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College Football Playoff Semifinal #2 Preview and Picks

Who: Clemson (13-0) vs. Ohio State (13-0)
When: 8 p.m., Dec. 28
Where: Glendale, Ariz.
Line: Clemson by two

The second of the two National Semifinals on December 28th. The Fiesta Bowl features the Champions of the ACC (Clemson) squaring off against the champions of the Big Ten (Ohio State).

Clemson destroyed an undermanned Virginia team 62-17 in the ACC Championship. Ohio State roared back from an early deficit and defeated a tough Wisconsin team 34-21 to win the Big Ten Championship.

This is Clemson’s fifth time in the College Football Playoff (they have two championships), while Ohio State is making their third appearance (they have one championship).

Let’s get a closer look at this match-up:


The Ohio State offense has been radically transformed by transfer Quarterback and generational talent Justin Fields.

Not many players get to say that they were able to transfer from one top five program to another. Fields, the #2 National Recruit in 2018 Class, chose to go to Georgia and sat for most of the season behind Jake Fromm. But Fields got his chances to play and did well: completing 27-of-39 throws for 328 yards and four TDs, adding 256 rushing yards and four scores. At the end of the season Fields announced he was going to transfer to Ohio State and was granted immediate eligibility due to an NCAA guideline.

As soon as Fields stepped onto the field at Ohio State, Georgia fans began to regret his transfer:

Fields has excelled in his first season in Columbus. On the season, Fields is 208 of 308 for 2,953 yards with 40 touchdowns and one interception: he’s added 471 yards and 10 scores on the ground.

Again: In 308 pass attempts on the season, Fields has ONE INTERCEPTION.

The Ohio State offense wouldn’t be where it is today without star running back J.K. Dobbins. J.K. has 283 rush attempts for 1,829 yards, for 20 touchdowns while catching 17 passes for 200 yards. In his last three games, all vs. Top 15 opponents Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State, J.K. had carried the ball 100 times for 583 yards.

Ohio State features many other formidable weapons. WR K.J. Hill stands out above the rest. Hill enters the Fiesta Bowl with 195 career receptions, which is No. 1 all-time on Ohio State’s career list. A dominant run game should open up opportunities for Fields to connect with Hill.

Ohio State is led by rookie Head Coach Ryan Day (16-0). Day was ironically hired as offensive coordinator six days after Ohio State was destroyed 31-0 by Clemson (In the exact same game, for the chance to play for the title). Last offseason, Future Hall of Fame Coach Urban Meyer surprisingly stepped down and handed off the Head Coach job to Day. Meyer raved about Day in this interview:

By the results on the field and the sounds of confidence, Ohio State appears to be in great hands.

On the other side of the ball

The chatter all offseason was Clemson’s defense was due for major regression. Clemson lost seven starters from a year ago, including all four defensive lineman (Three of whom were first-round NFL Draft picks in Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence).

This was the furthest thing from the truth. On the season Clemson defense ranks first in the nation in pass yards allowed per game (138.5) and QB rating (92.81) while allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 50.3 percent of their throws. Athlon Sports further details this surprise:

Clemson’s defense lost key players at every level from a unit that held teams to just 13.1 points a game last fall. However, the Tigers finished the regular season by holding teams to just 10.6 points a contest. This unit enters the Fiesta Bowl by limiting teams to 3.96 yards a snap and 2.97 yards a rush. Clemson might not have the starpower of last year’s defense in the trenches, but Tyler Davis, Justin Foster, Xavier Thomas and Nyles Pinckney still form a strong foundation up front. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons can play all over the field in a variety of roles and it should be fascinating to see how coordinator Brent Venables deploys the standout on Saturday. Clemson’s secondary allowed only eight passing scores and finished first nationally in pass efficiency defense.

Among the players listed above, keep an eye on Linebacker Isaiah Simmons and Safety Tanner Muse. Simmons won ACC Defensive Player of the year, posting 93 tackles, 14.0 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble. Muse was a first team All-ACC selection while leading Clemson with four interceptions.


The largest development in the last few games was Justin Fields injuring his knee. Fields suffered a knee injury in the game against Penn State and aggravated it a week later against Michigan. He was diagnosed with an MCL Sprain and it affected his Big Ten Championship performance where he was sacked five times and ran for only one yard.

Fields is the X-Factor in this match-up. If he is only 80-85%, like he said on December 24th, this match-up swings Clemson’s favor. If he returns to his usual self, he will be able to use his legs to extend plays, time of possession and lead more scoring drives.

