WHAT WE ARE HEARING: SUGAR BOWL PREVIEW & PREDICTION FOR NO.2 CLEMSON vs. NO.3 OHIO STATE
- 2021-01-01 03:20:11
Happy New Year, and welcome to the Sugar Bowl edition of What We Are Hearing!
Well, here we are again. For an unprecedented sixth straight year, the Tigers have made the College Football Playoff—something even Alabama hasn’t been able to accomplish. The Tigers got here, of course, by virtue of their 34-10 annihilation of Notre Dame in the ACC Championship Game. Many in the media thought that the 10.5 Vegas odds favoring the Tigers was too high, but not me. I predicted a 41-20 win for the Tigers and was still 3 points under the margin of victory. When the Tigers lost that heartbreaker in double-overtime at South Bend in early November, I said that night that a full-strength Clemson team would have won by 30, and the Tigers proved me right. If not for Trevor Lawrence contracting COVID or several other players missing the game due to injuries, the Tigers would still be ranked No.1 and undefeated heading into the playoff. Their average margin of victory with Trevor Lawrence as the starter this season is 33.6 points per game. Notre Dame came to Charlotte highly motivated, not only to earn a playoff spot and win their first-ever conference title, but to prove to the world that the win over the Tigers in South Bend was no fluke. Well, they got a taste of what Clemson looks like near full strength, and the Irish were utterly dominated, just like they were two years ago in the Cotton Bowl. Incidentally, the Tigers were still missing WR’s Frank Ladson and Joseph Ngata, as well as DE Xavier Thomas, who was coming on strong with 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his last 96 snaps. For my recap of the ACC Championship, photos, post-game interviews, highlights and more, click HERE. It was also the Tigers’ 10th win of the season, so Clemson has joined FSU and Alabama as the only programs in history to win at least 10 games in 10 straight seasons! A feat that’s even more remarkable this year, as the Tigers played 2 less regular season games than they normally do and had to start a true freshman quarterback in two of them, due to COVID. I’m not sure FSU would have been able to put together its record 14 straight 10-win seasons or Alabama either, if they had to deal with similar circumstances.
The Tigers didn’t have as much time to celebrate the ACC Championship as usual this year, with Christmas just days away and a CFP rematch with Ohio State less than 2 weeks away. In a season that has been anything but normal, it’s one more oddity that there is such little time before the playoff, but perhaps that’s a good thing, as well as the Tigers played against Notre Dame. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, have played just 6 games—5 less than the Tigers—and did not look like a playoff team in their Big Ten Championship Game against Northwestern. The Buckeyes trailed until late in the 3rd quarter and then pulled away for the 22-10 win. To be fair, Ohio State was missing about 20 players due to COVID, including its biggest play-maker, WR Chris Olave. It just so happens that Olave was the receiver who broke off his route, leading to Nolan Turner’s game-sealing interception in the Fiesta Bowl last season. Olave is expected to play in the Sugar Bowl, thanks to the Big Ten breaking its own rule (again), lowering the quarantine period from 21 days to 17 days. Guess who else from Ohio State will be looking for some payback. CB Shaun Wade was the Buckeye infamously ejected for targeting on Trevor Lawrence in the Fiesta Bowl, which sparked the Tigers’ comeback from 16-0 to win 29-23. Wade has been the leader of the secondary and the defense all season, and he can’t wait to get another shot at the Tigers for revenge. Then, there is Justin Fields, who had just one interception all season last year before throwing two against the Tigers, including the aforementioned one on the final drive that effectively ended the game. Fields and Trevor Lawrence have been competing with each other directly or indirectly since their high school days in Georgia. They competed against each other in elite quarterback camps and took turns occupying the top two spots in the national recruiting rankings. Ironically, if Fields had stayed at UGA, we may have never seen them go head-to-head in college, even though Clemson and Georgia open the 2021 season against each other in Charlotte. As fate would have it, though, we now get a rematch of Lawrence vs. Fields with the ultimate prize at stake!
