, Swinney knows that. Finding enough tape to decipher what Ohio State likes to do with certain personnel groupings may be an issue since not much tape of these Buckeyes even exists.
What he also knows, however, is that the Ohio State defense did a pretty good job against his Tiger defense one year ago and the memories of that day are still fresh, if not a little misinformed.
“We did not play well in the game last year. They did a great job,” he said. “I didn’t think we played great at wideout. The best thing we did is we took care of the ball, and that was the difference in the game. But we got to play better than we did last year, that’s for sure.”
It can be argued if they actually did take good care of the ball, but it cannot be argued that the Buckeyes want to stop the run at the outset and then have the defensive line get to the quarterback when the need arises.
Ohio State looks differently than they did a year ago on the defensive line, but the intentions, frames, and silhouettes are very similar.
“They’re built the same. Really good up front,” Swinney said. “Those D-tackles are really good players. They’ve got depth at end. A lot of experience at linebacker. They’ve moved [Shaun] Wade in the corner. That’s different from last year. He’s an elite player. Number 7, same thing. Those safeties. [Baron] Browning, all those guys. They’re a really, really good football team. Again, built in the trenches, built in the front seven, and built to stop the run. So we’ll have our hands full.”
Stopping the run is always the first key for the Buckeyes, even against a passer as gifted as Trevor Lawrence. And they were successful at stopping Travis Etienne a year ago on the ground, but they let Lawrence get loose for over 100 yards rushing.
The Buckeyes won’t be caught off guard as much as they were a year ago, but they will still need to tackle and execute. And while Dabo Swinney may say this Ohio State defense looks a lot like the one last year, tackling and execution hasn’t always been a strength.
If the Buckeyes are going to win this Friday night, however, it will need to be.