No. 2 Clemson (10-1) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (6-0) in Sugar Bowl
In its 46 previous bowl appearances, Clemson has played Ohio State four times. When the two kick off the Sugar Bowl tonight at the Superdome in New Orleans, it will mean the second-ranked Tigers have played the third-ranked Buckeyes more than any other program in its bowl history.
Like tonight’s Sugar Bowl, all four meetings between the two programs have come in the postseason. This year’s meeting will mark the third time the two have faced each other in the College Football Playoff.
Clemson is 4-0 in the series, which started with its 17-15 win over the Buckeyes in the 1978 Gator Bowl. The two did not meet again until the 2014 Orange Bowl Classic, which the Tigers rallied to win 40-35.
Then of course there is Clemson’s 31-0 victory in the 2017 Fiesta Bowl, the first meeting of the two in the CFP era. The Tigers went on to win the national championship that season.
Last year, Clemson up ended Ohio State, 29-23, in the Fiesta Bowl for a second time to advance to the national championship game.
Can Clemson make it five straight over Ohio State and advance to the national championship game for the fifth time in the last six years? Or will the Buckeyes finally get over the hump and beat the Tigers?
Who has the edge?
Clemson’s O-Line vs. Ohio State’s D-Line: Coming into the season, Clemson’s offensive line was the biggest question mark on the team. The Tigers had four new starters up front and at times it showed, especially when it came to running the football. Though Clemson has done a good job all year of protecting quarterback Trevor Lawrence, allowing just 1.6 sacks a game, the Tigers struggled for much of the year to run the football with any consistency. Clemson is averaging just 4.6 yards per carry. However, the offensive line seemed to come together against Pitt, as it gained 173 yards on the Panthers’ nationally ranked run defense. They spring boarded that performance into back-to-back 200-yard performances, including 219 yards against a Notre Dame defense which was allowing less than 100 yards per game heading into the ACC Championship Game. Like always, the Buckeyes are very talented on the defensive front. Led by All-American defensive tackle Haskell Garrett and All-American defensive end Jonathan Cooper, Ohio State ranks sixth nationally at stopping the run, allowing just 96.7 yards per game. They held Northwestern’s powerful rushing attack to just 105 yards on 34 carries in the Big Ten Championship Game. Ohio State is also averaging 2.83 sacks per game, which ranks 25th nationally.
Clemson’s D-Line vs. Ohio State’s O-Line: This is perhaps the biggest matchup to watch tonight. Ohio State likes to run the football and it does it as well as anyone in the country. Led by All-Americans Wyatt Davis (guard) and Josh Myers (center) the Buckeyes rank fourth nationally at running the football, averaging 275.7 yards per game. They paved the way for Trey Sermon’s 331 rushing yards in the Big Ten Championship Game, which set a new single-game rushing mark at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are averaging 6.1 yards per carry, which ranks third nationally. They have eclipsed 300 yards on the ground in each of the last three games. However, Ohio State is allowing 3.0 sacks per game, which is tied for 104th in the nation, and 6.8 tackles for loss, 86h nationally. Those numbers bode well for a Clemson defensive front that may not have any All-Americans, but it does get after the quarterback at a high rate. The Tigers get after the quarterback as well as anyone in the country, ranking second in sacks at 4.0 per game. They also are second in the nation in tackles for loss with 9.4 per game. When it comes to stopping the run, few teams do it better. The Tigers rank 8th nationally at stopping the run (99.8 yds/game) and fifth in yards per carry allowed (2.79).
Lawrence vs. the Ohio State secondary. Never before has Clemson been so prolific at throwing the football, and that is saying something considering the Tigers have had All-American quarterbacks like Steve Fuller, Tajh Boyd and Deshaun Watson behind center. All-American and Heisman Finalist Trevor Lawrence enters the Sugar Bowl averaging a school record 305.9 yards per game, while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. He has thrown 22 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions in the nine games he has played in. As a team, the Tigers are averaging a team-record 343.8 yards per game through the air, which ranks eight nationally. Why does any of this matter? Ohio State ranks last in the Big Ten in pass defense, yielding 261.3 yards per game, while opponents are completing 63 percent of their passes. The Buckeyes are also giving up 7.0 yards per attempt. Indiana threw for 491 yards and five touchdowns on Ohio State in their Nov. 21 meeting.
Bottom Line: 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