The Tigers, of course, are 4-0 all-time against Ohio State, all in big bowl games, going back to Danny Ford beating Woody Hayes in the Gator Bowl, the last game Woody would ever coach after punching Clemson’s Charlie Bauman at the end of the game. Dabo is 3-0 against the Buckeyes since 2013, including a 31-0 CFP Fiesta Bowl win over Urban Meyer, his only career shutout. Last year’s thrilling win over Ryan Day and the Buckeyes was also in the Fiesta Bowl, so this will be the teams’ first meeting in the Sugar Bowl. Of course, we all know that the Tigers have had bad luck in New Orleans at the Super Dome. Trevor Lawrence is 34-1 as a starter at Clemson, and his only bad game in his college career was in that building against LSU last January. The Tigers also lost 24-6 to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl after the 2017 season, although that was a 10-6 game in the 4th quarter before the Tigers’ defense ran out of gas. Ironically, Dabo won his 1992 national title as a player in the Super Dome with Alabama, beating Miami, but New Orleans hasn’t been kind to the Tigers. In fact, they also lost the Sugar Bowl following the 1958 season to LSU 7-0 (at Tulane Stadium), so they are 0-3 all-time in New Orleans post-season games. There are story lines galore for this one! Without further ado, let’s dive into the rematch with a few photos from last year's instant classic….
This is the 125th season of Clemson Football….The Tigers have won at least 10 games for the 10th straight year under Dabo Swinney, joining Alabama and Florida State as the only programs ever to do so….Clemson is the only program to have won 6 consecutive outright ACC titles and the only program in college football history to win 6 consecutive conference championship games…. At 78-6, Clemson has the best record in the nation since 2015; 3 wins better than Alabama and 12 wins better than Ohio State. Clemson is 3 wins behind Alabama for the most wins since 2011….Clemson has the most wins versus Power Five opponents since 2013; 10 more than Ohio State and 7 more than Alabama….Dabo now has the nation’s best active win percentage at .811. Nick Saban’s is .792. Dabo also holds the best all-time win percentage in ACC games at .830. Bobby Bowden’s was .813. Dabo’s overall .811 win percentage is 7th all-time among head coaches that coached at least 150 games. Urban Meyer’s .854 win percentage is atop that list, followed by Switzer, Osborne, Yost, Neyland and Wilkinson….Only 6 times has a team won 12 or more games in a season against Power Five opponents. Clemson, FSU and LSU are the only programs to have done it, and 4 of the 6 times were by Clemson, which remains the only program ever to win 13 games against Power Five opponents in one season, accomplished in 2018. The Tigers could have won 12 games against Power Five opponents this season if not for FSU using COVID to cancel its game with Clemson or the SEC disallowing ACC rivalry games this season…..Dabo Swinney and Nick Saban are the only head coaches in history to reach No.1 in the AP Poll in 6 consecutive seasons….Clemson has played in the 14th most games (22) as AP No.1….Dabo is 17th all-time for most games (21) coached as AP No.1, passing Jim Tressel, Steve Spurrier and Ara Parseghian. He is one game behind Urban Meyer and Lou Holtz for a tie at 13th on the list….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive weeks in the AP Top 10 at 92 weeks, the third-longest streak all-time. Florida has the next-longest active streak at just 21 weeks….Clemson has been ranked in the AP Top 5 for 55 consecutive weeks, by far the longest active streak and third-longest streak all-time. The next-longest active streak is Alabama at 16 weeks. Ohio State had 14 consecutive weeks before their exclusion due to the Big Ten’s season postponement. If Clemson remains in the Top 5 at the end of the season, which it will, it will pass Miami for the second-longest streak all-time. If the Tigers remain in the Top 5 from now until the ACC Championship next season, they will pass Alabama for the longest such streak all-time….Clemson’s run of 5 straight top-5 finishes is tied for the sixth-longest streak all-time. After this season, the Tigers will tie Oklahoma; one more, and they will tie three other schools for the second-longest streak. FSU has the record at 14 straight top-5 finishes under Bobby Bowden….If Clemson beats Ohio State and finishes in the top 2 of the AP Poll this season, it will join Miami as the only programs to finish in the top 2 in 5 of 6 