One thing is for certain, when Clemson plays Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinals at the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Eve, there are going to be a lot of things that look alike.
Like the Tigers, the Buckeyes use a power-spread attack and play with tempo. They have a mobile quarterback in J.T. Barrett who can hurt a defense with both his arm and his legs.
“We are similar in a lot of ways. They’re a tempo team, a lot of shifts and motions built into what they do, and they’re going to run their quarterback, similar to us, as well,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
Ohio State (11-1) actually runs Barrett a lot more than the Tigers run Watson. Barrett has rushed for 847 yards, second on the team, and is tied for the team lead with nine rushing touchdowns. Clemson’s Deshaun Watson on the other hand has rushed for 526 yards and six touchdowns.
“We have some run-pass options, and the difference is obviously the athlete, and very rarely do you find a guy that’s that big and athletic and can throw, so we’re still trying to figure that out,” Buckeyes’ head coach Urban Meyer said.
Watson’s arm and his ability to get the ball to his talented wide receivers and tight end in so many ways is the biggest difference in the two quarterbacks. Watson, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy race on Saturday, led the ACC with 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns, while completing 67.6 percent of his passes.
Watson threw for almost 1,500 more yards than Barrett and 13 more touchdown passes. Watson averaged 301.1 yards per game through the air, while Barrett averaged 202.3 yards per game.
“The first part of our practices are always just fundamentally based and then we move into game planning, which will take place next week,” Meyer said. “So we’ll have those conversations this weekend on who will play Deshaun, and as difficult as those three receivers are to defend, as well. But those are all discussions we’ll have this weekend.”
While Meyer is worried about Clemson’s receivers, Swinney is concerned about Ohio State’s two running backs. Mike Weber leads the team with 1,072 yards and is averaging 6.1 yards per carry, while Curtis Samuel is averaging 7.7 yards per carry and has rushed for 704 yards.
Samuel is also a matchup problem out of the backfield where he has hauled in a team-high 65 catches for a team-best 822 yards. His seven touchdown reception are tied for the team lead.
“They’re surrounded by a great cast. You know, two really good football teams, and we’ve got great respect for Ohio State. I watch them whenever I get the opportunity just like (the other coaches), playing time, getting the opportunity to start studying them a little bit,” Swinney said. “But this is an outstanding quarterback team led by two great running backs, certainly.
“But there are a lot of weapons around them. It’s going to be a tough challenge.”