The College Football Playoff (CFP) semifinals conclude with possibly the game of the year between #3 Ohio State and #2 Clemson.
Ohio State comes into this game on a high note after defeating Northwestern 22-10 to win the Big Ten Championship. Clemson is fresh off a blow out of #4 Notre Dame in the ACC Championship game. This is the third meeting between these teams in the CFP.
- Time: 8 p.m. ET
- Date: Friday, Jan. 1
- TV channel, streaming: ESPN
- Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome – New Orleans, LA
- Spread: Clemson –7.5
- Over/under: 65.5
This is becoming quite the rivalry. Clemson won last season, 29-23, but two controversial calls swung the game their way. There is a lot of bad blood between the fan bases and the teams do not like one another. NFL fans need to watch this one, as it features College Football’s top two Quarterbacks, along with several top prospects. The winner advances to the National Title Game.
Lets’ check out how these teams stack up:
WHEN CLEMSON HAS THE BALL
On the season, the Tigers average 44.9 points per game (7th nationally) and 507.6 total yards per game. All-American Quarterback Trevor Lawrence has put on a clinic, throwing for 2,753 yards and 22 touchdowns. His favorite weapons include Amari Rodgers (69 receptions, 966 yards, seven TD) and Cornell Powell (45 grabs, 743 yards, five TD). Lets not forget dual-threat running back Travis Etienne, who has 882 yards rushing and 44 catches for 524 yards receiving with 15 total TDs on the season. Lawrence also can run the ball quite well, and he raced for 107 yards against the Buckeyes last season.
Ohio State counters with the 34th best defense, allowing 357.5 yards and only 21 points per game. They are stout against the run, giving up 96.7 yards (7th nationally), but have fallen off against the pass, allowing 260.8 yards per game (103rd Nationally). The reason? The Buckeyes lost key pieces to the NFL draft in cornerbacks Jeffrey Odukah and Damon Arnette, along with #2 pick Chase Young. To offset these losses, Ohio State must capitalize on turnovers to stay in this game (17 on the season).
Lawrence is possibly the best NFL QB prospect in the last 30 years. Etienne is a McCaffrey-like game breaker every time he touches the ball. Ohio State will need freshman pass rusher Zach Harrison and others to force Lawrence into a turnover or two.
WHEN OHIO STATE HAS THE BALL
Keep in mind that Ohio State has only played six games up to this point. Their passing numbers aren’t great, at 253.5 yards per game (64th Nationally), but they make up for it on the ground impressively with 275.7 yards per game (6th nationally). The Buckeyes are averaging over 34 points per game.
They are led by dual threat quarterback Justin Fields (1,521 yards with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions). Fields was unstoppable last season, but has struggled this year with five interceptions in the Buckeyes’ two biggest games. He has stellar weapons to work with in receivers Garrett Wilson (38 receptions, 621 yards, 5 TD) and Chris Olave (36 receptions, 521 yards, 5 TD). In the backfield, he has the two headed monster of Master Teague (5.04 yards per carry) and Trey Sermon. Sermon busted out for a school record 331 yards against Northwestern. Ohio State greatly misses dual threat J.K. Dobbins, and will need to rely on Sermon to take the pressure off of Fields.
The Buckeyes take on the Clemson defense, who are the 11th best unit in the nation, only allowing 17.5 points per game. They are strong against the pass, only allowing 298.5 yards per contest (6th Nationally), and equally great against the run, giving up 2.8 yards per carry. Clemson’s defensive line, led by two sophomores and two freshmen, lead the nation in sacks and intend to be in Justin Fields’ face all night.
This is all about potential vs. production. Give me the proven production in Clemson’s defense to this point. Ohio State will have to prove itself on the field as they have been unimpressive in their two biggest games thus far.
CLEMSON’S DEFENSIVE LINE AGAINST OHIO STATE’S OFFENSIVE LINE
Clemson has four future first round NFL picks on their defensive line, terrorizing opponents to the tune of 44 sacks in 12 games. This is a huge concern for the Ohio State offensive line, which ranks 104th in the nation, giving up 3 sacks per game. The Ohio State line must protect Fields, as the quarterback has struggled to process quickly through all of his reads.
