Presser Bullets: Kerry Coombs, Shaun Wade and Ohio State’s Defense Dissect Matchup With Trevor Lawrence and Clemson’s High-Powered Offense

By Zack Carpenter on December 29, 2020 at 4:17 pm

Clemson has the most complete team in college football.

Statistically speaking, anyway.

The Tigers are the only team in the sport ranked in the top 11 nationally in total offense, scoring offense, total defense and scoring defense. While Clemson's offense took to the virtual podiums earlier on Tuesday, Ohio State countered by sending its defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs and a half-dozen of its defensive standouts into the media blitz.

Here is a rundown of what Coombs, Jonathon Cooper, Haskell Garrett, Justin Hilliard, Tommy Togiai, Shaun Wade and Pete Werner had to say:

Kerry Coombs

  • Coombs sees a lot of similarities between Ohio State's receivers and Clemson's receivers, and he hopes the Buckeyes' defense getting the opportunity to practice against the talent in their own receivers room will help his own defense.
  • Coombs says Trevor Lawrence is "deceptively fast" and is "one of the best college quarterbacks of all-time." He says Lawrence does a great job side stepping in the pocket, avoiding pressure, his pre-snap recognition and improvising when the play is altered.
  • Ohio State and Clemson recruit against each other for the same players: "I think they're great recruiters and do a phenomenal job when they get kids on their campus. I think that's a great battle. I think we do a good job of identifying the same kids across the country."
  • Coombs compared Tommy Togiai to Robert Landers in terms of their ascension. He says Togiai is "strong as an ox" and "relentless."
  • Coombs said he's never seen something in his coaching career like he's seen this year with Haskell Garrett, who got shot in the face in August and is now an All-American defensive tackle, and “I'm glad. I hope I never see it again.”
  • He believes that Garrett got "a new lease on life" and that after his gunshot wound, his own interactions with Garrett have been bright and upbeat.
  • On Clemson's explosive offense: "I don't think anyone stops them. You wanna try to slow them down. ... If you went into a game and said we're gonna take this one thing away, they have other ways to beat you."
  • He says that Jonathon Cooper has "pushed all of his chips into this matchup" and that "we are going to see Coop's best effort in this game."
  • Coombs says that this game "means a lot" to Shaun Wade and that there's "no question" that being ejected in the first half of last season's Fiesta Bowl "was really hard on him."

Shaun Wade

  • Wade respects Clemson's receivers on the outside and in the slot, saying the Tigers have a group of talented playmakers the Buckeyes' secondary needs to be focused on.
  • On his first-team All-American honor: "I feel at the end of the day, I can always do better. ... I'm not focused on that, I'm just trying to win a national championship."
  • Wade was ejected in the first half of last year's Fiesta Bowl matchup with Clemson, but he says there's no pressure to have to play well this time around: "At the end of the day, it's a team sport not a me sport. ... It's a new team, new day, new us. I'm just looking forward to getting a chance to play."
  • Wade believes his targeting penalty did change the momentum of the game and helped give Clemson an edge.
  • On whether or not Ohio State-Clemson is a rivalry: "I characterize it as we've never beat Clemson. So we've gotta beat them. ... In our past history, we've never beat them so that's our goal and we'll go from there."
  • Wade believes that everybody on the team this year had a hand in last season's loss to Clemson and that everybody on the team still has a bad taste in their mouths after the defeat.
  • He says that Sevyn Banks is a player to watch on Friday: "Just watch, he's definitely gonna make plays. ... He's laser focused."

Jonathon Cooper

  • This is the third time Cooper will face Clemson during his Ohio State career: "My freshman year I didn't see the field too much and last year I was out so I didn't see the field. This year, to have the impact I do on the team and being healthy means the most."
  • Cooper says he has "no regrets" about returning for another season despite this year not going as he planned with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Cooper doesn't believe Ryan Day is approaching this game differently than any other: "With Coach Day, every game he approaches with the same intensity and the same mindset."
  • On Pete Werner's position switch: "I feel like his biggest thing he's stepped up in is his leadership. ... He's someone who guys can rely on."
  • Cooper says the players would have loved to go down to New Orleans to enjoy the city and the food there – and for him, personally, the seafood – but he says in the end "we're going there to win a football game. It's all business."
  • Cooper: "Our key word is fight, and with everything we've faced this year we just keep fighting. ... With Coach Day as our leader, he's done a fantastic job."
  • Cooper said with a laugh that he is "probably not" going to come back for another year at Ohio State.

