By Will Vandervort
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Clemson right guard Tyler Shatley describes Ohio State’s defensive line as big and strong.
“They have some good guys and they are athletic, too,” the senior said during Monday’s Orange Bowl Press Conference at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “That’s the biggest thing that stuck out to me was just how big and strong these guys look.
“They are a very good defensive line and it will be a great challenge for us.”
The seventh-ranked Buckeyes, who will play No. 12 Clemson in the Discover Orange Bowl on Friday, are tied for the national lead with 40 sacks this year. Four players on their defense have six or more sacks, including three on the defensive line.
Defensive end Noah Spence has a team-high eight sacks, while fellow defensive end Joey Bosa has 6.5. Defensive tackle Michael Bennett has seven sacks.
“They like to run a lot of games like everybody else, but I think what really gets them all of those sacks is their effort. They finish plays,” Clemson left tackle Brandon Thomas said. “They have high-motor guys. They are good ball players and we expect them to come out hard.”
On paper, it does not appear to be a good matchup for the Tigers. Clemson has allowed 33 sacks this year. The challenge with facing a defensive front like Ohio State’s is dealing with three guys that have proven they can consistently get pressure on the quarterback.
“We take that into consideration every week,” Thomas said. “We prepare for that in practice. Our (defensive front) are just as good as anyone’s in the nation, we think, so we practiced hard every week and try to prepare for them.
“Guys like (Bosa) and (Bennett) and all of those guys are good ball players, but we think we have the same amount of talent as anyone else.”
It’s no shot in the dark that the key to Clemson’s success will be keeping quarterback Tajh Boyd upright. When Boyd has been given ample time to throw the football, he has picked defenses apart. But when he is consistently harassed, just like any quarterback, he struggles.
“You have to be comfortable and you have to allow yourself to kind of be engaged and focused on what you want to accomplish when you step out there on that field,” Boyd said. “When you start to feel pressure a little bit, it throws you off. You feel pressure when it is not there.
“When pressure is coming, you can’t get comfortable if you get in this state of mind so you have to be aware, focused and dialed in every time you step out onto that field.”
If Boyd is given ample enough time to throw the football then wide receiver Sammy Watkins likes his chances against the Ohio State secondary. The Buckeyes have given up 752 yards and seven touchdowns in their last two games.
As big of a challenge as Ohio State’s defensive front is, Boyd and his talented crew of wide receivers are perhaps the best the Buckeyes have seen this year as well.
“It’s about getting Tajh in a rhythm,” Watkins said. “Once he is in a rhythm he can be just like Payton Manning or anybody. I think for him it is just manage the game and have fun. This game is all about executing the plan and I think we have a great plan.”