Contrary to popular belief, slowing down the Ohio State Buckeyes passing attack—not the rushing attack—will be vital to the success of the Clemson Tigers when the two teams clash in the 2014 Orange Bowl on Jan. 3 (8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN).
In fact, if Clemson can effectively shut down Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller, the team will be the outright favorite.
Who saw that coming back when the draw was initially announced?
Throughout the 2013 season, the Buckeyes have dominated opponents through a powerful ground game. The team boasts the No. 3-ranked rushing attack in the nation, averaging 317.5 yards per game while finding the end zone 42 times.
Ohio State has rushed for more than 260 yards 11 times this season, including topping that mark in seven consecutive games.
Whether it’s the versatile running of Miller (153 CAR, 1,033 YDS, 10 TD) or the power game of running back Carlos Hyde (183 CAR, 1,408 YDS, 14 TD), opponents have been left in the dust when faced with the task of stopping the duo.
And if we’re being completely honest, there’s a very good chance that the Tigers run defense will be the Buckeyes’ next victim. The unit ranks just No. 52 against the run (152.6 YPG) while giving up 19 rushing touchdowns on 3.7 yards per carry.
If you recall, even the nation’s top-ranked run defense (Michigan State) couldn’t slow down Ohio State’s ground game in the Big Ten title match—273 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries.
However, it’s been the passing attack that has fueled the Buckeyes in their most dominating performances this year.
More specifically, it's been Miller's accuracy when throwing the ball.
|Ohio State Passing Attack w/Braxton Miller|
|Comp. Less Than 60%||Comp. More Than 60%|
|Avg. Margin (Points)||+6.5||+28.3|
|3rd Down Conv. (%)||34.1||61.4|
When Miller has been limited in that aspect of his game, Ohio State struggles.
For instance, take the Buckeyes' only loss of the season—34-24 to the Spartans on Dec. 7. Miller was held to just 101 passing yards and a touchdown on 8-of-21 passing.
It was easily his worst performance of 2013.
Sure, Miller got his yards on the ground, rushing for 142 yards and two scores on 21 carries. However, Michigan State zeroed in on the passing attack, making the big stops when the team needed them.
Case in point: Ohio State was just 1-of-10 on third down conversions.
That kind of “bend, but don’t break” strategy will be one that Clemson should strongly consider implementing. Especially given that the team has one of the best secondaries in all of college football.
Through 12 games, the unit ranks No. 15 against the pass (197.8 YPG). The Tigers have given up just 12 passing touchdowns while recording 16 interceptions on the season.
Furthermore, the secondary has been on somewhat of a tear over the last four games, holding opponents to an average of 132.3 passing yards and conceding just two passing touchdowns.
Still, the Buckeyes present Clemson with a formidable opponent.
“Miller and Hyde are as good a combination of quarterback and running back as there is,” Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, via ClemsonTigers.com. “They have power and speed. … This will be our greatest challenge physically this year.”
And if Clemson hopes to hurdle this challenge with success, the team needs to forget about the run and ambush the pass.
It’s a strategy that is so outrageous that it just might work.
All stats and rankings used in this article are courtesy of CFBstats.com.