CLEMSON — For the Clemson defense the job is simple in the 2019 PlayStation Fiesta Bowl: Find a way to slow down one of the nation’s top dual-threat quarterbacks and one of the nation’s top athletes for the Ohio State offense.
It is a simple job, but far from an easy one for Tiger defensive Brent Venables coordinator.
“I think any time you have one of the top four teams in the country playing it’s going to come down to keeping their playmakers from making plays — I mean it’s not rocket science, but it sure isn’t easy either,” Venables said.
Stopping Ohio State’s offense begins with stopping quarterback Justin Fields.
The Buckeyes have scored 55 touchdowns in 65 redzone chances this season (84.6 percent), and Fields’ 37 TD passes rank second in Ohio State’s single-season record book and third in Big Ten history (Dwayne Haskins — 50; Drew Brees — 39).
Fields owns the preposterous stat line of 37 touchdown passes versus only one interception, is one of only three 12-0 quarterbacks nationally and is fourth nationally with a 192.1 passing efficiency. He ranks third nationally with 47 total TDs but with 98 and 91 fewer carries/passes (388) than Joe Burrow (47 TDs/486 plays) and Jalen Hurts (50 TDs/481 plays).
"He's a great player, for sure," cornerback A.J. Terrell said. "I mean, he can beat you with his arm and with his legs. But I am not worried about him. We go up against the best quarterback in the nation every day in practice. But he is a special talent. So, we will definitely have to play our bet
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But it is not only a dynamic playmaker at quarterback that the Tigers will have to contend with Dec. 28 (8 p.m., ESPN), they will also have to find a way to slow down running back J.K. Dobbins.
“In my opinion he’s probably the best player on their offense,” Clemson defensive back Derion Kendrick said. “He’s pretty good, real versatile and has a lot of speed. They use him in different positions and we just really have to keep our eyes on him, because a lot of times he tells us where the ball is going.
“He’s a really important part of their offense and somebody that we really have to look at.”
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 his 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 Five schools with an average of 5.6 yards per rush over the last seven seasons. However, it is a challenge that the Tiger defense believes they are prepared for.
Dobbins moved into the top 20 in career rushing yards in Big Ten history last Saturday. He’s currently 19th with 4,113 yards and 65 yards shy of catching Michigan’s Tyrone Wheatley for 18th place. J.K. Dobbins has 18 career 100-yard games and the Buckeyes are 18-0 in those contests.
Dobbins ranks fourth nationally with 17 rushes of 20 or more yards this season. As a team, Ohio State has produced 34 runs of 20 or more yards, fourth most in the nation. Last year, the Buckeyes had 15 rushes of 20+ yards in 14 games.
For Venables, as important as containing the two superstars will be, there may be one thing that will be just as important for the Tigers — toughness.
“Playing Ohio State a few years ago, in the Orange Bowl, arguably one of our most physical games that we’ve played in my time at Clemson,” Venables said. “And if they’re about something, it’s toughness and they’re about establishing the line of scrimmage. And, again, our guys will have to match it and then some.”