The question every defensive coordinator has to ask when playing Clemson  

The question every defensive coordinator has to ask when playing Clemson  

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The question every defensive coordinator has to ask when playing Clemson  

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Do I stop the run or stop the pass?

Virginia defensive coordinator Nick Howell has to make a tough call this Saturday when the Cavaliers visit Death Valley to take on No. 1 Clemson.

The Tigers have arguably the best backfield in the country. On one hand, they have Heisman Trophy candidate Trevor Lawrence. All he has done has completed 81 percent of his passes this season for 519 yards and four touchdowns in what is almost equivalent to one game, though he has been pulled early in the third quarter in both of Clemson’s first two games.

On the other hand, is Travis Etienne. All he has done has won ACC Player of the Year honors in back-to-back years and is perhaps the best running back in the country.

What will Howell do?

Odds are he will do what most defensive coordinators do when they play Clemson. He will try and take away the run and dare Lawrence and his abundance of talent at wide receiver go win the game.

“As they sit around as a staff, I guess they have to come up with a consensus as to which one they have to stop because they realize they are not going to be able to stop both of them,” Clemson offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “A lot of times when you create extra hats to the run, you create man-to-man situations, which forces a quarterback to be more accurate. Sometimes you can get pressure, as well, when you are bringing pressure on early downs and trying to stop the run in some play action situations.”

Elliott is not surprised at all that defenses have so far chosen to gang up on Etienne and the Clemson running game. So far, the Tigers (2-0, 1-0 ACC) have made their two opponents pay. Lawrence picked apart Wake Forest in Week 1 and in Week 2 he bombed The Citadel with three touchdown passes.

Lawrence also gives the Tigers another element in the running game. Besides his four touchdown passes, he also leads Clemson with three rushing touchdowns.

“We have a plan of attack, also, and we will also have confidence in the continuity of our staff to be able to adjust in game so we can always adjust to what the defense is trying to do,” Elliott said. “I think most anybody wants to stop the run because when you run the football you kind of dictate the pace of the game and being able to control the game and control the clock and kind of impose your will on a defense, sort of speak.

“So, I can kind of understand why teams want to try and stop the run first.”

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