By Will Vandervort
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — This past spring Ohio State’s offensive coaches, Tom Herman and a couple of his offensive staff members, visited Clemson to learn a little bit more about Chad Morris’ power-spread offense, especially the way the Tigers incorporate the quarterback into the running game.
“That was a good visit. We did not know we were going to end up playing each other in the bowl game, but we lied to them though on a lot of the stuff,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney joked following Tuesday’s practice at Barry University in Miami, Fla.
The Clemson coaching staff must not have lied about too much. Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller is one of the best duel threat quarterbacks in the country and has already rushed for 1,033 yards and 10 scores this season.
“Anytime you play a dual threat quarterback, there’s always that element of running then pulling up and throwing the ball,” Clemson safety Robert Smith said. “I think a lot of people underestimate Braxton Miller’s passing ability. I actually think that Braxton Miller, the more I watch film, is a great passer. A lot of people don’t see it as much because he can run really well. I think that is another element that makes you respect him even more because he is a great passer.
“He has a great arm and strong arm.”
But the main reason the two staffs got together was to talk football and football strategy. Texas A&M’s offensive staff was supposed to come as well but they had to postpone at the last minute.
“We just talked ball for a couple of days so it was really good and it was very beneficial,” Swinney said. “Hopefully, they told us a bunch of good stuff. That’s a good group of guys they have on that staff.”
Ohio State thinks highly of Clemson, too. Herman actually has a relationship with Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris that goes back to when Morris was a high school coach in Texas and Herman recruited the area.
“I like Chad. He’s a good dude,” Herman said. “We go way back to when I was ‑‑ you know, I spent 11 years coaching college football in the state of Texas and recruited his schools and have known him all the way from the time he was down as the head coach of the Bay City Black Cats.
“So me and Chad go way back. I wouldn’t say we’re best buddies. We don’t go on vacation together or anything like that, but we do spend a lot of time talking football over the phone. It’s been a very good, productive working relationship.”
Clemson’s defensive personnel have noticed that relationship when watching the Buckeyes on tape. There are a lot of similarities in what Ohio State is doing and what they see on the practice field each day with Tajh Boyd and company.
“It’s funny. We say it all the time in our meeting. It’s not just them. It’s a lot of these offenses that you’re seeing,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “You watch the 49ers with (Colin) Kaepernick, it’s like all these boys went to the same retreat, the same clinic, and stealing ball plays from each other.
“I was watching Oregon last night (in the Alamo Bowl). Hopefully, our guys were too. I’m like, that’s what (Ohio State does). Whether it’s a formation or it’s a style of run or it’s a style of play-action pass off of it. So, yeah, there’s definitely some similarities, but there’s always tweaks, and then there’s ‑‑ again, we’re going against a scout team every day, and our scout team, it’s hard for them to emulate, truth be known, because of the sheer physical ability and certainly the speed as well.
“But, yeah, there are similarities, but I think there are similarities to a lot of offenses that are in the spread with athletic quarterbacks these days.”
Ohio State, who will play the Tigers in the Discover Orange Bowl on Friday, likes to do a lot of the same things in the running game as Clemson, especially with the quarterback in the zone read, the quarterback power and the quarterback counter.
“They are a little different in technical things, but it has been great, just like I’m sure it has been great for them practicing against each other while trying to prepare for this game, because there are a lot of schematic similarities in the running game and in the passing game,” Swinney said.
The Buckeyes are a little different than Clemson in some things, especially in the passing game. Ohio State does not want to really throw the ball unless they have to where the Tigers want to be a little more balanced and rely on Boyd’s arm and their wide receivers.
The Buckeyes rather depend on the legs of Braxton Miller and their big powerful running game.
“They have a 4.4 quarterback,” Swinney said. “Our guy doesn’t quite run a 4.4. I think you play to your strengths each and every year, whatever they are. Some years you run it more and some years you throw it more. Some years you have a quarterback that maybe you want to involve more.
“We have tried to strive for a little more balance over the last few years, and this year we have been a little heavy towards the passing game, but again, it is all designed to give us the best chance to win.”