The Fiesta Bowl: (3) Ohio State vs. (2) Clemson (+3.5, 59.5 o/u)
Tired of hearing about the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl? Don’t care much for the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, either? Then you’re in the right place. We’re focusing on one of the two semifinals in the College Football Playoffs. In what is likely to be the more interesting of the two, no. 3 Ohio State (12-1, 8-1 Big Ten) meets no. 2 Clemson (12-1, 7-1 ACC) on New Year’s Eve (7:00 PM ET) at University of Phoenix Stadium (Glendale, AZ) in the Fiesta Bowl.
First, a bit of hilarious history, which is only hilarious because I have no ties to BYU. The Fiesta Bowl used to be sponsored by Tostitos, and after no. 5 BYU was snubbed in favor of no. 7 Penn State in 1996, a BYU professor gathered some students and burned bags of Tostitos to protest. Talk about wasting food, sheesh!
Quite a few well-known names have taken home Fiesta Bowl MVP, including Tedy Bruschi, Kordell Stewart, Blake Bortles, Alex Smith, and Marcus Mariota. Jared Zabansky took the honor in 2007. His name hasn’t been etched in history like those others, but the game he played in sure has …
Hopefully the Ohio State and Clemson can give us something comparable.
The Buckeyes will be making their NCAA-leading eighth appearance, and second-straight, in the Fiesta Bowl. They will be led by last year’s co-MVP J.T. Barrett and one hell of a defense. The Tigers will be making their first appearance in the Fiesta Bowl, hoping to make it back to the National Championship for the second-straight season.
There are arguments for both teams in this one, but ultimately only one right play for bettors.
They play very good defense.
The Buckeyes rank fifth in the nation in total defense and 18th in scoring defense (14.2 points allowed per game). They have been very good against the pass (sixth) and only allow 117.8 yards per game on the ground (14th). Raekwon McMillan leads the team in tackles; Tyquan Lewis has totaled 7.5 sacks; and Malik Hooker is fifth in the country with six interceptions.
The Buckeye defense, as a whole, has recorded 25 takeaways (tenth) and has taken seven of those the other way for six (most in NCAA). In terms of defensive efficiency, Ohio State ranks second in the nation.
Ohio State’s offense may not be on the same level as the defense, but it’s still been pretty darn good, ranking 21st in total offense and ninth in scoring (42.7 points per game). They are a bit one-dimensional, leaning heavily on the run game. That’s not because because J.T. Barrett can’t throw the ball; they’re just that good on the ground. Mike Weber (6.1 yards per carry), Curtis Samuel (7.7 yards per carry), and Barrett (4.4 yards per carry) have combined for 2,623 rushing yards this season, helping the Buckeyes to the ninth-ranked rushing attack.
The offense has also done a phenomenal job protecting the rock and controlling the clock. Ohio State has only committed nine turnovers this season (second-fewest), and has possessed the ball for an average of 34 minutes per game.
Deshaun Watson may be the best player in the country. The back-to-back Heisman nominee compiled 3,914 yards (sixth) and 37 touchdowns (fifth) through the air, while adding 524 yards and another six touchdowns on the ground. Watson leads the nation’s 13th-ranked total and scoring offense (40.6 points per game).
The Tigers have afforded Watson great protection all year, only allowing 1.08 sacks per game (11th). Clemson’s pivot has also had the luxury of throwing to one of the most dangerous receivers in the nation, Mike Williams, who finished the year 18th nationally with 1,171 receiving yards.
On the other side of the ball, Clemson possesses a bevy of skilled pass-rushers, including Carlos Watkins and Dexter Lawrence, who have 15 sacks combined. As a team they have recorded 46 sacks, good for second in the country. Watkins, Lawrence, and Ben Boulware have been the backbone of the unit, which ranks ninth in total defense and 27th in scoring (18.4 points allowed per game).
Ohio State (-3.5)
Turnovers and the Ohio State ground game will be the story of the game.
Although Clemson has just one fewer takeaway than Ohio State this season, the Buckeyes don’t provide their opponents with many opportunities to turn them over. The Tigers, however, have been plagued by turnovers all season, committing 24 on the year (108th). Deshaun Watson has been very good, but has not played to his 2015 form. His 15 interceptions are fourth-most in the nation, and he hasn’t come close to his 1,105 rushing yards from last season. Clemson’s only chance is to play a mistake-free game on offense and for Watson to be a threat running the ball.
Even if that does happen, Clemson will still have to find a way to slow down Ohio State on the ground. The Tigers rank 22nd against the run but only played three teams who rank in the top-35 for rushing. Those teams averaged 172 yards on the ground against Clemson, and the only one with a legitimate running QB (Louisville) went for 273.
The Buckeyes are going to pound the ball and control the tempo, while their defense overwhelms a slightly diminished version of Deshaun Watson.
Photo Credit: Rkevins82 09:36, 30 October 2006 (UTC) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
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