Clemson Week Mic Check: How Well Ohio State Handles Pass Rush Will Be Key To Pulling Off An Upset Win

By Chris Lauderback on December 29, 2020 at 3:05 pm
Justin Fields can carve up Clemson if he has a clean pocket.
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

While much of the talk leading up to Ohio State's College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Clemson Friday night has centered on Dabo Swinney's diarrhea of the mouth, the fact of the matter is games on won on the field, not at the microphone. 

One of the most important games with the game pits Ohio State's pass protection against a Clemson defense that's had very little trouble getting to opposing quarterbacks. 

This reality isn't lost on Ryan Day, who discussed Clemson's ability to harass the quarterback in yesterday's media session

“They create a lot of disruption. Really good players and really good schemes. We've got to do a great job of firming up protection. The quarterback has got to understand that. And it just comes down to preparation. Knowing that you're going to see some things that you maybe haven't seen before.”– Ryan Day on Clemson's pass rush

Clemson defensive coordinator Brett Venables is obviously a master of his craft and one reason is the creative way in which his units pressure the quarterback. 

This season, the Tigers rank No. 4 in the country with 4.0 sacks per game. Clemson tallied six sacks in its recent slaughter of Notre Dame and recorded another half-dozen against Pitt. The group also had five against the Miami Hurricanes. 

With Venables, it's often a by-committee approach thanks to disguised blitzes and elite talent. The Tigers feature six defenders with at least 3.5 sacks on the season led by freshman defensive end Myles Murphy and fellow freshman, linebacker Trenton Simpson, with 4.0 each. Defensive end K.J. Henry sits at 3.5 and freshman lineman Bryan Bresee has 3.0. 

With the pass rush overwhelming some opponents, Clemson sits at No. 6 in the country in total defense allowing just 298.5 yards per game. 

How effectively Ohio State can contain the pass rush could go a long way in determining the game's outcome. 

The Buckeyes rank just No. 104 in the country allowing 3.0 sacks per game. Indiana had the most success, blitzing Ohio State at will, on the way to five sacks. The likes of Nebraska, Michigan State and Northwestern all picked up three each. 

No doubt, playing just six games in a fractured season played a part in those struggles as the offensive line didn't have time to gel as a unit, firming up assignments, communication and in some cases, technique. And of course quarterback Justin Fields has played a major role, often holding the ball far longer than any offensive line could be expected to pass block. 

For his part, Fields says he's been in the lab studying harder than before any other game this season. He has to be better at avoiding preventable lost yardage because he refuses to give up on a play or take the check down. 

Up front, the line and running backs have to win one-on-one battles and recognize all the creative stuff Venables has in the the tank. 

If those two facets come together, along with the line continuing its recent road-grading in the run game, the Buckeyes have a legit shot to outscore the Tigers and advance to the national title game. 

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