KEY STAT: The Buckeyes have given up 31 sacks on the season.



Clemson’s season almost went to the brink in a week five match up at North Carolina. North Carolina scored a touchdown to bring the game to one with 1:30 on the clock. North Carolina elected to go for two and was denied. The defending champs survived:

Around the same time, Clemson’s Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who hadn’t lost a game at this point of his career, was roasted by the Clemson faithful due to interceptions early in the season. At a low point, Lawrence threw his eighth of the season in the first quarter of Clemson’s Oct. 19 game at Louisville (his second of the first quarter).

The tide started to change in the second quarter of that game. Since the start of the second quarter of that game, Lawrence is 134-of-163 (82.2 percent) for 1,866 yards, with 23 touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 224.9. He also has thrown 169 consecutive pass attempts without an interception, tying his own single-season school record of 169 set at the conclusion of last season.

It sounds like Lawrence realized he wasn’t perfect:

“People do kind of expect (me to be perfect), but I definitely do think I can play better,” he said. “It’s not just that people expect me to play perfect. It’s not really that. … I do need to make some better plays as far as being a little smarter than today. Take care of the ball better. That’s something I really want to work on.”

Since that game, Clemson annihilated the competition 311-64.

Lawrence wouldn’t have done it without his amazing supporting cast, headlined by All-ACC running back Travis Etienne. He is detailed here:

Travis Etienne: This season, Etienne became the ACC’s all-time career leader in rushing touchdowns (54), total touchdowns (57) and points by a non-kicker (348). He earned ACC Player of the Year honors for the second straight season… has rushed for 1,500 yards in 2019 on 182 carries with 17 rushing touchdowns. His growth in the passing game was a focus of his in the offseason as well, evidenced now by his third-place rank on the team in receptions (29) and adding 298 yards and two scores in that capacity.

Lawrence also has many other options at his disposal. Wide receivers Tee Higgins (52 catches for 1,082 yards and thirteen scores) and Justyn Ross (55 receptions for 742 yards and eight scores) are among the best 1-2 punch of receivers in the country. The Tigers come into bowl season ranked fourth in the FBS in scoring offense with 46.5 points per game this season.

On the other side of the ball

Ohio State is one of seven FBS programs that allow under 100 rushing yards per game (99.5) including a 2.8 per carry average. The Buckeyes will need to stay true to form to slow down Etienne, who owns 1,500 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.

Star power is needed to slow a championship level offense down. Ohio State has two Generational talents who can take over games and come through in the clutch.

The man most up to the task of stopping the run and limiting the effectiveness of the Quarterback is Heisman Trophy Finalist Chase Young. Young leads the nation with 16.5 sacks despite missing two games. Many experts label Young the best player in college football:

Young is a disruptive force whom several draft analysts are already labeling Young a “franchise changer” at defensive end.

The second star on Ohio State’s team is cornerback Jeff Okudah Okudah sounds ready for this battle:

“Anytime that our secondary has a chance to go against a receiver corps as good as [Clemson], we’ll welcome it,” Okudah said. “I think that we’re really excited to have a chance to show what we’re capable of doing.”

Okudah leads a secondary who was second in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (148.1) and in QB rating (93.56) while recording more than twice as many interceptions (15) as touchdown passes allowed (seven) this season. 

Damon Arnette, the other Buckeyes cornerback, says the winner of that matchup is going to be the winner of the game.

“I mean, it just seems like whenever we go against a talented group, they say it’s the biggest test — like we haven’t already covered good receivers,” Arnette said. “They’re good, though. We’re in the College Football Playoff, so I would expect anybody we play to be good. I think it is going to come down to us. It’s us versus them. The winner of that matchup is going to be the winner of the game, in my eyes.

“That’s exactly how we like it.”


This is the most even matchup we will see. The pure talent on the field should mimic that of the talent in a pro game. What’s at stake, combined with the talent, should make you feel that you are watching an NFL Playoff matchup.

Clemson’s offense hasn’t done much against superior competition this season. The good news is that the same argument was brought against them last season and they came out and blew the doors offensively off of Notre Dame and Alabama.

Ohio State, however, is a different animal. Their game plan on defense has to start with getting pressure on Lawrence, limit the big plays by Etienne and the receivers on the outside, while also continuing its success on third downs. (#4 Nationally).

Ohio State’s defense vs. Clemson’s offense is almost a dream matchup. Clemson has the edge due to experience, but Ohio State has every opportunity here to change the narrative.

