No. 2 Clemson vs. No. 3 Ohio State
For the last two weeks, Clemson has to read, listen and see how motivated Ohio State and its players are for Friday’s Sugar Bowl.
The whole theme for the College Football Playoff Game is how the Buckeyes want revenge and how they plan on getting it at the Superdome in New Orleans. Quarterback Justin Fields says he has not prepared for a game all year like he has for the Tigers. Ohio State Football’s video team posted a video on their social media platforms that shows how last year’s 29-23 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl has been a motivating factor for the Buckeyes all year.
But Ohio State needs to understand, Clemson is motivated too.
“We’re motivated by winning just as much as we are losing,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ve won a national championship. That’s pretty motivating. You want to go do it again.”
The Tigers are also motivated by losing. The last time Clemson played at the Superdome, it lost, losing to LSU in last year’s national championship game.
“And as you mentioned, we lost right here last year, and that’s pretty motivating, too,” Swinney said. “So, I think that every year you start over, and the goal is to be the best you can be. Our goals are laid out and are pretty simple. But they allow us to compete at the highest level, and everything goes to winning our league. That’s where it starts.”
Clemson also lost to Alabama in the 2017 Sugar Bowl and is 0-2 all-time in the classic bowl game. The Tigers most recent win in New Orleans came in 1981, when they beat Tulane 13-5 at the Superdome in a regular season game.
Clemson went on to win its first national championship that year.
“We’re always motivated to be our best, and certainly we learn from our memories. As I always say, we just try to keep our dreams greater than our memories,” Swinney said. “Whether you had a tough loss or had a big, big win last year to finish your season, the season is going to end one way or the other. You either win it all if you are in a playoff like this, or you get beat ‑‑ or you’re in a bowl game and you win that bowl game, and you have momentum and excitement going into your off‑season, whatever it is. I think all those things provide motivation.”
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans
Records: Clemson 10-1, 8-1 ACC; Ohio State 6-0, 5-0 Big Ten
When: Friday, 8 p.m.
TV: ABC (Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Maria Taylor, Tom Rinaldi)
Radio: Clemson Tigers Network (Don Munson, Tim Bourret, Reggie Merriweather)
Satellite Radio: Sirius 84, XM 84, Internet 84
Latest Line: Clemson minus-7.5
- OVERALL: Clemson trails series, Clemson leads series, 4-0
- HOME: NA
- ROAD: NA
- NEUTRAL: Clemson leads series, 4-0
- LAST MEETING: Dec. 28, 2019 (29-23, W)
- STREAK: Clemson, Won 4
Three other story lines
The opportunity for significant parallels to the 2015- 16 postseasons exists for Clemson. After losing a national championship game in Glendale, Ariz. to end 2015, Clemson returned to Arizona for the 2016 Fiesta Bowl and defeated Ohio State, 31-0, before winning the national title in the state of Florida. This year, Clemson faces Ohio State in New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the same venue in which Clemson’s 2019 national championship hopes ended with a loss to LSU. With a win, Clemson would advance to play for another national title in the state of Florida, as this year’s College Football Playoff National Championship will take place in Miami Gardens, Fla. on Jan. 11.
Clemson will be seeking an 11th bowl victory under Head Coach Dabo Swinney (10-6), which would tie the ACC head coaching record. Bobby Bowden holds the mark with 11, as an additional 11 of his 22 career bowl victories (including one later vacated) came either at West Virginia or at Florida State prior to the Seminoles’ membership in the ACC.
Clemson is attempting to improve to 5-0 all-time against Ohio State, which enters the contest with the second-most wins all-time in FBS history. Clemson (4-0), Alabama (3-1), Stanford (3-2) and USC (13-10-1) are presently the only schools to have played Ohio State at least four times and have a winning record in the series.
Ohio State’s three players to watch
Justin Fields, QB: Fields struggled in the Big Ten Championship Game against Northwestern, throwing for just 114 yards on 12-of-27 passing. He also threw two interceptions. In two of his last three games, Fields has thrown five interceptions, including three against Indiana. Fields also injured his thumb on this throwing hand against Northwestern. He and head coach Ryan Day said his thumb is okay and will not be an issue in the Sugar Bowl.
Trey Sermon, RB: Trey Sermon broke Eddie George’s 25-year-old single game rushing record of 314 yards vs. Illinois in 1995 with 331 yards in the Big Ten title game win over Northwestern. The yardage total was the most-ever in a conference championship game, and Sermon’s 271 yards in the second half was the most in one half by a Buckeye (Ezekiel Elliott; 243 vs. Indiana in 2015). Sermon was named the game’s MVP.
Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave, WRs: Wilson and Olave rank No. 1 and No. 3, respectively in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game (Wilson in averaging 103.5 yards/game and Olave 105.6). They are the only set of teammates nationally who are averaging more than 100 yards receiving per game. Wilson and Olave have accounted for 74 of Ohio State’s 119 total receptions this season (62.1 percent) and 1,149 of its 1,521 receiving yards (75.5 percent). Olave is expected to return for the Sugar Bowl after missing the Big Ten Championship Game due to COVID-19.
The key part of the game, in my opinion, will come when Ohio State has the ball. The Buckeyes are great at running the football. The Tigers are one of the best at stopping the run. Something has to give, right? Clemson wants to put the ball in Fields’ hands and make him beat the Tigers with his arm. The first step is to eliminate the running game and take Sermon out of the game. Limit Fields on designed runs, RPOs, zone-reads and scramble drills. Keep him in the pocket and make him go through his progressions and force him to make mistakes. Tony Elliott is not available to call plays and that is worth at least seven points for the Tigers. However, I think Brent Venables and the Clemson defense will keep the Buckeyes at bay.
Score prediction: Clemson 27, Ohio State 20
–Clemson and Ohio State Athletic Communications departments contributed to this story