WHAT WE ARE HEARING: FIESTA BOWL PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.3 CLEMSON vs. NO.2 OHIO STATE
- 2019-12-28 18:20:40
Welcome to the Fiesta Bowl edition of What We Are Hearing!
It seems like it took forever to get here, but there was actually less time between the ACC Championship and the semifinal than ever before, and the coaching staff had to squeeze National Signing Day into that time as well. All the talk is finally about to end, though, and I can’t wait to kick off the most anticipated semifinal in the six-year history of the College Football Playoff. Many are billing this matchup of No.3 Clemson and No.2 Ohio State as the real National Championship and the best matchup of juggernauts since the classic 2006 Rose Bowl between Texas and USC, which many regard as the greatest game of all time.
This game certainly has everything you could want: NFL talent across the board, two complete teams ranked in the top 5 of just about every category, the two longest win streaks in the nation, two Heisman-caliber quarterbacks, rabid fan bases and story lines galore. The Tigers, of course, are 3-0 all-time against the Buckeyes, and the last meeting was here in the CFP Fiesta Bowl when Dabo, Deshaun and company handed Urban Meyer his only loss 31-0. It was a Buckeye-heavy crowd that night—I would say 70/30—but they had nothing to cheer about from the opening kickoff. If this game is close in the 4th quarter, an Ohio State crowd could be a big advantage. Of course, Dabo also beat Urban in a classic Orange Bowl following the 2013 season, and Danny Ford beat Woody Hayes in the 1978 Gator Bowl that climaxed with Hayes punching Clemson player Charlie Bauman, leading to the dismissal of the Ohio State legend.
Enough with the past, though, because these are arguably the two best teams in the nation for 2019, and few of them were even here 3 years ago. You wouldn’t know that game even happened to listen to the OSU fan base, either. Given their cockiness, it’s like they’ve completely repressed it. Interestingly, both teams are coming into the game with chips on their shoulders and playing the disrespect card. The Tigers, of course, are defending champs and winners of 28 straight games (25 by blowout), and yet they are only ranked No.3. Meanwhile, Ohio State is a 2-point underdog according to Vegas, so they also feel slighted. Not to mention wanting some payback from what happened here 3 years ago. Incidentally, the last 5 games in which Ohio State has been an underdog, the Buckeyes have won by an average of 25 points.
On to the matchup!
Clemson leads the all-time series with Ohio State 3-0. Clemson is the only program with a winning record against Ohio State, Oklahoma and Notre Dame with at least 3 meetings…. Clemson has won 38 of its last 41 games away from home….Clemson has 11 wins all-time against teams with 10 or more wins entering the matchup….Clemson is 21-0 against undefeated teams since start of 2015 season….Clemson is going for its fourth 14-win season, which would tie it with Alabama for the most ever…..Clemson is the only team ever to win 8 straight games by 30 points or more, unless you count 1895 Penn….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 75 straight weeks, although Alabama dropped to No.12 in the CFP Rankings this week. Georgia is 3rd at 44 weeks… Clemson has won its last 42 straight Saturday games, the longest streak in the nation….
OHIO STATE SYNOPSIS
The Buckeyes have the best offense Clemson has seen all season. They also have the best defense the Tigers have seen all season—probably even better than Alabama last year and maybe the best the Tigers have seen since their last loss in the 2017 Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Ohio State is riding a 19-game win streak, which is the second-longest in the nation behind Clemson. Dabo has said that the two teams are mirror images of each other, and on paper they really are. No other teams are ranked in the top 5 for both offense and defense, and no other team has been as dominant as these two all season long. In fact, Clemson has trailed for the least number of minutes all season (26), and Ohio State, thanks to trailing Wisconsin for nearly 3 quarters, has trailed for the second-least number of minutes.
Offensively, of course, the Buckeyes are led by first-year starter Justin Fields, the transfer from Georgia. The Heisman Finalist is a Georgia native, who grew up just 20 minutes away from Trevor Lawrence, and the two were ranked as the top two players in the nation as seniors in high school. How fun is it going to be to see them go head-to-head on this stage?! It’s been a remarkable rookie season for Fields. He has thrown just one interception all year and has 40 TD’s, completing 67.5% of his passes. He has also rushed for 10 touchdowns and 471 yards on 3.8 yards per carry. One big question lingers, however: how well can he play with the sprained MCL he suffered a few weeks ago? Fields recently said that he thinks he’s about 85%, but it was clearly bothering him in the Big Ten Championship against Wisconsin. He took a couple bad sacks in that game that he wouldn’t normally take. That could be a big advantage for the Tigers, as one of his biggest strengths is scrambling to find receivers down field. If he’s a step slower, that could allow Isaiah Simmons, Xavier Thomas and company to get home. Fields has also never been on this stage before, and it will be interesting to see if he handles adversity as well as he did against Wisconsin.
Starting RB J.K. Dobbins is one of the best backs in the nation. The Tigers have faced a couple NFL backs this season in Cam Akers and A.J. Dillon, but Dobbins is different from both. He is short, compact and very powerful—especially his lower body. He has such a low center of gravity that it’s hard to wrap him up and bring him down. The Tigers will have to gang tackle him all night and make sure they don’t try to arm tackle him because when he breaks tackles and gets to the second level, that’s when he’s able to bust huge runs and take it the distance. Fields will also check down to Dobbins and use him in the screen game. They don’t throw to him terribly often, but it’s productive when they do. He has 17 catches for 200 yards and 2 touchdowns this season.
The real ones to watch in the passing game are Chris Olave and K.J. Hill. Olave has 46 catches for 799 yards and 11 touchdowns. Hill has 51 catches for 569 yards and 10 TD’s. The Clemson secondary is tested every day in practice by arguably the best WR group in the nation, and they will be similarly tested against this OSU group. Remarkably, the Buckeyes have 12 different players with a TD catch this season.
Defensively, of course, it all starts up front with DE Chase Young, the Heisman Finalist. He is an absolute beast and can easily take a game over. Young might be the most dominant DE I’ve seen since Clowney. He led the nation with 16.5 sacks and also forced 6 fumbles. One of the games within the game to watch is how the Clemson offensive line handles Young. Can Carman and/or Anchrum handle Young on their own, or will they need a tight end or running back to help chip him? The Clemson offensive line has done an incredible job protecting Trevor Lawrence all season and even going back to last year. They have allowed just 18 sacks in the last 21 games. However, they will have their work cut out for them if they are going to shutout Chase Young. Incidentally, sophomore starting left tackle Jackson Carman is an Ohio native, and he told me that he cannot wait for this matchup against his hometown team. He said he knew that it was fate, and he is also looking to make a name for himself on the biggest stage going up against the nation’s best defensive end.
The Buckeyes’ also have a talented secondary, including an NFL first-rounder in corner Jeff Okudah. He has 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles this year and is a lock-down cover corner. It will be extremely entertaining to watch him go up against Higgins and Ross all night!
I expect this game to be much closer than the 31-0 drubbing 3 years ago, but Ohio State is not used to the speed and talent of the Tigers on both sides of the ball. More importantly, Fields hasn’t seen a defense like the Tigers have or a Defensive Coordinator like Venables, who will be blitzing him from places he never expected all night long and confusing him. Also, most of the Ohio State players have never been on this stage, while it’s totally routine for the Tigers.
The Tigers are too much for the Buckeyes once again and improve to 4-0 against them all-time, setting up another ACC/SEC showdown in the National Championship Game with both Tigers: Clemson and LSU in a home game in New Orleans.
The Prowl Toward a 4th National Title continues…..
CLEMSON 38 Ohio State 27
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