KEY STAT: Lawrence is well protected led by All-American OG John Simmons and Ohioan Jackson Carman at LT. This offensive line ONLY allows 1.0 sacks a game.

ADVANTAGE: 51-49 Clemson


Clemson: QB Trevor Lawrence

If you want an idea how how great Lawrence can be, check out his performance in last year’s National Title Game:

If that player that has been labeled the GOAT of College Football shows up, Ohio State will be super hard pressed to keep up.

Ohio State: J.K. Dobbins

As I stated above, in the last three games (Vs. Top 15 opponents Penn State, Michigan and Ohio State) J.K. had carried the ball 100 times for 583 yards.

Can he continue this dominance today?


Ohio State’s Chase Young:

Ohio State defensive end Chase Young is the best player in college football and the best prospect in the 2020 NFL draft class. This guy has an incredible combination of size, speed, athleticism, power and burst on the edge that makes him an absolute nightmare for opposing offenses to deal with. Basically, Young is a perfect edge prospect who has massive upside at the next level.

Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah’s Pro Comparison:

Patrick PetersonJalen Ramsey. Whoever you want to compare him to, go ahead,” an anonymous NFL scout recently told Bleacher Report. “He’s better than any dude that has come out of (Ohio State).

Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons:

PROS: This man is a unicorn — my goodness. Watching him play on the hashes is an absolute treat, as there’s very little he can’t do. His size, length and explosiveness come in quite useful as he influences both the ground game and as a pass defender. Showcasing explosive click and close ability to step down onto the edge and keep contain, Simmons will blow up point men trying to block or lead blockers working outside in. Simmons’ tackle radius is phenomenal, he’s got reach and grip strength to make sure he’s wrapping and rolling ball carriers down to the ground in one on one situations. As a penetration player and blitzer off the edge, he’s got really nifty skills to force missed blocks and then compliments that with powerful hands to explode through contact and keep his chest clean. Perhaps most impressive? His man to man coverage in the slot is a weapon that will neutralize a lot of skilled tight ends at the next level. 

Clemson Sleeper: CB A.J. Terrell (As brought up by Matt Miller):

Much will be made of the Ohio State cornerbacks in this game, but Clemson has to stop the Buckeyes’ passing attack that has seen Justin Fields throw just one interception (on a Hail Mary) all season. The job of stopping K.J. Hill and Binjimin Victor will go largely to top corner A.J. Terrell. He’s had a quiet season nationally, but Terrell is a legit top-40 player with first-round potential.


This match up has everything: the feel of a national title, standout quarterbacks with strong supporting casts, defensive units who rank amongst the best in College Football and pros all over the field. This will be the hardest matchup for both teams this season. This game is likely to be decided on whichever team can get a couple of timely stops in the second half and a turnover or two.

And just how healthy is Fields’ knee? If he’s close to 100 percent, that’s a big deal for Ohio State. If not, a small edge will go to Clemson.

The storyline most people aren’t watching is that the Clemson Tigers feel disrespected. The team that started the season ranked #1 has won 28 straight games butand fell to #3 in the final rankings.

Their future Fall of Fame Coach Dabo Swinney didn’t hold back this week:

“I’m not going to let anybody diminish what we’ve accomplished as a program,” Swinney said on the ACC teleconference. “It’s my job to speak the truth and stand up for this program when it’s necessary… They want to throw us out (of the Playoff) because they don’t respect who we will play which is another joke itself.

“People who haven’t watched (our players) this year have missed a special time and a special group of young men who have played with passion. It’s incredible to watch. These players, they deserve that credit.”

His players seem to get the message:

“Everybody definitely knows, we don’t play anybody,” linebacker Isaiah Simmons said. “… We’re 9-1 against the SEC in our past 10 games. I guess we don’t play anyone still. A lot of people think we’re not supposed to be here. … That’s been the rhetoric out there. I would probably say, yeah, we’ve got a chip on our shoulder.”

In my opinion, aside from everything else, this game ultimately comes down to coaching. On one side you have a future Hall of Famer who has led his team to two National Titles and is seeking his second in a row. On the other side we have an inexperienced brilliant offensive mind who is seeking his first chance at a championship.

Clemson Advances to the National Title Game:

Clemson 37, Ohio State

Tim is a grateful believer, husband to Kristin, Father to Isabelle living in Los Angeles as both an actor and Claims adjuster. He was born and grew up eight blocks from Wrigley Field and is a die hard Chicago fan (Especially Bears). He is incredibly grateful to The Turf for giving him a chance to pursue a passion of his.

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