By Will Vandervort
Fitting the gap. What does that mean, exactly?
That term is heard a lot when talking about football, especially on the defensive side of the ball and especially when it refers to stopping the run. The defense looks to fill gaps versus the run or “fit” a player into each of them, using them as the aiming point in blitzes. This can be done by using a defensive lineman, a linebacker or a safety.
But when it comes to stopping Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde, fitting the gap doesn’t mean a team is going to stop him.
“He is not just running because guys are missing fits,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said, “he is running through and over people quite often.”
Hyde, who—along with the No. 7 Buckeyes—will face the Tigers in the Discover Orange Bowl on Jan. 3, has rushed for 1,408 yards this season, despite missing the first three games of the year due to a suspension. After getting off to a slow start in wins over Florida A&M and Wisconsin, he has rushed for at least 111 yards in eight straight games, including 246 against Illinois an and 226 against Michigan.
During the eight-game stretch, he has averaged 160.3 yards and nearly two touchdowns a game.
“Gosh, that is a big physical back,” Clemson defensive end Corey Crawford said. “We have already gone up against some great backs this year starting with Todd Gurley, and then the running back from Boston College. He was pretty good.
“This is just another challenge for us to stop another running back. We are just going to have to wrap him up and hit him low and just be physical with him.”
Clemson (10-2) has done a pretty good job of stopping the big physical running backs this year. After Gurley opened the season rushing for 154 yards and two scores for Georgia, the Tigers clamped up, holding the nation’s leading rusher, Boston College’s Andre Williams, to 70 yards and 22 carries and then the SEC’s leading rusher, South Carolina’s Mike Williams, to 22 yards on 15 carries.
“It’s about toughness, attitude and technique. You have to get a lot of hats to the ball,” Venables said.
Then the Tigers have to make the tackle. Hyde is a master at breaking tackles at the point of attack, just ask Michigan. The Wolverines could not slow him down as he ran over people all afternoon.
“He is very physical, breaks a lot of tackles and runs through a lot of trash,” Venables said. “He plays well behind his pads. He has good speed, catches the ball well and is a very good and physical complete player.”
Hyde also runs behind a good offensive line. The Buckeyes are averaging 317.5 yards per game on the ground—third in the nation. They are averaging 7.0 yards per carry—best in the nation.
“They are pretty good. Their tackles are really NFL type linemen as are both of their guards and the center,” Crawford said. “They are all real good. It is going to be a challenge for us as a D-line.
“Size wise they remind me of Boston College, but I really did not see anyone we played with their physical aspect.
“We have to do what we have been doing. We have a good physical offensive line, too. So when we get to go good-on-good, we have to take those reps seriously and try to get everything we can out of it.”
And when they get a chance to tackle Hyde, the Tigers have to be ready for anything and more importantly, they have to make the tackle.
“It’s basically about flying after the ball and not allowing him to get that extra yard after the first contact,” safety Jayron Kearse said.
Of course, it’s easier said than done.