Haskell Garrett

  • On his second-team All-American award: "I'm really honored. It's not just me out there. It's a group of guys. It's not only my honor, it's theirs too. ... My success is our success."
  • Garrett is impressed with Travis Etienne's vision, speed, ability to run downhill and his propensity to hit holes: "We've got a big challenge in front of us."
  • Garrett is happy that there isn't as long of a buildup for this season's playoff game as opposed to the weeks-long gap during most seasons.
  • Garrett, who did not participate in Ohio State's virtual Senior Day, says he has not made a decision on whether or he will return for another season or enter the 2021 NFL draft: "I'm still debating that, and that's something that I'm gonna have to go over with myself and my family after the season."
  • On the importance of getting pressure on Trevor Lawrence but also guarding against his running ability: "It's gonna be a big challenge. He's a dynamic quarterback. Usually guys that big and long don't run a lot. ... But we know the game is changing a lot and a lot of these quarterbacks are dual threats. ... We need to be aware that he can extend plays and if the play breaks down and there's good coverage, he's gonna try to get it done with his legs."
  • Garrett doesn't believe Clemson does much different on offense or defense than any of the teams Ohio State has faced in the Big Ten, but the Tigers are disciplined and stick to their assignments consistently.

Tommy Togiai

  • Togiai believes Clemson's offensive line works very well together and does a good job opening up gaps for Etienne and the Tigers' running backs.
  • Togiai says that during the early part of quarantine he worked on getting quicker and faster, and he believes it's shown on the field.
  • Togiai graduated from Highland High School in Pocatello, Idaho, the same school that New Orleans quarterback/utility player Taysom Hill attended: "I only talked to Taysom a few times, but he's a great dude. He's one of the guys you look up to because he's one of the guys who made it out of Idaho."
  • Trevor Lawrence is "faster than he seems," Togiai says, and the Buckeyes need to be aware of their rushing lanes and stay disciplined.
  • It's "incredible," Togiai says, to see the adversity that Haskell Garrett has overcome to get to this point in his career.

Pete Werner

  • He says that the biggest challenge of defending Etienne is the fact that he is dangerous in both the running and passing game.
  • Even though Ohio State has only played two games since its struggles against Indiana, Werner believes the Buckeyes' defense has solved some of the problems that were shown during that game: "I can't wait to show the nation, to show everybody that we've bounced back from the issues that have shown on film."
  • Giving up big plays, he says, is one of the biggest reasons Ohio State lost to Clemson last season. He credits Lawrence for his big-play ability and says the Buckeye defense needs to stay disciplined in defending him.
  • Working his way up from a special teams player to being one of the defensive leaders and team leaders has been a great journey, Werner says.
  • On Ryan Day's leadership: "He's been for the players first. We talk about so many obstacles getting in our way, and he's a guy that's always gonna be there for you. He asks the players consistently what he can do for them and what we need from him. ... He's a guy you always wanna be next to and wanna be surrounded by his leadership."

Justin Hilliard

  • On going up against former St. Xavier (Cincinnati) High School teammate Matt Bockhorst, a starting Clemson offensive lineman: "I think that's my third former teammate I've played against this year. Me and Matt go way back. ... He was one of the most natural, crazy teammates I've had. He loves contact. He's my type of guy."
  • On defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs: "Coach Coombs is one of the most influential coaches I've ever had. He always says that the team runs the fastest and hits the hardest wins."
  • Hilliard believes he's gotten into a better rhythm at linebacker the past few games. He says that a lot of times when you're playing, you just need to make the first hit and first play to get yourself going. He compared it to an old Chris Farley entrance from Late Night with David Lettermen.
  • Hilliard: "Once you make that first big play, you're in the flow and everything is easy."
  • On Pete Werner: "Pete's a beast. If you turn on the tape, he's always gonna be running to the ball. He's a huge part of our defense, and I'm excited to see what he does Friday."
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