PHOENIX — Clemson running back Travis Etienne has already built a legacy that will have his name in the record books at Clemson for many years.
But none of those records or accolades mean anything this week, as his Tiger offensive teammates prepare to take on the best defense they have faced all season Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN) in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl — the Ohio State Buckeyes.
"Just the overall defense (is impressive). Great personnel. Tremendous players," Etienne said. "Fast, strong. Everything that you live for. At this time, you expect nothing less. You expect the best of the best. They definitely have that. It will be a great challenge for us. Just go out there and execute every single play.
Their DB, their safety, backers. Just their front. They're fast. They're fast, big, long. So they present a huge challenge in just them having guys that they have and how athletic they are and how fast they are. You're definitely not going to be able to just – execute at the end of the day. Not going to just go out there and just beat them. They present a huge challenge. You definitely are going to have something up your sleeve. A game plan, things like that. We definitely have to be ready.
The Buckeyes will be the toughest defense the Tigers have faced this season.
Ohio State’s defense has held 11 of 13 opponents under 300 yards of total offense, a program first, and the Buckeye's rank No. 2 nationally in total defense, No. 2 in passing defense, No. 7 in rushing defense and No. 2 in scoring defense.
The Buckeyes have allowed just 12 plays of 30 yards or more, third best in the country. According to SportsSource, Ohio State ranks first in the country in defensive “mayhem” with 18 percent of plays resulting in TFLs, fumbles or interceptions.
While the Buckeyes are statistically an outstanding defense, it is those 'mayhem' numbers that has Etienne's attention.
"Take care of the ball. Not turn over the ball," Etienne said. "Just execute each and every play. Stay above the change. You can't put yourself in a tense situation – a second and long, third and long, because you can't win games behind the change. You want to stand by the change and not turn the ball over. Basically what I'm saying is don't beat yourself. Just execute."
While many around the nation are looking at this game as the first real test for the Tigers this season, for Etienne and the rest of his offensive counterparts, they are still holding fast to the mantra professed by head coach Dabo Swinney: "It is not about who we play, it is about how we play."
"I feel going to the game is about how we play," Etienne said. "We have to go out there and execute and play to the best of our ability. At the end of the day, we play to the best of our ability. We will be able to live with the scoreboard whether it is a 'W' or an 'L.' At least for us, it is an offensive reason to execute and put us in the best position possible."