The Ohio State Buckeyes have been haunted every season since 2014 about underachieving despite having superior talent. Many question if they can they breakthrough and silence the doubting voices. The Clemson Tigers, although being the defending champs, have been doubted all season despite losing a ton of talent to the NFL.
Clemson started off slow offensively but has been on a tear the last seven games. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence shook off some early interceptions to regain form and has looked sharp since. It’s no coincidence his efficiency picked up when wide receivers Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross’ production rose displaying their big-play capabilities.
The key to their offense is running back Travis Etienne. He is a workhorse with home run ability every time he touches the ball. They must get him going to slow down the Buckeyes pass rush.
Ohio State’s offense has been overshadowed by its defense. Quarterback Justin Fields has been steady all season with 40 touchdown passes and only one interception. They have two reliable wide receivers in Chris Olave and K.J. Hill but lack the consistent big explosive plays to stretch a defense.
Luckily, they have the best running back in the playoffs in J.K. Dobbins. His ability to break tackles combined with his deceptive speed gives him a nose for the end zone. His effectiveness can help or hurt the passing game.
The Tigers defense have been stellar all season with the exception of one game (vs. North Carolina Tar Heels) where they had trouble stopping the run. This is not the dominant sack defense like last year but they stay in their lanes, gang tackle and are sound in coverage. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons, quarterback of the defense, will not only lead in play but make sure they are in the correct set.
The defensive line must be gap disciplined or they risk getting gauged on the ground. The defensive backs can’t get caught looking in the backfield and giving up big plays over the top.
Defensively, the Buckeyes are all about pressure on the opposing quarterback and corner coverage. Defensive end Chase Young can disrupt the offense all by himself but he is not alone.
The corners like to play physical with bump-and-run coverage causing disruption in the passing game. Clemson must establish the run to slow down Ohio State’s ferocious pass rush. Will Lawrence have enough time to exploit the Buckeyes’ risk taking corners?
Edge- Ohio State
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has become one of the top coaches in college football and knows the pulse of his team like few others do. This is Swinney’s fifth straight playoff appearance and the experience should boat well in their favor.
Ohio State’s Ryan Day has been riding a wave since he took over. Although his tough schedule proved that he was the man for the job, this will be his toughest challenge yet?
Prediction: Clemson has the better balance on offense and doesn’t give up big plays on defense. Add big game experience along with Swinney’s coaching savvy, Clemson has all the experience which should propel them to a win.