Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (16) celebrates with wide receiver Tee Higgins (5) after the Tigers score a touchdown during the 2019 ACC Championship Dec. 7 in Charlotte, N.C.

CLEMSON -- The Clemson offense will once again have its hands full when the Tigers take on the Ohio State defense Saturday Dec. 28 (8 p.m., ESPN) in the Fiesta Bowl.

The Buckeye defensive unit ranks second in the nation in total defense (allowing 247.6 yards per game), seventh in rushing defense (allowing 99.54 yards per game), second in pass defense (allowing 148.1 yards per game) and third in scoring defense (allowing 12.5 point per game).

It is a challenge that the Tigers are looking forward to.

"I think they ranked top 10 in every statistical category," offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. "Very, very well coached. These guys, they don't vary their scheme a whole lot. They want to be dialed in on your tendencies. They want to be dialed in on what you're doing and let the players go play. They don't want to slow them down by doing too much schematically, and then they've got the talent to do it.

Defensive line-wise, the strength there, and it's not just Chase (Young). It's not just Chase. They got about eight to 10 guys that they roll in there, and all of them can play at every position. And so that gives them the ability to put pressure on an offense, because even if you play with tempo, it's hard to wear him down because they got so many guys, and their linebackers are tough physical box players. They're downhill. They read their keys very, very fast. They're very instinctive, very physical at the point of attack."

On the season, the Tigers have played seven teams ranked in the top 80 in total defense. So playing good defenses, and having success against those defenses, is not new to the Tigers.

“We are confident no matter who we are playing,” wide receiver Justyn Ross said. “We know that they have a great defense and a great secondary, but we have played our best games when we have been facing the best defenses.

“We believe in our guys and I have full confidence that when the game starts, we will be able to execute and play to the same standard we have all year.”

If the Tigers do play to the standard that they have over the last five games of the season, averaging more than 50 points per game and close to 550 yards per game, there is little doubt their chances of leaving the Valley of the Sun victorious this year will increase exponentially.

That is if the Tigers can do one thing that they have excelled at for the majority of the season — not turning the ball over.

“We can’t turn the ball over. It’s as simple as that,” wide receiver Tee Higgins said. “I mean, if we take care of the ball and play our game, I don’t think there is anyone in the country that can beat us — when we don’t, then it becomes a little more up the air.

“But if we take care of the football, we will be OK.”

The Tigers coaching staff echoed the sentiment of Higgins, saying the ability to protect the ball will be crucial if they expect to leave with a victory.

“Absolutely, it is maybe the most important thing,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “The one thing that you don’t want to do is to give a great opponent extra at-bats, and that is exactly what a turnover does — gives them extra at-bats. In a game in which you have two very talented teams playing one another, the margin for error is so small that every turnover, every mistake, every little thing is magnified.

“If we are going to give ourselves the best chance to win the game, we have to take care of the ball and be mindful that every good series ends with a kick. Whether that’s a punt, a field goal or an extra point — every good series ends with us kicking the ball.”

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Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat. He also serves as a co-host of Solid Orange, seen at 11 p.m. Wednesdays on WACH FOX 57 in Columbia. He is editor of www.ClemsonMaven.io


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