seasons. Alabama could also join that club if the Tide beat Notre Dame in the playoff….Clemson has been ranked No.2 a total of 27 times in the AP Poll. That is just one behind Oregon for 13th-most and 6 behind FSU for 12th-most. 10 more AP Polls at No.2 will put Clemson in the top-10 all-time….Clemson and Alabama are tied for the most consecutive 12-win seasons (5) since Penn in 1892. One more would move Clemson ahead of Alabama, which won 11 games last season….Clemson has won 28 straight home games dating back to 2016, the longest active streak in the nation. Notre Dame has the second-longest active streak at 24, and its all-time record is 28 straight home wins, the same as the Tigers’ current streak. Only 9 fifth-year seniors on the 120-man Clemson roster have experienced a loss in Death Valley, and on Saturday, the senior class became the first in Clemson history to never lose a game at home. The Tigers are an FBS-best 46-1 at home since 2014….Before losing at Notre Dame in November, Clemson had won 39 straight non-bowl games, passing Nebraska and tying Miami for second-most all-time. Oklahoma holds the record at 45….Clemson had won 28 straight games against ACC opponents, tying FSU for the second-most all-time. FSU also holds the record at 29 straight, and the double-overtime loss at one-time ACC member Notre Dame kept Clemson from tying FSU for the record….Clemson had won 50 straight Saturday games before the Notre Dame loss, the longest such streak of all time…..In making the CFP for an unprecedented 6th straight year, Dabo Swinney joined basketball legend John Wooden as the only coaches in any sport to make a Final Four playoff 6 years in a row….Against VA Tech, Trevor Lawrence became the 5th player in ACC history with 100 career touchdowns accounted for, joining Deshaun Watson, Tajh Boyd, Lamar Jackson and Phillip Rivers….On Senior Day, Trevor Lawrence reached 10,000 career all-purpose yards, passing Charlie Whitehurst for 3rd in Clemson history behind Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson…..With his touchdown in the ACC Championship, Travis Etienne tied for 4th on the all-time FBS rushing TD list….Clemson leads the all-time series against Ohio State 4-0, all in major bowl games….Clemson remains the only program with a winning record (at least 2 meetings) against Notre Dame (4-2), Oklahoma (3-2) and Ohio State (4-0)….
OHIO STATE SYNOPSIS
As mentioned, the Buckeyes find themselves in uncharted territory, going into the playoff having played just 6 games, with numerous players missing their previous game due to COVID. Much has been made about the Buckeyes’ abbreviated season and whether they belong in the CFP with a 6-0 record. They almost weren’t even allowed to play in the Big Ten Championship because of the conference’s own foolish rule that it made at the start of the season, mandating that a team must have played at least 6 games to qualify for the championship. The conference, of course, reversed its own rule to allow the Buckeyes to play in the championship and earn a spot in the playoff for the conference. There has also been much debate about whether Ohio State has an unfair “freshness” advantage, having played 5 less games than each of the other teams in the playoff. While there is certainly merit to that hypothesis—there is no comparison between playing 6 games and the grind of an 11-game schedule—I have to wonder whether the “freshness” advantage outweighs the advantage that Clemson, Alabama and Notre Dame have from developing and improving as a team over the course of a full season. Put it this way: is Clemson a better team now than it was after 6 games? I believe it definitely is. In fact, it was at that 6-game mark when the Tigers were plagued with injuries and players with COVID. Remember, the loss at Notre Dame was the Tigers’ 8th game of the season. In their 7th game against Boston College, the Tigers were without Trevor Lawrence due to COVID as well as Tyler Davis, James Skalski and Mike Jones due to injury. And we all remember how the Tigers gave BC a 14-point swing on Etienne’s fumble, and they had to pull the game out late. The Tigers’ backups have come a long way since then, so I would argue that Ohio State might possibly be at a disadvantage due to its abbreviated schedule. We’ll see if that’s the case, but what we do know is that the Buckeyes have not looked impressive against quality opponents this season, and they will have several players coming back from COVID who have not seen game action in over a month.
