By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Among the story threads flapping in the steady breeze across South Florida this week are several about Clemson’s near and distant future.
Playing Ohio State should be a good barometer in judging the program’s progress under Dabo Swinney, and polls aside if this team with a new quarterback next season could be a contender again for the ACC title.
Fittingly there’s been a good deal of speculation among those on the Clemson media bus about three juniors who asked the NFL Draft Advisory board for information that could determine whether they return for a final season. Vic Beasley, Stephone Anthony and Martavis Bryant now know how league scouts view them. The question they must answer: Is it worth passing on one more year of college for a paycheck.
When he blew into the public consciousness early this season, Beasley was quickly projected as a first-round prospect, largely because his highly coveted skill as a pass rusher. Eventually he drifted down the Big Board and, now, the scouts tell him second round, largely because he’s undersized and relatively raw. The skill still makes him an intriguing prospect, but the league doesn’t have time to develop him, so returning to Clemson could be significant to his value a year from now.
All three would unquestionably benefit from an additional season, and not only would it be valuable for them but the value to next year’s Clemson team is immeasurable. It’s not a stretch to suggest now that with the players returning, Beasley, Anthony and Bryant could put Clemson on the radar for another Top 10 season regardless of who wins the quarterback job.
One junior who intends to return is defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, a tree stump at 6-foot-1 and 295-pounds that played like a Sequoyah this season with 10 tackles for loss, a sack and 13 quarterback pressures. Just as he’ll be a critical component of next season’s team, Jarrett should be key Friday night. Ohio State seems to know it.
“I can tell they’re well coached just by how they use their hands and how well they use their hands,” said OSU senior center Corey Linsley. “As an offensive lineman I can appreciate that. Players you face either don’t use their hands well or only use their hands in a certain manner. They’re very good, they’re technically sound.
“I don’t think we’ve faced a team that’s better with their hands.”
Throwing quarterback Braxton Miller off his game can be a tall order. At 6-foot-2 and 215 pounds, Miller brings a powerful, electric running style and a huge arm to the table. Think Michael Vick 2.0.
The comparisons to Florida State freshman Jameis Winston are natural, but they’re different stylists in different schemes.
“He’s probably the fastest quarterback I have ever seen,” Jarrett said of Miller, “the way he breaks out from guys and does not get caught from behind. You’ve just got to get him before he gets going.”
When things break down, Miller can make a banquet out of chicken bones.
“It usually happens if there’s good coverage or one of us messes up,” Linsley said. “You see him on film zigzagging, so we’ll rewind to watch again. ‘Did he really do that?’”
Asked for an example, Linsley initially begged off – “too may to count” – then quickly recalled one against Indiana and an 80-yard run against the team from Up North – that’s Buckeye Speak for Michigan. “I could go on for 20 minutes.”
In a sense, Miller has become the wildcard in Ohio State’s game plan because what he’s capable of doing you can’t diagram. His improvement as a passer has been marked, completing 63.5 percent for 22 touchdowns and only five interceptions. He also ran for more than 1,000 yards for a second season, many off improvisation.
“There are a bunch of variables we try to isolate that make you unable to account for them,” Linsley said. “You don’t plan for him. It’s just there.”
The quarterbacks are what make this bowl game intriguing, and why there have been questions about the potential of a shootout. It’s not unimaginable. Vegas says the over/under is 69-70 points, which was second only to the 76 they were allowing for last night’s Chick-fil-A game between Texas A&M and Duke.
Brent Venables doesn’t care for that kind of talk, but his bottom line as that these are the kinds of games the rules have created, with quick-paced offenses and quarterbacks who used to play tight end, safety, running back or defensive end.
Think about it, though. Another frequent story thread is the painful recollection of the 2012 Orange Bowl game which had the makings of a shootout but turned into a blowout.
In many respects, that’s why Venables is here. And if he avoids the vortex of the coaching carousel over the next few weeks, could be back next season with Beasley, Anthony and all that talent that’s just waiting for a chance.