CLEMSON’S RECEIVERS VS. OHIO STATE CORNERBACK’S
Ohio State is sorely missing Odukah and Arnette. This was most evident against Indiana, when they were toasted for over 500 yards through the air. The Buckeyes’ soft zone coverage with a single high safety has been predictable and picked apart. Cornerback Shaun Wade has most notably struggled moving outside after excelling in the slot. If Ohio State had issues containing Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr., Trevor Lawrence should feast all game.
JUSTIN FIELDS VS. TREVOR LAWRENCE: ROUND TWO
These quarterbacks will be taken within the first ten picks in April’s draft. Last season, they matched each other blow for blow, and Trevor Lawrence proved to be the better signal caller by leading Clemson back from an early 16-0 deficit. Fields must rebound and outplay Lawrence for the Buckeyes to have a shot in this game.
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is seeking his third National Championship and is 2-0 against the Buckeyes. The Head Coach wasn’t too thrilled that Ohio State was in the playoff with only six wins, intentionally leaving them out of his Top 10 ranking.
On the other sideline, this is Ryan Day’s second season as Head Coach at Ohio State. Day was the successor for Urban Meyer and has two Big Ten Championships to his name already. Day made some headlines after a video was leaked in his post-game chat with his players post the Northwestern win (WARNING- EXPLICIT LANGUAGE IS USED):
You can bet that these Buckeyes are ready for this game after hearing about it all offseason.
NFL DRAFT PROSPECTS IN THIS GAME
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Clemson (6-5, 220)
Lawrence is the clear cut #1 pick and being labeled as the surest Quarterback prospect since Peyton Manning or John Elway.
“I’ve honestly never seen anything like him,” one NFL quarterbacks coach who asked to not be named said. “You’ve seen guys with a bigger arm, and you’ve seen guys who are faster, but I’ve never seen a prospect who has every trait you need and has them at a high level.”
Justin Fields, QB, Ohio State (6-3, 218)
Fields was the clear #2 prospect all offseason and through most of the season until the struggles against Indiana and Northwestern. Despite his inexperience, he still shows a ton of promise.
“He’s only started 18 games to this point, so he has room to grow. But that should be enticing when you think about his raw talent and where he could go from here. He’s arguably the most talented quarterback Ohio State has ever had, and he’s going to get better.”Matt Miller, Bleacher Report
Fields has started to fall behind BYU’s sensational quarterback Zach Wilson on many mock drafts due to his poor decision making and slow processing on his reads. This game will be critical for his draft stock.
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson (5-10, 212)
Etienne has been sensational in his Clemson career and is the all-time ACC Conference rushing record holder with an unbelievable 4,672 yards and 66 touchdowns. His 40-yard dash has been clocked at 4.3 seconds. Pro Football Focus compares him to Alvin Kamara.
Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State (6-1, 188)
Olave has been Justin Fields’ go-to weapon this season. His absence in the Northwestern game due to COVID concerns is part of the reason why the quarterback struggled so much through the air. Olave is a very polished route runner and explosive off the line. Many people believe he should receive some first round consideration.
WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?
HOW CLEMSON WINS:
There’s no reason why Trevor Lawrence shouldn’t run and pass all over the Buckeye defense and score over 30 points. Clemson’s defense, on the other hand, must impose their will on Ohio State’s offensive line and make Justin Fields uncomfortable. If they can get to him early and score points off of turnovers, this could get ugly.
HOW OHIO STATE WINS:
Ohio State fans must hold out hope that their team has yet to play their best game. On offense, the Buckeyes must convert in the red zone and hope that Trey Sermon continues his hot streak. The defense must stop Clemson on 3rd down like Notre Dame did against the Tigers earlier in the season and disrupt Lawrence enough to force a turnover or two. Mostly importantly, Justin Fields has to show up BIG in this game for the Buckeyes to have a chance.
PREDICTION: Clemson 38, Ohio State 27
Last season was Ohio State’s big chance to take out Clemson, but they didn’t take it. I don’t see an upset unless Justin Fields completely takes over.
All Stats are courtesy of teamrankings.com
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