The Buckeyes are led, of course, by QB Justin Fields, who was one of the early favorites for the Heisman. He has not been as sharp so far this season as he was last year. His completion percentage is better than ever at 72.6% and he has 15 touchdowns in his 6 games this season, but in their two games against currently ranked teams, Fields has just 2 touchdowns and all 5 of his interceptions. He’s averaging about 250 passing yards and 45 rushing yards per game this season. He also has 5 rush TD’s and averages 4.1 yards per carry. Fields has been sacked 18 times, so 3 per game. In my mind, Fields has all the pressure on him. I believe he’s been carrying that interception around with him for the last 12 months and has been dying for revenge ever since. He has all but said so. The motivation is clearly there, but sometimes the weight of that can crush a player, even a great player. If he doesn’t get off to a good start or throws an interception early, it could be curtains for Fields.
RB JK Dobbins was a force against the Tigers last year, as I’m sure you recall. He had a couple key drops but also had some big runs. Dobbins has moved on to the NFL, so in the backfield with Fields this time will be Trey Sermon (#8), the senior transfer from Oklahoma. The 6’1, 215-pound native of Marietta, GA had by far his best game of the season in his last outing in the Big Ten Championship against a good Northwestern defense. Sermon rushed for a whopping 331 yards and 2 touchdowns on 29 carries in that game, averaging 11.4 yards per carry. He had just one TD this season before that game and split carries pretty evenly with sophomore Master Teague (#33), but Sermon now leads team with 675 rushing yards. His season average is now 8 yards per carry. At 5’11, 225 pounds, Teague is also very capable. He averages 5 yards per carry and has 6 touchdowns this season, so one per game. He had just 2 carries for 23 yards in the Big Ten Championship with Sermon having a big game, but Teague rushed for 169 yards and 2 TD’s in the Buckeyes’ only other game against a ranked team, Indiana. Offensive Coordinator Kevin Wilson (former Indiana Head Coach) and the Buckeyes don’t throw to the backs very often. Sermon has 8 catches for 34 yards, and Teague has 4 for 45. Neither has a TD reception this season.
As noted, WR Chris Olave (#2) missed the Big Ten Championship due to COVID, and he hasn’t played a game in almost a month. His last appearance was the Michigan State game on December 5, in which he caught 10 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown. The 6’1, 188-pound junior also had 2 TD’s against Penn State and 2 against Rutgers. He’s had four 100-yard games out of five, including 8 catches for 101 yards against a very good Indiana pass defense. As noted, it was Olave who broke off his route prematurely, which led to Nolan Turner’s game-ending interception in the end zone in last year’s Fiesta Bowl. So, like Fields, Olave has been waiting a year to redeem himself and exact revenge against the Tigers. The Buckeyes’ other big threat in the passing game is 6’0, 193-pound sophomore Garrett Wilson (#5), who leads the team with 621 yards and is tied with Olave for the team lead in touchdowns with 5. He had a monster game against that stout Indiana pass defense, catching 7 passes for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. The good news for the Tigers is that they don’t have a 6’4 or 6’5 receiver or tight end to deal with like they have in so many other games. Aside from Olave and Wilson, no other player for the Buckeyes has caught more than 9 passes this season.
On the other side of the ball, the Buckeyes have a new defensive coordinator in Kerry Coombs. As most of you know, former Ohio State DC Jeff Hafley is now the head coach at Boston College, so this will be the first time Coombs has gone against the Clemson offense, and that is advantage Tigers. I’m sure both Ryan Day and Hafley have brought Coombs up to seed on the particulars of the Tigers’ attack, but that’s not the same as having made in-game adjustments against the Clemson offense once before. However, Coombs did coach the Ohio State secondary under Urban Meyer against Clemson in the 2013 season Orange Bowl and 2016 season Fiesta Bowl, so he has seen the Tigers up close and personal, but it’s been a while. Most recently, Coombs was the secondary coach for the Tennessee Titans for the last 2 years. He coached the secondary for Brian Kelly at Cincy before taking the job at Ohio State with Urban Meyer. Before he was hired by Brian Kelly, Coombs spent 23 years coaching in the Ohio high school ranks. Interestingly, Coombs was hired at Tennessee by Head Coach Mike Vrabel, whose son plays at Boston College for Jeff Hafley, the man who Coombs replaced at Ohio State.
