Clemson University

Tigers know they must keep Ryan from taking over game

CLEMSON -- Preparing for Boston College quarterback Matt Ryan has required Clemson's defense to brush up on its emergency plan.

When Ryan inevitably scurries outside the pocket to bide time, as he did during his so-called Heisman Trophy moment against Virginia Tech, the Tigers must sound the alarm.

Their job, as practiced this week via the scramble drill, is to then somehow keep tabs on a multitude of eligible receivers circling and sprinting around without apparent rhyme or reason.

"We've got to find everybody and keep our eyes downfield," sophomore cornerback Crezdon Butler said. "If we look at the quarterback, we'll lose them."

And perhaps to them. The No. 18 Eagles' most recent outcomes have shown damage control could be the difference for whether No. 15 Clemson's ACC title chances are salvaged or shattered in Saturday's 7:45 p.m. game at Death Valley.

With the winner advancing to the Dec. 1 league title game in Jacksonville, Fla., the Tigers (8-2, 5-2 ACC) must decide from which potential poison to pick.

"(Ryan) looks like he's spent all offseason over there with the Patriots," Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning said. "He looks like that cat they've got (Tom Brady) in a lot of ways.

"The thing that probably is most impressive with him is his vision seems to be out of control. I don't see how he sees some stuff."

Devote abundant pass-rushing resources to knocking Ryan off-kilter and risk surrendering countless mid-range and deep completions, as blitz-heavy Georgia Tech can attest.

Or, as Boston College's past three opponents resorted to, mostly drop seven defenders into pass coverage, rely on your front four to eventually slide around their massive offensive line with speed and force Ryan to improvise.

Sure, the Eagles have lost two in a row to Florida State and Maryland and nearly tumbled at Virginia Tech, as well. Yet there were enough extenuating circumstances to keep from assuming the latter strategy is the seamless blueprint for Clemson to follow and slow the 6-foot-5 Heisman candidate.

Two of those first three games were in the rain. Florida State is a man-to-man defense -- Clemson relies on significantly more zone -- while Maryland played inspired for its bowl eligibility.

Yet the Tigers would also appear equipped to put so much on their defensive line's shoulders if they performed as dominantly as they did against Wake Forest.

Even when it might not have been in the team's best immediate interest, Clemson has constantly substituted its defensive linemen in order to build depth for just such an occasion.

"When you're rushing the passer 60 times a game, you're going to gas out," Koenning said. "So it's important for us to do what we do, roll them in and out and just go.

"They're going to complete some passes and obviously have some success doing some things. We just have to limit them and adjust to what they're doing."

Boston College has adjusted to opposing schemes by, well, having Ryan throw it even more.

In five of their six ACC games, the Eagles have failed to rush for 100 yards, putting a greater onus on Ryan to produce.

Without coincidence, all four of Ryan's 400-plus yard games have come in conference play, and he has tossed at least 53 attempts in each of his last three games.

As solid as Clemson's passing defense has been, something will have to give.

The Tigers rank third nationally in pass defense (161.8 yards per game) and have not yielded more than 242 yards (Furman) in a contest this season.

The trick will be how they decide to handle Boston College's varied pass protections, which is where Koenning said first-year coach Jeff Jagodzinski's NFL influence is most evident.

Jagodzinski previously served as offensive coordinator for Green Bay.

"If it was me, I would put people in his face," senior linebacker Nick Watkins said. "I've watched film, and he'll zip it between four people. So you can't let him sit back and pick his spots.

"Matt Ryan is the focus because he can make you or break you. If we can get pressure on him, he won't be as big of a factor. But if not, it's going to be like touch football back there."

• When: 7:45 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson

• TV: ESPN2 (cable channel 28 in Rock Hill)

• Tickets: Sold out