As we work our way through some of the key matchups between Ohio State and Clemson, one that could be bigger than most are expecting is that between Travis Etienne and the Ohio State linebackers. The Buckeyes have not pretty good against the run, and if the team can slow down Trevor Lawrence, Etienne will be the next offensive player the Tigers will lean on.
Etienne is a dynamic running back who has the speed to beat most defensive players to the edge. He has improved his receiving and is a threat to take one “to the house” if he can spring free. Where Etienne has issues is between the tackles, patience, and vision. If a hole opens, Etienne can hit it and go. If a hole takes a moment to develop he can get impatient waiting for something to develop.
Baron Browning and Pete Werner will be tasked with getting to the edges before Etienne. Browning has the ability to get to roam the field but will have to make sure he wraps up Etienne who has good balance to take a hit and keep going. In coverage, Browning matches up best with Etienne in terms of athleticism. Where Browning can struggle is sometimes getting impatient and taking himself out of position.
Werner is more of a hard-hitting linebacker who will have to use scheme to get him to the edge and force Etienne to cut back between the tackles. Werner can play the flats in the zone well if Clemson wants to use Etienne in the screen game. Using him deeper in coverage can be an advantage to Clemson, so finding ways to minimize this mismatch will be key to Ryan Day and staff.
If Ohio State can force Etienne inside, that leaves Tuf Borland with the duty of filling a gap and stopping Etienne. Borland can hit hard but will need to do better wrapping up Etienne who tends to let defensive players not get clean hits on him. Borland has the instincts to find the ball and fill the gap even if he is not the biggest or fastest linebacker.
Of course, we also have to mention Justin Hilliard, who is coming on as of late. He has the skill set and athleticism to play any position and he’s going to flash and be asked to play an important role as well.
Etienne versus the linebackers will help keep Clemson and Trevor Lawrence one dimensional. The key will be keeping Etienne between the tackles and not letting him get his acceleration up. Team tackling will be vital and it all starts with the linebackers wrapping up should Etienne get to the second level.
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