The Buckeyes lost 3 of their 4 starters in the secondary to the NFL, including first-round corner Jeff Okudah. The sole returning starter is the aforementioned Shaun Wade, who was ejected in last year’s meeting for the targeting on Trevor Lawrence. You can bet he has been hoping for this rematch as well! He has 2 interceptions this season, including a pick-six. They also lost, of course, their All-American and Heisman Finalist, DE Chase Young, who had 16.5 sacks last season. They haven’t had that dominant pass rusher that we’re accustomed to seeing from Ohio State for the last several years, going back to the Bosa brothers. Their leading sack man this season is junior DT Tommy Togiai (#72), who has just 3 sacks. Next on the team is senior DE Jonathon Cooper (#0), who has 2.5. Quite a difference from 16.5, albeit with more games. The Buckeyes average 2.83 sacks per game, which is respectable and No.25 nationally, but they were No.3 nationally in that department last season. The Buckeyes lost their leading tackler, LB Malik Harrison, from last year, but they have their other top 3 linebackers back in Borland, Werner and Browning. The trio leads the team in tackles this season.
Finally, the Buckeyes have a solid kicker in senior Blake Haubeil. He is just 5-7 this season with a long of 43, but he was 13-15 last year with a long of 55, his only attempt over 50 yards in his career.
Ohio State is ranked No.9 in scoring offense (42.5 points/game), No.4 in rushing offense (275.67 yards/game), No.42 in passing offense (253.5 yards per game) and No.6 in total offense (529.2 yards/game). The Buckeyes are No.24 in scoring defense (21.0 points/game), No.6 in rush defense (96.67 yards/game), No.104 in pass defense (261.3 yards/game) and No.34 in total defense (358.0 yards/game). They are No.25 in sacks (2.83/game), No.67 in tackles-for-loss (6.0/game), No.35 in interceptions (1.0/game) and No.3 in turnover margin (+1.33/game). They have 16 takeaways and just 8 turnovers lost.
Obviously, the biggest news from the Clemson camp broke on Wednesday, when it was announced that Offensive Coordinator Tony Elliott tested positive for COVID and will miss the Sugar Bowl. However, no one in college football is more prepared for every contingency than Dabo Swinney, and I knew that Dabo would have a plan in place for this event. Although Tony’s absence in the booth will be a big disadvantage for the Tigers, my bigger concern was whether any players would also test positive or be quarantined due to contact tracing. From what Dabo said in our Zoom press conference on Thursday morning, it sounds like just one scholarship player and one walk-on did not make the trip due to COVID, so that’s great news for the Tigers. As far as play-calling duties, QB Coach Brandon Streeter will be in Tony’s seat in the booth and call the plays on Friday. It will be an adjustment for Trevor Lawrence not to have Streeter on the sideline, but he will be able to communicate with Trevor from the booth. Dabo said that CJ Spiller will help with the running back rotation—one of the in-game duties of Streeter ordinarily. If you’re going to lose your offensive coordinator and play-caller—remember, the Tigers’ 6-year playoff run began when Tony Elliott started calling the plays—I guess you’d like to have a quarterback like Trevor Lawrence, who has seen it all and is 34-1 as a starter. While Trevor is no play-caller like Tony just yet, he is adept at making pre-snap adjustments and can get the Tigers out of bad plays at the line of scrimmage. Many of the designed plays are RPO’s anyway, which puts the decision-making in Trevor’s hands. The only question is whether Tony’s absence will cost the Tigers a play here or a play there, especially in third down situations. A third down or two not converted could add up to a significant number of points.
As for the players, I’m hoping Xavier Thomas will be back. It’s unclear why he missed the Notre Dame game. Dabo told me he was not injured, and we know he had COVID already in the summer, so perhaps it was disciplinary. Whatever it was, let’s hope he’s back because he was on a tear over the last few games before the ACC Championship, playing about as well as he has in his career. He had 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in his last 96 snaps, which equates to about a game and a half. Fortunately, the Tigers didn’t need him in order to shut down Ian Book and Notre Dame in the rematch, but having him in the rotation against Ohio State would be a big boost to keep Myles Murphy and KJ Henry fresh.
