As Clemson gets set to play Ohio State in Friday’s Sugar Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff, perhaps the biggest key to the game will be if the Tigers can slow down the Buckeyes’ rushing attack.
Ohio State is averaging 275.7 yards per game on the ground and has eclipsed at least 307 yards in each of its last three, including 399 against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game.
But can the Buckeyes run the football against a Clemson defense that ranks ninth nationally against the run. The Tigers are allowing just 99.8 yards per game on the ground and just 2.79 yards per carry, which ranks fifth nationally.
The Tigers’ game plan seems simple. Stop the running game and put the ball and the game in the hand of quarterback Justin Fields.
And though it sounds simple, it is not that simple.
“We will do our best,” Clemson linebacker Baylon Spector said. “He is a great player. He is going to bring a bunch of challenges. He is going to run the ball. He is going to throw the ball and he will be able to use his legs to scramble and make plays.”
That is the one area where Fields is different in this year’s rematch of last year’s Fiesta Bowl. Fields played with a banged-up knee last season and did not have his full range of mobility at his disposal. Keeping the super athletic quarterback in the pocket this year will be more of a challenge for the Tigers.
“We will do the best we can to contain him and try to do our best to go out there and win the game,” Spector said.
Last year, Fields competed 30-of-46 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown. However, the Tigers intercepted him twice, including a game-clinching interception in the end zone by safety Nolan Turner with 33 seconds to play.
Though Fields’ knee is fine this time around, there are questions about his thumb. The quarterback banged his thumb up in the second quarter against Northwestern as he struggled to throw the ball the rest of the game. He threw two interceptions in the first half.
But he has since said the thumb is okay and it will not be an issue in the Sugar Bowl. Odds are Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is going to want to test that theory right out of the gate as the Tigers’ plan of attack will be to put the football in Fields’ hand and see if his arm can beat them.