SCOTTSDALE, Ariz – On Thursday morning, both the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (11-1) and the No. 2 Clemson Tigers (12-1) answered questions from the media during the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl Media Day in Glendale, Arizona. While both sides have been hard at work studying and preparing to face each other on Saturday evening, Thursday gave players a chance to express their thoughts on their opponents and talk about what they have been doing in practice all week long.
During OSU’s portion of media days, Deshaun Watson’s name was a popular one. While the defensive lineman for the Buckeyes talked about limiting his ability to escape the pocket and run, the secondary for OSU seemed ready to force the junior quarterback to beat them over the top.
OSU coach Urban Meyer, who highly recruited Watson, is well aware of his big play ability, and has been working tirelessly with his team to ensure the second-team All-Atlantic Coastal Conference quarterback is off balance.
“Well, I think when you’re quarterback plays comfortable, that’s a problem,” Meyer said. “So you have to confuse the quarterback and that’s either pressures or … If we play cover one, which is man free which we’ve played a lot, or quarters, which we play a lot, we have no chance. But if you change things up and make a guy like that uncomfortable, you’ve got a shot.”
Watson has thrown for 3,914 yards and a career best 37 touchdowns. However, all his success tossing the ball has come at a price, as the Heisman runner-up has thrown 15 interceptions this season.
Although the picks did not prevent Clemson from reaching the College Football Playoff, many OSU team members said they will be ready to take advantage of any miscues. However, OSU redshirt sophomore cornerback Marshon Lattimore said it’s more about the Buckeyes creating the turnovers themselves.
“We’re always hungry for interceptions, but we still have to get out there and play and force turnovers,” he said. “We can’t rely on him to create turnovers.”
The Buckeyes have more to worry about than just Watson, as junior running back Wayne Gallman has racked up just over 1,000 yards on the ground this season. While last season was a much more productive year in terms of yards for the Georgia native, this year has been all about scoring.
Gallman has 15 rushing touchdowns so far in 2016. According to OSU redshirt freshman defensive lineman Dre’Mont Jones, being patient to stop Gallman is a priority for the Silver Bullets.
“You learn to be disciplined, you learn how to stay in our gap, stay in our lane,” Jones said. “Not jump out of your gap because once you jump out of your gap, other gaps open up and you have free running lanes.”
The defensive unit for Clemson has had its fair share of downs this season, including giving up 42 points to the University of Pittsburgh. Regardless of the occasional shortcoming, senior linebacker Ben Boulware and the rest of the Tigers defense have harassed opposing quarterbacks throughout the season.
Clemson’s defense, which allows just 19.9 points per game on average, has gotten to the quarterback a whopping 46 times this year, trailing only Florida State and Boston College in total sacks. On average, the Tigers picked up 3.4 sacks per game.
The disruptive presence of the Clemson defense is something that the Buckeyes expressed they were very aware of Thursday. According to OSU redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, however, picking out what to attack is not as easy as it seems with coach Dabo Swinney’s team.
“They like to switch it up,” he said. “I feel like it’s one of the type of teams or kind of mindsets that they don’t really want you to catch a beat on what they’re trying to do. Their game plans kind of switch each and every game depending on whatever offense they’re going against.”
After OSU finished, it remained clear that the Buckeyes would be looking to play a near perfect game to advance to the national championship. Even then, it remains a question of just how perfect they need to be in order to win.