SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – To describe Ohio State's offense, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables turned to the Old Testament in the Bible.
“I’ve only looked at them as Goliath,” Venables said on Tuesday.
In his mind, that would make the Tigers versions of David in this comparison. The ones who slay the giant. Given Clemson's status as a defending national champion that has made the College Football Playoff the past five years and is riding a 28-game winning streak, the comparison falls apart pretty quickly.
Nonetheless, every measure of success – stats, eye test, ranking, etc. – matches up with Venables' overall point that Clemson hasn't faced any offense nearly as talented as the one it'll take on in Saturday's Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes rank higher in yards per game, points per game, third-down conversion rate, first downs per game and just about every other statistical category than all 13 opponents the Tigers beat this season.
“This will be the best offensive line, it'll be the best running back, be the best quarterback, be the best group of receivers, it's the No. 1 scoring offense in the country, No. 1 third-down offense in the country,” Brent Venables said on Tuesday. “Nobody has stopped them. Nobody has given us a blueprint for what it's supposed to look like. So it's exciting.
“You're in a business to go play and all that, but I sure wish that they were terrible on offense and great on defense. I'd make no apologies. I wouldn't. I'd take a lot of pride in beating down a downtrodden unit that can't find their way, but you're not going to find that in the playoffs.”
Especially not on Saturday.
Because of the presence of quarterback Trevor Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and wide receivers Tee Higgins, Justyn Ross and Amari Rodgers, there's an overwhelming sentiment that Clemson's offense will test Ohio State's defense in ways no other team has up to this point this fall. While that's true, it goes the other way, too.
The Tigers haven't faced an offense that averages more than 32 points per game, and no team has scored more than 20 points against them. Comparatively, the Buckeyes lead the country with 48.7 points per game, have a nation-best average scoring margin of 36.2 per game and put up more than 32 points in all but one of their 13 victories, each of which came by double digits.
“I haven't seen any moments where that team's been struggling, man,” linebacker James Skalski said. “They've killed everybody. They've had no problems all year. We're going to try to create them, but we haven't seen them yet. It's going to be a good challenge for us.”
The challenge for Clemson begins with Justin Fields, who's far and away a more talented quarterback than any that the ACC champion has faced yet this year. J.K. Dobbins, who's third in the nation with 1,829 rushing yards and averages 6.5 yards per carry, has rushed for more than 150 yards in the past three games, which were against Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin.
Fields throws and Dobbins runs behind an offensive line featuring five players who were either first-team or second-team All-Big Ten honorees, including first-team All-American right guard Wyatt Davis. The receiving corps doesn't have the talent of Clemson, but Chris Olave, K.J. Hill and Garrett Wilson can all be difficult matchups, and a deep group of tight ends gets involved sometimes too.
“I'll be honest, going in I'm thinking, 'Oh, man, we're going to be just fine. We've got all the matchups in our favor.' I don't feel like that,” Venables said. “I’m confident in our approach, confident in our preparation that anything can happen. I'm really confident in the mental state or our players and how they've worked. Those things give me confidence. If I start thinking too much about, 'Oh my God, did you see what he did to that 3-technique from Penn State?' it doesn't give me a lot of confidence because they've kicked everybody's you-know-what.”
The confidence in his own team, Venables said, comes when seeing it face the scout team every day. And the players' confidence in Venables being able to come up with a game plan that can limit Ohio State's offense comes from past results, Skalski said.
“Hey, man, the proof's in the pudding,” Skalski said. “So I'm just going to keep following that man as long as he keeps delivering. He's delivered year in and year out, game after game, week after week. He's been the best in the country for however many years now, and if you don't believe that, then you ain't watching football because he's unbelievable at what he does.”
Viewed as one of the nation's best defensive coordinators, Venables is readying for his stiffest challenge of the season.
Sometimes coaches exaggerate the difficulty of opponents. Before Ohio State's game against Penn State and Wisconsin, for example, Ryan Day tried to make the point that they were "talent-equated" with Ohio State. But Venables is correct this time; Clemson hasn't faced an offense yet at the level of the one it'll see on Saturday.
“I'm excited to see our guys play,” Venables said. “They've surprised me over and over all year. They've risen to the challenge when our backs have been against the wall multiple times, starting with our first game.”
Rising to the challenge versus the Buckeyes would mean slowing them down in a way barely anybody has this fall.