GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Alabama’s defensive line often gets credited with being the best in college football. The way the Crimson Tide’s big guys have overpowered opponents the past few years, it would be tough to argue against.
After manhandling Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, it seems Clemson may have a defensive front just as good as the Crimson Tide’s. The two face off in a rematch of last season’s national title game on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Florida.
“Just good discipline; disciplined football,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “We’re not tricking anybody.”
Nor do they need to.
The second-ranked Tigers are young, but they’re big, quick and aggressive.
The Buckeyes certainly had no answer for them.
Clemson’s defense seemed to spend as much time in Ohio State’s backfield as the Buckeyes did Saturday night in the desert, leading to a 31-0 Fiesta Bowl annihilation . It was the first shutout of the Buckeyes since 1993 and the first of Ohio State coach Urban Meyer’s career.
No one saw this coming, not even the Tigers.
“We didn’t really have any illusions they wouldn’t score a point,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We just wanted to have one more than them.”
Ohio State entered the semifinal 12th in rushing offense with 245.2 yards per game during the regular season. The Buckeyes were dominated so badly up front they attempted just 23 rushes, gaining 88 yards. That’s 3.8 yards per carry, nearly two full yards less than Ohio State’s average during the regular season.
Mike Weber, the Buckeyes’ 1,000-yard rusher, was a non-factor, finishing with 24 yards on five carries. He didn’t get his first touch until 8:23 of the second quarter.
“That was not our game plan at all,” Meyer said of abandoning the running game. “I think we kind of got taken out of the game plan a little bit. But no, that was our plan, to be balanced. We didn’t follow it.”
The Tigers (13-1) had a lot to do with it, holding Ohio State to 215 total yards, less than half of its season average (459.5).
Clemson finished with 11 tackles for loss, including two sacks for 17 yards. Freshman defensive Clelin Ferrell had three tackles for loss and senior defensive tackle Carlos Watkins had both sacks.
“We really just put our trust in the D-line,” Clemson safety Jadar Johnson said. “We’ve got excellent athletes in the D-line and we just trusted them to be able to limit those guys in the backfield. We trusted them and they did their thing.”
Heading into the season, no one was really sure what to expect from Clemson’s defense.
The Tigers lost eight starters from last year’s national runner-up team, including five who left early for the NFL draft. Two of those players, defensive ends Shaw Lawson and Kevin Dodd, were selected in the first two rounds of the NFL draft.
The younger Tigers made it a seamless transition.
Watson was a second-team All-American and massive freshman Dexter Lawrence — 6-foot-5, 340 pounds — played like one this season.
Clemson finished the regular season ninth in total defense, 12th in scoring defense, third in sacks and tackles for loss. The Tigers were even more dominating against Ohio State.
“Just indescribable,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s a credit to our staff and great preparation. Guys buying in. Extra film time. Guys just getting their tails prepared to go play and then winning the matchups.”
More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25 .