Kirk Herbstreit is looking forward to the Fiesta Bowl matchup between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Clemson on Dec. 28 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.
This is an interesting matchup for Herbstreit for a lot of reasons. Besides calling the game for ESPN, along with Chris Fowler and Maria Taylor, Herbstreit played and started for the Buckeyes at quarterback. Also, his two twin sons, Jake and Tye, are freshmen at Clemson.
However, despite all the ties, the longtime ESPN analyst remains professional in his craft and during Saturday’s College GameDay Show, he broke down what he considered the most interesting matchup in the College Football Playoff Semifinal.
Ohio State’s defense ranks second nationally, allowing 246.6 yards per game and second nationally against the pass, giving up just 148.1 yards per game through the air. The Buckeyes are led by Jim Thorpe Award Finalist Jeff Okudah, who is considered by some to be the best cornerback in the game.
They will go up against Clemson receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. Both are 6-4 and 6-5 and have been dominant all season long.
“Jeff Okudah is the top corner in college football. He is 6-1 and over 200 pounds and has tremendous length,” Herbstreit said. “You are going to see Jeffery Okudah, Damon Arnette and Sean Wade, three outstanding corners against Tee Higgins and Justin Ross. They are 6-4 and 6-5. That is a great matchup and is kind of a game within a game, those corners against those receivers from Clemson.”
The Buckeyes (13-0) will also have to deal with Clemson running back Travis Etienne. The two-time ACC Player of the Year leads the Tigers with 1,500 rushing yards and 19 total touchdowns, while leading the nation with an 8.2 yards per carry average.
“First of all, it starts, I think, with Travis Etienne. As much as (Trevor) Lawrence gets the attention, if you keep two safeties back because you are worried about that vertical passing game, guess what, nine is getting the ball and he is averaging over eight yards per carry. So, Ohio State will have to make sure they are aware of him,” Herbstreit said.
The ESPN analyst said getting leverage and filling the rush lanes is an area the Buckeyes have really improved this season. Ohio State ranks seventh nationally against the run, allowing just 99.5 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry which ranks sixth in the country.
However, as Herbstreit stated, the Buckeyes have to be careful about giving all the attention to Etienne.
“When teams in the ACC have said, ‘You know what, we can’t let Etienne get going. We have to get some extra guys down in the box.’ Now, you are going to go with a one (safety)-high look and like most quarterbacks in today’s game, they are going to challenge you downfield … You see the length and the accuracy and Tee Higgins is able to go up and make a lot of plays,” Herbstreit said.
Higgins is averaging a remarkable 20.8 yards per catch, which leads the Tigers. He also has a team best 1,082 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns. In the last three games, the junior has caught 16 passes for 347 yards and eight touchdowns. Higgins has hauled in at least one touchdown in each of the last five games.
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