Heading into the Fiesta Bowl, it’s no secret this Clemson team hasn’t faced any real competition throughout the 2019 season. We all know what this offense is capable of. It is basically the same group that steamrolled through the playoff last season en route to its third national title. On the other side of the ball though, it’s the defense that most seem to think hasn’t been tested.

On paper, Wake Forest was the best offense this defense saw all season. However, the Deacs were missing their top two wideouts when the two teams met, one being the teams biggest playmaker. Boston College was the best rushing team they saw, but when they met, BC was without its QB, rendering them one dimensional, which in turn allowed the Tigers defense to key on the running game and shut it down entirely.

It was the Tarheels who gave this defense its most legitimate test of the season. UNC finished the season 14th in the country in total offense. Clemson held them to 290 total yards, and just 144 through the air, however they did give up over 4 yards per carry to Tarheel running backs.

The Clemson defense has only given up 106.2 yards per game on the ground, and allow just 3.0 yards per carry. Regardless of the competition, that is pretty stout. Having said that, they haven’t seen a running game like the Buckeyes have, and stopping JK Dobbins will be one of the biggest keys for the Tigers.

The Tigers must keep the Buckeyes from picking up large chunks of yards on the ground. Keeping them behind the sticks and forcing them into second and long and third and long will be key. Justin Fields has shown that he can be confused by throwing different looks at him, and forcing them into passing situations will play right into the hands of Brent Venables. The Buckeyes are 95th in the country when it comes to sacks allowed and this defense is really good at getting pressure on the QB on passing downs.

Keeping Justin Fields from making big plays with his legs will factor into shutting down the run game as well. In passing situations, Fields has shown himself to be impatient at times when his first read isn’t open or as soon as he feels the pressure. Keeping him contained is a must. The Tiger defenders can not over pursue and leave running lanes open that allow him to escape.

Another key will be pass protection. Everyone knows about Chase Young and his ability to get after the passer and the big guys up front will need to ensure Trevor Lawrence has time. This offense is at its best when it is attacking downfield, and those kinds of plays take time to develop. The Buckeyes like to move Young around and it will be imperative that the offensive line knows where he is each and every play.

The Clemson OL is 3rd in the country in sack percentage rate and tops in the country when it comes to efficiency. LT Jackson Carman, who protects Lawrence’s blind side, might be the guy matched up on Young the most. Carman, a native of Ohio, is familiar with Young and recently gave his take on how best to defend him.

“I feel great, I mean, I’ve watched Chase since before I even got to college. I’ve been watching him his whole career and he’s an amazing player who I’ve looked up to in some ways, just the way he goes about doing some things. I’m really excited to go up against him because, you know, he’s the best, so you always want to go against the best. We just have to play within our scheme and not get outside of what we do. From an individual standpoint, basically if you just go at him and throw a super hard punch at him, he’s gonna take your hands and you’re gone, so you gotta sit back and be patient with him, let him come to you, and then just try and take up as much space as possible when he gets to you.”

The Tigers are likely to need their RB’s and TE’s to help out in pass protection. It’s no secret that Travis Etienne and Lyn J Dixon have had their issues at times picking up blitzes, and in this game, the backs are going to have to step up and not allow Trevor to get blown up. Same goes for JC Chalke and Luke Price, as both will be asked to help slow down the Ohio State pass rush.

Stop the run and protect the QB. If the Tigers can do that, chances are pretty good they will be defending their title in New Orleans on January 13.

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