I’m also hoping Frank Ladson will be back to himself on Friday. He played just 5 snaps against Notre Dame and didn’t have a catch. Just his presence as another down field threat along with Powell, Rodgers and Williams would make a big difference. Ngata could also potentially be back, but I’m not holding my breath on him. He had a great freshman year last year but has been beset by injuries all season. Just when it looked like he might be back in the first Notre Dame game, he immediately got hurt again. However, freshman EJ Williams has turned a corner it seems. He has been decent all season, with a catch here or there, but he was a major factor in the ACC Championship right out of the gate. He made a nice catch to convert on 3rd down on the opening possession, which prevented a 3-and-out, and of course had the long touchdown catch. The one-handed catch he made on the sideline in the second half was reminiscent of his old high school teammate Justyn Ross’s one-hander as a freshman against Alabama in the National Championship. The gasp from everyone in the press box was eerily similar! A game like that can certainly be a big confidence boost for the true freshman, and I am anxious to see what he does for a second act. Remember, it was about the same time that Ross burst onto the scene in his freshman year and had an enormous playoff.
I also look to one of the tight ends, Galloway or Allen, to make a big play or two in the passing game. That’s something Ohio State didn’t really have to deal with last year. Allen was a true freshman, and Galloway was just coming off his suspension.
Defensively, the Tigers are in the best shape they’ve been all season. Starting safety Nolan Turner will miss the first half, however, due to his targeting ejection in the 2nd half against Notre Dame. Joseph Charleston has plenty of experience by now, though. Although Nolan had the game-sealing interception, he was not pleased with his overall performance and said that he wants to make up for that. He was juked a couple of times in the open field and was beat on a touchdown pass as well. He'll have to make up for lost time in the second half! Backup MLB Jake Venables is out for the season with a broken arm, so hopefully Skalski won’t get hurt again. He said that he was football sore after the Notre Dame game, but not sore from his surgery, so that is good news. If Skalski does go down again, Patterson and Bentley have gotten some good experience and made several big plays, so they should be able to step up. Speaking of linebackers, Baylon Spector told me the other day that he has decided to return to Clemson next season. That is great news for the Tigers! He had another year of eligibility anyway, before the additional year granted by the NCAA, but he had already earned his degree before this season. He’s had a great season in his first as a starter.
Clemson is ranked No.3 in scoring offense (44.9 points/game), No.64 in rushing offense (163.82 yards/game), No.7 in passing offense (343.8 yards per game) and No.10 in total offense (507.6 yards/game). The Tigers are No.11 in scoring defense (17.5 points/game), No.8 in rush defense (99.82 yards/game), No.25 in pass defense (198.6 yards/game) and No.5 in total defense (298.5 yards/game). They are No.4 in sacks (4.0/game), No.3 in tackles-for-loss (9.36/game), No.11 in interceptions (13) and No.18 in turnover margin (+0.82/game). They are 5th in turnovers gained (22) but have given it away 13 times.
The Tigers will be wearing all orange in the Super Dome as the higher ranked team. Interestingly, though, the Tigers have been virtually unbeatable in the white jerseys. In fact, you might have to go all the way back to the Tommy Bowden era to find a loss in that uniform combination. Both of Dabo's national championship wins were in orange and white. The most recent blowout of Notre Dame was in orange and white. Last year's win over Ohio State was in orange and white. The 2013 season orange bowl win over ohio state was in orange and white. Conversely, both of Dabo's losses in New Orleans were in all orange as well as the national championship loss to Alabama. You can even go back to the 2011 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia and Gator Bowl loss to Nebraska--both of those were in all orange. Now, that's not to say by any means that the all orange uniforms are unlucky. In fact, the Tigers blew out Notre Dame 2 years ago in all orange as well as Ohio State in 2016 and Oklahoma in 2015 and 2014 wearing all orange. The 2013 Peach Bowl win over LSU was in all orange, and, of course, who could forget the Tigers' first national championship Orange Bowl win over Nebraska. And I know Dabo isn't superstitious about uniforms, so you can expect to see the all orange uni's in the Super Dome. I'm just saying if it were me, as unbeatable as the Tigers have been in orange and white? I might opt for that combo if it were up to me. The good news is if the Tigers play Alabama again for the national championship in Miami, they will be wearing that orange and white combo that they wore in both championship wins over the Tide....that is, unless Nick Saban catches on.
