Any sports fan that has spent more than five minutes on social media over the past year knows that Ohio State still hasn’t gotten over the Buckeyes 29-23 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl last season.
Since the moment Justin Fields threw his game-ending interception in the end zone in the waning seconds of that game, it has felt like these two teams were destined to square off again in this years College Football Playoff.
Whether Ohio State deserves to actually be in at this point is moot. They are in. Now they get to prove that they were worthy of inclusion.
Regardless of how many games they played, there is no doubt that this is a good Ohio State football team. Their roster is loaded with talent, from top to bottom. How good they really are though, remains to be seen. And as bad as the B1G was this season, they could have played a full slate of conference games and we still might not know the answer to that question.
One thing seems certain. This is not the same Buckeyes team from last year, especially on the defensive side of the ball. After having one of the top defenses in the country in 2019, there has been some drop off this season. Considering all the losses they suffered on that side of the ball, that isn’t all that surprising.
National Rank Ohio State Defense
- Total Defense: 34
- Scoring Defense: 24 (T)
- 3rd Down Defense: 19
- Rushing Defense: 7
- Passing Defense: 104
- Team Sacks: 26 (T)
Where they have really fallen off is their pass defense. After sporting one of the best in the land last season, the Buckeyes secondary has not been very good. They also aren’t getting to the quarterback at quite the same rate they were last season and that does not help a secondary that is already having issues in coverage.
Ohio State has been pretty stout against the run this season, but it’s not like they have played anyone with a legit ground game. Nebraska, Penn State, Rutgers, Michigan State, Indiana, and Northwestern. Let’s face it, no defensive coordinator is staying awake at night figuring out to slow down those rushing attacks.
The Tigers struggles in the running game have been well documented this season. However, this Clemson offense has run the ball as well as it has all season over the past two games, and that is encouraging heading into this matchup. It goes without saying, but how the Buckeyes approach trying to defend Travis Etienne will be worth keeping an eye on.
This does look like a defense that Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers can have some success against through the air though. With Frank Ladson Jr back healthy and EJ Williams starting to come on down the stretch, this is an area this Clemson offense should have an advantage. Not to mention the two tight ends they can flex out and use in the passing game.
National Rank Clemson Offense
- Total Offense: 11
- Passing Offense: 7
- Rushing Offense: 65
- 3rd Down Conversions: 28
- Sacks Allowed: 31
As for the Ohio State offense, it’s still pretty good. Having said that, it isn’t quite as potent as it was last season. For whatever reason, Justin Fields just hasn’t looked quite like the same quarterback.
He has completed 73% of his passes and thrown for 1,521 yards and 15 touchdowns in the six games. At the same time, he has also thrown 5 interceptions, far more than he threw in the entire regular season in 2019. His two worst games came against Indiana and Northwestern, and both were aggressive on defense against the Buckeyes.
National Rank Ohio State Offense
- Total Offense: 6
- Passing Offense: 42
- Rushing Offense: 5
- 3rd Down Conversions: 6
- Sacks Allowed: 104
The Buckeyes have still been successful in the running game, but again, it isn’t like they were lining up against elite-level defenses from week to week. For example, after playing tight with Northwestern for a half in the B1G Championship Game, they finally just started handing the ball to running back Trey Sermon, and that was all it took to win the game. Sermon finished with 29 carries and 334 yards.
Being that one-dimensional will not get it done against this Clemson defense. Not to mention, defensive coordinator Brent Venables will have had two full weeks to put together a game-plan.
National Rank Clemson Defense
- Total Defense: 6
- Scoring Defense: 11
- Passing Defense: 26
- Rushing Defense: 9
- 3rd Down Defense: 9
- Sacks: 4
This Clemson defense is one of the best in the land, and it is now as healthy as it’s been all season. The entire nation saw how much of a difference having Tyler Davis and James Skalski on the field and healthy can make when it comes to defending the run.
There will be a lot of talk in the media over the next ten days. In fact, it has already started. But this game won’t be decided by which coach gives the best sound bite, or which fan base beats its chest the hardest on social media. It is going to be decided on the field of play, and when it comes right down to it, one of these teams has just been better than the other.