CLEMSON - The Big Ten is traditionally known for its big uglies. For its beefy Midwest boys brought up on meat and potatoes, grown men with raw power.
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"But they've done a good job at recruiting athletic ability there, too," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables countered Tuesday after football practice, addressing Ohio State's offensive front.
"That's a school that always attracts high-level, elite offensive linemen, and you're seeing right now a group of veteran guys that can knock you off the ball and bloody your nose."
In the rare air of teams averaging north of 300 rushing yards per game, most are the product of tricky triple option formations used by teams such as Army, Navy and Georgia Tech.
BCS Championship contender Auburn leads the nation with 335.7 rushing yards a game with Heisman finalist tailback Tre Mason and gazelle-like dual threat quarterback Nick Marshall.
Ohio State's not very far behind at 317.5 yards per game, and its similar duo of Carlos Hyde and Braxton Miller is the test Clemson faces Jan. 3 in the Orange Bowl.
Ohio State is the only team in the country averaging 7.0 yards per carry.
"They play with toughness, running downhill. I admire them for that," Venables said. "In crucial crunch-time situations, they're not trying to trick you, they're trying to overpower you and out-physical you. They've been really successful doing that."
Asked specifically how to slow down the Buckeyes' ground attack, Venables turned to the word "physical" four times in a row.
"We're going to have to play really well physically, first and foremost," Venables said. "Probably our biggest challenge, physically, of the year, because they're physical on the perimeter, and the quarterback's a physical runner. He's big, and he's super fast. We haven't faced anybody with his kind of speed at quarterback."
Ever the longtime Oklahoma coordinator, Venables had an apt Big 12 comparison for Ohio State's Miller and Hyde.
"You can probably compare them to (Texas') Vince Young and Cedric Benson, when they had that combination," Venables said. "Two big powerful guys, both with good top-end speed and power to run between the tackles."
True freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander, who never appeared in a game due to a groin injury suffered in fall camp and will take a redshirt for the 2013 season, is back in practice re-learning the fundamentals.
"He's done well. Yeah, he's done well," Venables said. "Think he's feeling better and feeling more confident, and getting his smile back a little bit."
Rumors have circulated that Alexander, the prize of Clemson's recruiting class last February, has considered transferring due to homesickness. Head coach Dabo Swinney said Saturday Alexander is "looking good" on the practice field.
Alexander's twin brother, Mackenro, is off to the national title game as an Auburn rookie. He's appeared in nine games this year, making five tackles.
CBS Sports and Sports Illustrated became the sixth and seventh publications to name Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley a first-team All-American Tuesday.
Beasley's 12 sacks are tied for third in the nation.
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins was named second-team All-American by CBS and the Associated Press; Beasley was an AP second-teamer as well.
Watkins and quarterback Tajh Boyd were SI's honorable mention All-Americans.
Wait and see
Junior linebacker Stephone Anthony has been mentioned by a couple of teammates as seriously considering his option this offseason to test the NFL draft waters.
Anthony, Clemson's leading tackler (120, with 13.5 for a loss), said he submitted the proper evaluation paperwork to the NFL Draft Advisory Board, but downplayed his attention to the matter.
"I'm just waiting to see what happens," Anthony said. "I'm just interested to see where I stand and what my grade will be."
Asked if he expects to return to Clemson in 2014, Anthony answered, "We'll see."
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