CLEMSON — Clemson defensive players, to a man, say Ohio State’s offense is most comparable to South Carolina — and a souped-up version at that.
En route to a 12-0 start, the No. 7 Buckeyes (12-1) topped 590 yards in five games and scored at least 31 points per contest. They boast the nation’s No. 3 rushing offense (317.5) and No. 7 total attack (518.5).
The dual-threat at quarterback draws the Gamecocks’ comparison most often, relating Connor Shaw to the Buckeyes’ Braxton Miller.
In November, Brent Venables’ defense held South Carolina to its second-lowest yard output of the season (318), while three of the Gamecocks’ four touchdowns came off Tiger turnovers in their 31-17 win.
Shaw burned Clemson for the second time in three seasons on the ground, totaling 94 rushing yards. He accounted for eight of USC’s 10 third down conversions on the ground (the second-highest allowed this season by the Tigers).
Venables’ analysis that night in Columbia was curt, but he’s had time since to digest what went wrong.
“One, you can’t give them those lanes,” he said, “and two, when the quarterback has the football as a designed runner — they have you outnumbered unless you put the whole defense down there. Sometimes they’re throwing it and sometimes they’re not.
“They got outside of us a couple of times early and extended some drives. … Sometimes we’re in coverage and sometimes we’re in pressure and they pick up the blitz perfect. They did a good job of blocking us, and we didn’t do a good job of putting (the players) in a better position to be successful.”
The second-year Tigers coordinator says it’s not as easy as putting a “spy” on run-pass threats like Shaw and Miller.
“It’s not just about a guy that spies all day as the answer,” Venables said. “If that were the answer, all of those running quarterbacks wouldn’t be worth a dang if they would just do that, right?
“That’s why multidimensional quarterbacks are good. Not just a runner, that’s one thing. If they’re just a passer — that’s one thing, but if they can do both, that makes it a little bit more difficult and it becomes a chess match.”
Clemson makes no bones about its pressure prowess: No. 1 in tackles for loss (113) and No. 22 in sacks (33). But facing this kind of attack throws a wrench into the typical plan.
“Those guys up front have to do a good job of keeping him in the pocket,” Venables said, “but you can’t just run by him either up the field and create lanes. That’s critical. Does that temper your pass rush to a certain degree? Maybe so.
“Sometimes when we’ve had coverage called, we didn’t do a good job staying in front of the quarterback. That’s tough when they can do that.”
Miller joins the Tigers’ Tajh Boyd in the top 15 nationally in QB rating (157.94), but his legs have carried him down the stretch. In his past four games, Miller rushed for 623 yards and eight of his 10 ground scores.
The Ohio native is third nationally in runs of 30 or more yards (nine) and has five of 40 or more.
Venables said Miller is the kind of player that keeps him up at night.
“He’s a human highlight reel,” Venables said. “He’s done it against everybody and usually multiple times a game. He can flip the field in a hurry. He’s 24-1 for a reason. I don’t think it’s because they play a bunch of chumps and dummy coaches.
“They’ve got a pretty good system and a pretty good and experienced group of players that they know what they’re doing.”