CLEMSON - At least the Connor Shaw Show could be a wakeup call for Clemson.
The way South Carolina's tuck-and-run quarterback ripped through the Tigers on third downs last month can't have left the minds of Clemson's defensive players.
Excluding a couple of sacks, Shaw carried 20 times for 114 yards on a night which included seven first downs - four of which converted third-down tries - and six gains of 10 yards or more, but none longer than 15. A slow and steady, constricting yet dominating effort in USC's 31-17 win on Nov. 30.
"Rush lanes are the most important keys," Clemson defensive tackle DeShawn Williams said. "He found some gaps and just got through."
The Tigers were able to bottle up Shaw's bulldozing tailback, Mike Davis (15 carries, a season-low 22 yards). They took one away, but not the other.
Much as Clemson might want to burn that tape and throw it away, it should be a valuable tool to prepare for Ohio State's offense in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 3.
Out with Shaw and Davis. In with Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde, both 1,000-yard rushers despite each missing multiple games and Big Ten Players of the Year at their respective positions.
"That's a pretty lethal combination, man," Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. "They're as good as anybody out there, I promise you. Both got a great blend of power and speed. They've caused a lot of people fits."
Shaw crushed the Tigers with his sure-footed agility, supersonic decision-making and pinpoint running angles. Miller's more of a catch-me-if-you-can prototype.
"You're talking about a guy that . we haven't seen a guy like him," Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said. "He is a running back, a legit 4.4 guy. He can flat-out run, so you don't have a lot of room for error with him.
"You see a lot of good running quarterbacks that might get a big run for 20 yards. This guy's running for 50, 60, 70 and leaving people."
Miller is barely ahead of Auburn's Nick Marshall (1,033-1,023) for the rushing lead among quarterbacks from major conferences, and he's added 10 scores.
"He's a human highlight reel. He's done it against everybody, multiple times every game," Venables said. "He can flip the field in a hurry. He's a handful."
Ohio State leads the nation in 10-yard rushing gains (141), doing most of its damage on first downs rather than waiting to pull out the drive-saver on second or third.
"When he drops back to pass, if something's locked down in the secondary, he can pull the ball down and get a substantial amount of yards," Tigers safety Jayron Kearse said. "So that's something he does well, is improvise. If I take my eyes off him for one second, he can pull the ball down and run right behind my back."
It was suggested to Venables, in the wake of Shaw's dagger-plunging scrambles, he designate a "spy" for Miller - which essentially would take linebacker Stephone Anthony or linebacker Spencer Shuey or someone else and make his sole job containing the QB run.
"Well, you know, I think you do that and sometimes it's good, sometimes it isn't," Venables said. "Sometimes it's a linebacker, sometimes it's a DB, sometimes it's a lineman. Sometimes it still doesn't work . if that were the answer, all those running quarterbacks wouldn't be worth a dang. Right? Just do that."
Besides a couple of nice efforts by Syracuse's Terrel Hunt, N.C. State's Pete Thomas and The Citadel's Ben Dupree, Clemson was pretty stout against rushing quarterbacks this year.
"It's a chess match," Venables said. "Guys up front have got to do a good job of keeping him in the pocket, but you can't just run by him either up the field and create lanes. Does that temper your pass rush to a certain degree? Maybe so."
While it wouldn't hurt to pay extra attention to the threat of Miller's legs, he is capable of making opponents pay with his arm. He only averages 169.1 passing yards per game, but he has thrown for 22 touchdowns against five interceptions.
Besides, there's also the issue of Hyde, the only player in the nation averaging 7 yards (7.69) per carry with more than a dozen (14) touchdowns. At 235 pounds, he's the biggest tailback Clemson has seen this year, edging out Georgia's Todd Gurley and Boston College's Andre Williams.
"You can't just stop the running back. You gotta stop the quarterback. You gotta stop them both," Anthony said. "I think we're putting together a good plan for that, and we'll see what we got on the 3rd."