Ohio State defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs was very complimentary of Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and the Clemson offense as the third-ranked Buckeyes get ready to face the No. 2 Tigers on Friday in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
“They have a formula,” Coombs said on Tuesday of Clemson’s offense, which ranks third nationally in scoring offense (44.9 points per game) and 10th in total offense (507.6 yards per game).
“They’ve got talent across the board from the numbers to the numbers. And so if you went into a game and said, we’re going to take this one thing away, they have plenty to beat you somewhere else. And so you have to prepare for all of it, and you have to play a great game for four quarters in order to have a chance at the end.”
If the Ohio State defense is to have a chance against the Tigers, the unit will have to find a way to contain Lawrence, the winningest quarterback in Clemson history with a 34-1 record as a starter who is fourth in ACC history with 88 career passing touchdowns.
Lawrence can beat the opposition with not only his arm but his legs as well, and the Buckeyes know that all too well considering he had a Clemson team-high and career-best 107 rushing yards on 16 carries and scored on a career-long 67-yard run in last season’s 29-23 Fiesta Bowl victory over Ohio State.
“He’s deceptively fast,” Coombs said. “You will see when players have angles on him and he outruns the angle. He does so many things very, very well.
“So, I would say he’s arguably one of the great college football quarterbacks of all time based on his production and winning games.”
Among Lawrence’s best attributes, in Coombs’ mind, are his ability to read a defense before the snap and then make plays on the fly when the ball is in his hands.
“He is a play extender, and he does a great job of avoiding rush, side stepping rush, getting outside the pocket, running the ball or extending the play and throwing the ball,” Coombs said. “And he makes very, very, very few poor decisions. I think he does a great job with his pre-snap recognition. He’s got a plan in mind when he catches the snap. But when the plan is altered, he does a great job of adapting to that.”
As for Etienne – the ACC’s all-time leading rusher who ranks fifth in FBS history with 77 career total touchdowns – Coombs is well aware that the running back is a well-rounded player and can exploit a defense in a variety of ways.
“I think the running back is a fantastic player in every phase of the game,” he said. “He runs the ball inside. He runs the ball outside. He catches the ball out of the backfield. He catches the ball on the perimeter. I think he’s dynamic.”
Going into the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day, Coombs simply hopes to limit Lawrence, Etienne and their fellow offensive weapons, knowing it will be nearly impossible for his defense to shut down the Tigers’ attack completely.
“I don’t think anybody stops them,” he said. “I think you want to try to slow them down. You want to try to contain them. You want to try to eliminate those big plays. They do it to everybody. Their explosive tape is the longest tape you’ve ever seen.”
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