Post and Courier
September 16, 2014

Going deep: Can Clemson's explosive receivers exploit vulnerable Ohio State secondary?

Posted: 12/26/2013 07:00 a.m.
Updated: 12/26/2013 09:46 a.m.


By Aaron Brenner

Shaking off all his doldrums against a vulnerable foe on Nov. 30, Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner fired off 451 yards and four touchdowns through the air and the Wolverines came up just short of upsetting Ohio State, 42-41.

A week later, Connor Cook produced his first 300-yard passing game, winning the Big Ten championship game and lifting Michigan State to the Rose Bowl while forcing OSU to settle for the Orange Bowl instead of a national title berth.

Earlier in the season against the Buckeyes' secondary, Wisconsin's Joel Stave threw for 295 yards. Northwestern's Trevor Siemian went for 245 (on just 18 attempts) and so did Iowa's Jake Rudock (with three touchdowns.)

Ohio State is ranked No. 105 in Division I football against the pass, allowing 259.5 yards per game - despite never having faced a top-30 rated quarterback in the regular season or conference championship. In fact, the Buckeyes faced just one senior quarterback (Nate Scheelhause, Illinois) while drawing seven freshmen or sophomores.

What might Tajh Boyd, the nation's No. 7-rated passer and a fifth-year senior, be capable of for Clemson's explosive attack?

It's the dink-and-dunk as well as the long bombs. Clemson's tied for 15th in producing 10-yard pitch-and-catch plays; Ohio State is 111th in stopping them. The Tigers have seven passing gains of 60 yards or more, and Ohio State has allowed seven passing gains of 60 yards or more.

If the Tigers know they've got the upper hand in this matchup, they're not boasting about it.

"We've just got to continue to play Clemson football, because if we're clicking, we can play against anybody," junior receiver Adam Humphries said. "So we'll do what we do, and continue to make big plays down the field."

Junior Sammy Watkins is playing with extra incentive after injuring his right ankle on the second play from scrimmage of last year's Chick-fil-A Bowl, which the Tigers won without him 25-24 over LSU.

Watkins, Clemson's record-setting receiver with 14 100-yard games and seven this year, should be licking his chops. Ohio State allowed a 100-yard receiver in eight different games.

Penn State's Allen Robinson, the nation's No. 3 receiver, had 12 catches for 173 yards (both matching season-highs) and a touchdown against OSU. Jeremy Gallon, No. 9 nationally, had nine catches for 175 yards and a touchdown. Jared Abbrederis: 10 catches, 207 yards and a touchdown.

Again, not a lot of woofing from Watkins.

"I've just got to keep doing the things I've been doing, and keep working," Watkins said. "I've got to have fun and go out there and play."

In fact, Watkins was more interested in talking up Clemson's freshman receivers, who will likely replace Watkins when he makes his expected leap to the NFL.

"It's a good talented group. Some guys will have to step up and make plays in the Ohio State game," Watkins said. "Mike Williams, Germone Hopper, we've got a lot of guys working their way up, T.J. Green's going to be a great wide receiver one day. They definitely caught on at an early age."

Ohio State has allowed 21.3 points per game, against a predominantly pedestrian Big Ten schedule.

"They're a really good defense. They're one of the best groups we've seen, that's for sure," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "They're not 24-1 (the last two years) because they can't stop nobody.

"I think they do a nice job in the secondary with their scheme. They don't make a lot of mistakes," Swinney said. "They've been a little inconsistent in a game or two, but big-picture, they've competed at a high level. So it's a good matchup. We like our guys, and I know they like their guys."

Boyd once picked Clemson over Ohio State as a high school recruit, so it's a dream come true for him to battle the Buckeyes in his final collegiate game.

"You don't play teams like this often," Boyd said. "You want to play a few teams. You want to play Southern Cal, you want to play Ohio State, you want to play Michigan, you want to play Oregon, Bama. Those five schools are teams I think everybody wants to play against."