As for the Ohio State rematch, everyone loves to talk about motivation and which team will be more motivated, but when the stakes are this high, I think you can throw that out the window. Sure, Ohio State wants revenge for last year’s loss, and they are probably ticked off about Dabo ranking them No.11 last week. However, I think they would be just as motivated to play for a national title without those extrinsic factors, just as the Tigers are. I’m sure Trevor Lawrence wants to exorcise his Super Dome demons, where he played the worst game in his career. I’m sure Travis Etienne wants to make up for his two losses in his own backyard with all his family and friends in attendance. But when it comes down to it and toe meets leather, it all comes down to execution. And that’s where I think the Tigers have a decided advantage. Again, Ohio State has only played about half of the games that the Tigers have. They started later, and they have only played one game since December 5th. Many of their players haven’t played at all since the 5th. Ohio State is not a fully developed team like Clemson is, and it has shown. Unless the Buckeyes just happen to pull it all together in the nick of time and play their best game of the season, this game shouldn’t be as close as the 7.5-point advantage Vegas has given the Tigers.
The Buckeyes’ secondary was their strength last season, but after losing all those players to the NFL, they have a woeful pass defense, ranking No.104 nationally. That spells trouble for a team that hasn’t faced a quarterback like Trevor Lawrence yet!
I expect Travis to have a big game running and/or receiving, and I think that Brent Venables will have some surprises in store for Justin Fields. The Ohio State offensive line is good but not nearly as good as Notre Dame’s, and the Tigers absolutely shut down the Irish running game in Charlotte, holding them to just 1.5 yards per rush. We’ll find out if Sermon’s big game against Northwestern was a fluke or if he’s just peaking at the right time, but I’m betting the former. You also have to wonder how effective Olave will be after not playing a game in nearly a month. If Tony Elliott were calling the plays in the booth for the Tigers, I’d predict another 24-point blowout win for the Tigers, their second in a row. However, I think his absence could cause some hiccups in the offense early and cost the Tigers as many as 10 points.
Defensively, I won’t be surprised at all if Venables and company shut down the Buckeyes like they did Notre Dame. After all, the Notre Dame offense was every bit as prolific statistically going into the game, with a veteran QB who had only lost 3 games in his career and perhaps the best offensive line in the nation. Book may not be as good at throwing the deep ball as Fields, but in many ways he’s a better quarterback and probably even more elusive. Yet the Tigers were still amazingly able to sack book 6 times in Charlotte without Xavier Thomas. Also, Fields has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long in the pocket, which allows the pass rush to get to him. He doesn’t get rid of the ball or scramble as effectively as Book does. So I could easily see the Tigers holding the Buckeyes to 17 points or less, but I’ll be generous and assume that Fields, Sermon and crew will be bring their A games.
The one X-factor is turnovers. They are always huge in a game like this between great teams for high stakes, and they are the equalizer when one team has a decided advantage like I believe the Tigers do. Ohio State is No.3 nationally in turnover margin per game at +1.33. I don’t believe that will be enough for the Buckeyes to win, but if they are plus 2 or more, or the Tigers give them points off turnovers the way they did against Boston College and Notre Dame, this could be a much closer game.
Be that as it may, I believe the Tigers will force a turnover or two of their own and make it 5-0 all-time over Ohio State, 3-0 in the College Football Playoff. The New Orleans curse is broken! One last swan song for Trev and Trav….get ready for Clemson vs. Bama Part V, folks!
The Prowl toward an unprecedented 6th consecutive ACC Title, unprecedented 6th consecutive College Football Playoff and 3rd consecutive National Championship Game is complete. The Prowl toward a 4th National Title continues…...
CLEMSON 38 Ohio State 24
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