It’s been several weeks since the Ohio State defense has been tested by an offense that is capable of taking over a game. That’s about to change in a big way on Friday as the Buckeyes continue their preparation for Heisman finalist quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the potent Clemson Tigers.
On Tuesday, defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs met with the media to discuss the development of the defensive unit and the large task that looms.
Despite missing two games due to a positive COVID-19 test, Lawrence has been nothing short of brilliant once again this season, securing his status as the clear top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft next spring. Of course, Lawrence’s talents are nothing new to Ohio State, who did well to slow him down early in last year’s Fiesta Bowl matchup.
But where Lawrence really hurt the Buckeyes a season ago was on the ground, a facet of his game perhaps the Buckeyes weren’t prepared to account for. Lawrence carried the ball 16 times in that game, rushing for 106 critical yards as the Tigers mounted their comeback. In Clemson’s most recent game, Lawrence consistently victimized a quality Notre Dame defense with his feet, picking up yards on the ground and extending drives. As if Lawrence’s arm wasn’t enough for Coombs to stress over leading up the game, his ability to burn a defense on his own only adds to the job.
“You will see when players have angles on him and he outruns the angle,” Coombs said of Lawrence. “I think that the thing that — he does so many things very, very well. So I would say he’s arguably one of the great college football quarterbacks of all time based on his production and winning games.
“He is a play extender, and he does a great job of avoiding the rush, sidestepping the rush, getting outside the pocket, running the ball, or extending the play and throwing the ball. And he makes very, very, very few poor decisions. I think he does a great job with his pre-snap recognition. He’s got a plan in mind when he catches the snap. But when the plan is altered, he does a great job of adapting to that.”
While it all starts with the quarterback, Clemson certainly isn’t lacking talent elsewhere either. Running back Travis Etienne and receiver Amari Rodgers are among the best in the country at their positions. Coombs knows they will make some plays on Friday. However, he said the key will be limiting the damage.
“I don’t think anybody stops them. I think you want to try to slow them down,” Coombs said. “You want to try to contain them. You want to try to eliminate those big plays. They do it to everybody. Their explosive tape is the longest tape you’ve ever seen.”
Coombs added, “They have a formula. They’ve got talent across the board from the numbers to the numbers. And so if you went into a game and said, we’re going to take this one thing away, they have plenty to beat you somewhere else. And so you have to prepare for all of it, and you have to play a great game for four quarters in order to have a chance at the end.”
Ohio State will certainly need all hands on deck against Clemson in order to limit that explosiveness, something they haven’t had for several weeks now for various reasons. The safeties, whose play has come under the most scrutiny this season, have also been hit the hardest by attrition in recent weeks. Josh Proctor missed Ohio State’s game at Michigan State, and Marcus Hooker did not play in the Big Ten Championship game. Coombs said on Monday, however, that the unit is trending toward being much healthier in time for Friday’s showdown.
“That’s the COVID environment of adapting and overcoming and accommodating, and we would certainly like to be much closer to full strength on Friday,” Coombs said.