Clemson veteran defenders James Skalski and Nolan Turner spoke with reporters Wednesday following the team’s first spring practice and, reflecting on how last season ended, owned up to the fact the Tigers were physically dominated in their 49-28 loss to Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1.
Turner admitted Clemson’s defense didn’t expect to be pushed around the way it was by the Buckeyes during the College Football Playoff semifinal game, which saw the Tigers allow 639 total yards – the most yielded by a Clemson defense in the program’s bowl history.
“It’s definitely very humbling,” the sixth-year senior safety said. “We got exposed, and that’s just what we’ve got to work on, and it was obvious I think to everybody that watched the game.”
Ohio State owned the line of scrimmage and imposed its will in the trenches, rushing for 254 yards with an average of 5.8 yards per carry, while Clemson managed just 44 yards on 22 rushing attempts. Buckeyes running back Trey Sermon gashed the Tigers to the tune of 193 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries (6.2 average).
Although Clemson’s defense helped Ohio State out at times with multiple defensive breakdowns over the course of the game, the bottom line is the Tigers were simply overwhelmed and outmatched from a physical standpoint.
“There’s missed assignments and stuff. But I think the most disappointing aspect of that game is we got punched in the mouth and did nothing about it,” Skalski said.
The sixth-year senior linebacker feels last year’s team had the talent to beat the Buckeyes and go on to win the national championship but lacked the physicality and attention to detail needed to get the job done.
“I think we were talented enough last year to win the whole thing. I believe that,” Skalski said. “I know we were good enough. But when it mattered most, the little things showed up. We didn’t do the little things right and we weren’t physical enough and we didn’t have that dog in us, and it showed.”
The loss leaves a sour taste in the Tigers’ mouths and gives them plenty of motivation as they take to the practice fields this spring and try to get better ahead of the 2021 season.
“We’ve got to step up,” Turner said. “So, we’ve got guys growing up, and with this offseason we’ve got coming up, we’re going to take advantage of it. We’re going to get right.”
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