FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Back for an Orange Bowl mulligan, Clemson isn’t taking anything for granted as a modest underdog to Ohio State.
Two years ago, Clemson was the favorite against West Virginia, but the game spiraled out of control near the end of the first half and the Tigers lost by 37 points.
“What happened before was disappointing. I think it was a learning experience for us,” quarterback Tajh Boyd said Monday before Clemson’s first full practice in South Florida.
“If you look back at it and look at the roster, the team was so young,” he said. “We’re just going to try to take full advantage of it, make sure we understand what we’re here to do.
“It’s going to be a fun experience, but we’re here to try to win a ball game.”
Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins are the principles in offensive coordinator Chad Morris’ scheme, which can cruise like an Italian sports car on I-95.
The pace and long, athletic receivers such as Watkins, Martavis Bryant and Mike Williams are challenging for an Ohio State defense that has taken its lumps this season and could be missing several more components Friday.
“I don’t know that we have seen a receiver corps as a whole the entire year like that,” said defensive coordinator Luke Fickell when asked if Ohio State had seen a comparable offense to Clemson’s. “The combination of size and speed is something that’s really intriguing.
“Whether we’ve seen one like it all year or not, the reality is 6-foot-5 is 6-foot-5 and 4.3, 4.4 whatever it is, is fast.”
Fickell sees a similar offense every day. When Urban Meyer came out of “retirement” to jumpstart the OSU program, he inquired if Chad Morris might be interested in joining him. Morris considers Meyer and OSU offensive coordinator Tom Herman friends, and over dinner they joked about whether it might come back to haunt them in a bowl game.
“We see a bunch of that similar stuff to what they do,” Fickell said, “maybe not with as much of the vertical game and some of the size of the wideouts, but that’s going to be a challenge to us all.”
Pass defense has been Ohio State’s tender underbelly. In the loss to Michigan State, the Buckeyes allowed 304 yards. The previous week, Michigan popped them for 451. Now they are looking at a game against the nation’s No. 11 passing offense without top pass rusher Noah Spence and top corner Bradley Roby. Plus, middle linebacker Curtis Grant has been nursing back and ankle injuries and strongside linebacker Joshua Perry had surgery on a finger several weeks ago that’s still tender.
As the triggerman, Boyd is the one player they analyze most. Last year against LSU, he had one of the best games in his three seasons as a starter, two years ago here, one of the worst.
“The reality is you got to do what you do,” Fickell said. “And you’ve got to continue to get better at those kinds of things. We know he’s got all the ability to make plays — I mean, we recruited him, too.”
Boyd holds 10 ACC passing, total offense and scoring records and has set nearly 60 school marks with a handful in reach.
“Whenever you have an opportunity to go out and make a play, you have go take advantage of it,” Boyd said. “I’m sure coach Meyer and all of those guys are doing everything in their power to make sure they adjust and figure out a way to correct it.
“When we go out here, we execute the system. We do what we’re coached to do,” h said. “I think we can go out there and have anything we want.”
Notes: Clemson practice in full pads at Barry University in Miami but will be in shells today. They finish Thursday. … Turnovers have been devastating for Clemson in the losses to South Carolina and Florida State. Clemson is 32-3 under Swinney when winning the turnover margin. “We could not possibly do more drills on taking care of the ball,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “In our preseason study, the goal was 17-18 turnovers for the course of the season, that is national championship caliber. We were right there with 16 heading into the South Carolina game, but that game got away from us.”