PHOENIX — The No. 3 Clemson Tiger defense has its hands full this week as it prepares to take on the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeye offense.
The Buckeyes enter this week's game ranked in the Top 10 in total offense in each of Ryan Day’s three seasons in Columbus (2017—seventh; 2018—second; 2019—fifth). Since Day’s arrival, only one Power 5 team (Oklahoma) has averaged more yards per game than Ohio State (524.0).
The Buckeyes have scored more touchdowns over the last eight seasons (605) than any other team in the country and 25 more than the second-highest team (Alabama). In the Ryan Day era (2017-present), Ohio State has scored 40 or more points in 24 of 41 games (58.5 percent) and 30 or more points 32 times (78.0 percent).
In fact, according to Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, this is the most dangerous team the Tigers have faced the last five seasons.
"They're every bit as good. They can match up with anybody," Venables said. "Same. Great quarterback play, great offensive line play, terrific running back, great balance. Take the top off, you have not just one guy, you have got multiple guys that can run right by you.
"The secondary, well coached, great schemes. They have answers. They make adjustments. Have a lot of confidence. They've been on this setting, so they have experience. So from that standpoint, comparatively speaking, I would put them all more in the category of being similar. Slight differences in who they are. They're really, really good."
The difference in the Buckeyes team this season and the previous years is what they are doing with running back J.K. Dobbins.
Dobbins, a 26-game starter since 2017, last year became the first player in Ohio State history to record 1,000-yard rushing seasons as a freshman and sophomore. Following a freshmen campaign in 2017 that saw him set the freshmen rushing record with 1,403 yards, Dobbins followed that up with 1,053 yards as a sophomore in 2018. Thanks to his efforts—and that of the offensive line—Ohio State ranks first among Power 5 schools with an average of 5.6 yards per rush over the last seven seasons.
"They have players capable of doing that with more of a balanced monster running back." Venables said. "You know, they've been feeding him. I'm not sure if they felt quite as good about their backs (in 2016). I think they featured J.T. Barrett a little more in the running game, and then Curtis Samuel. I see more similarities. Just a very balanced and very physical, very explosive—I'm not sure what their rankings were offensively. I know they were really good in '16.
"They're the number one scoring offense in college football, and the best third-down offense in college football. Almost close to 60% conversion rate, which is just—it's got to be historical for an offense, other than a triple-option offense, who are typically really good on third down. It's pretty frightening when you put the tape on, what they have been able to put on the field."
Even though the Tigers and the Buckeyes faced each other in the 2016 College Football Playoff at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, this year's teams have their own identity and philosophy they will carry into their game Saturday (8 p.m., ESPN).
"I think every year is different. You have a system and a philosophy," Venables said. "We're aggressive. We're press man to man. We're probably a little more multiple this year because we feel like we've had to do that. And some years you don't. A year ago, everybody is like, Oh, you don't have to do anything. You can just rush four all day. That's not true.
You're getting different kind of protections, people are chipping and sliding and everything else. You've still got to find ways to generate pressure. So I think our philosophy, without question, has been the same. This year we felt like we've had to be a little bit more multiple and play to our strengths, which has been our back seven and try to help our young guys."