For the third time in five seasons, Clemson and Ohio State will square off in the semifinal round of the College Football Playoff.
It is a game that the Buckeyes have been craving since the moment Justin Fields final pass of 2019 was intercepted by Nolan Turner in the end zone to seal the Tigers 29-23 win in last years Fiesta Bowl.
As much as the talking heads will try to convince you that this is a rematch from last season, it absolutely is not. This is not the same Ohio State team the Tigers faced last season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The Buckeyes lost a ton of talent from that side of the ball, including two players that were selected in the first round of the last NFL Draft.
Clemson heads into Friday’s semifinal matchup favored by a touchdown over the six-win Buckeyes, and after their dominating win over Notre Dame in the ACC Championship, it appears that the Tigers are playing their best football of the season. Even the running game that has struggled at times throughout the year seems to be gaining some traction.
The fact that the Tigers will be without offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is a setback, but not as much of one as some might think. It’s still football, and the game will be decided by who executes the best, not by which plays are called. Not to mention, Brandon Streeter, who has plenty of experiencing calling plays and for some successful offenses, has been preparing for this since he arrived back in Clemson in 2014.
On offense the Buckeyes have the potential to be as explosive as they were last season, but for whatever reason, they just haven’t played to their potential through their six games. They rank No. 6 nationally in total offense but only 42nd in passing offense.
Quarterback Justin Fields isn’t playing at the same level as he was in 2019 and only two players, Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, have hit the double digit mark in receptions. Having said that, the two have combined to catch 74 passes for over 1100 yards, so this Clemson secondary will have to play well. Derion Kendrick, Andrew Booth Jr, and the other corners will have their hands full.
What Ohio State is doing well though is running the ball. The Buckeyes have the 5th best rushing offense in the country and average over 275 yards per game on the ground. It is worth pointing out though that the best defense they played all season was ranked No. 39.
They have yet to face a defense anywhere close to one as good as Clemson’s, who gives up just 99.8 yards per game on the ground. The Tigers are also excelling at getting to the quarterback and Ohio State is giving up 3 sacks per game.
Where the Buckeyes have really fallen off though, is on the defensive side of the ball. The backend of that defense has been less than impressive so far and it’s been prone to giving up the big play in the passing game. Ohio State comes in ranked No. 104 in pass defense so Trevor Lawrence has to be salivating while watching the film.
How the Buckeyes choose to defend this Clemson offense will be worth keeping an eye on. They are structured to stop the run, but will they load up and key on Travis Etienne, or will they have someone spying Lawrence in an effort to not let him beat them with his legs again. Whatever they choose to do, one of those guys should have some room to run.
Ohio State has not played a team with the kind of speed Clemson has at the skill positions all season. There are questions about whether or not their linebackers will be up to the challenge and with Etienne once again going back home to Louisiana and playing in front of his family, this could be a very favorable matchup.
If EJ Williams and Cornell Powell can consistently win their one-on-one matchups on the outside, this game won’t be nearly as close as some think. This Clemson offense just has to many weapons and this Ohio State defense, particularly that secondary, has been average at best most of the season.
The Buckeyes have been waiting for this game for a year now. They are emotionally invested. They may even be overly invested from an emotional standpoint. Instead of focusing on themselves, they have been focusing on Clemson and that could lead to them being more amped up than they should be and coming out tight. Either way, Clemson is the better team and will finally get a playoff win in the Superdome.
Clemson 34 Ohio State 20