We’re now just days away from the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl where the Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers will square off for a chance to play for a national championship. Here are our keys to the game:
The matchup between Deshaun Watson and the Ohio State secondary has been well covered during the lead-up to this game. Not only will that battle be one to watch, but the other side, J.T. Barrett vs. the Clemson secondary, will also be an important factor on Saturday night. Although Barrett only threw five interceptions during the regular season, Clemson ranked eighth with 18 interceptions on the year (just one fewer than the Ohio State defense). In an environment conducive to throwing the football, J.T. Barrett and Deshaun Watson will both need to limit turnovers to keep the opposing offenses off the field.
Neither team was great nor all that bad at scoring in the red zone. On the offensive side of the ball, Ohio State ranks 39th in the nation in red zone conversion percentage while Clemson ranks 68th. Defensively, both teams are good at stopping opponents from scoring from inside the 20. Ohio State’s opponents scored 72% of the time (fifth in the country) while Clemson’s opponents scored 78% of the time (24th in the nation). While Deshaun Watson is susceptible to turning the ball over in the red zone (four of 15 interceptions thrown inside the 20 yard line), he’s been far more dangerous through the air than J.T. Barrett, throwing 24 touchdowns to Barrett’s 12.
Converting on 3rd Down
Both teams have been good converting third downs this year. Clemson ranks fifth in conversion percentage and Ohio State ranks tenth. Defensively it’s the same story: Clemson ranks sixth in stopping opponents on third down and the Buckeyes rank tenth. In a matchup between two teams with good offenses and good defenses, making plays on third down to keep drive going and put points on the board will be critical.
It’s worth noting that Watson has been far more effective than Barrett on 3rd and 10-plus situations. In those scenarios, Watson has only had a slight advantage in completion percentage, but averages 11 yards per attempt compared to only 6.4 YPA from Barrett.
Getting Explosive Plays
With both sides featuring aggressive and opportunistic defenses, there will be the potential to see big plays on either side of the field. Each team was fairly average in big gains this year, but with explosive weapons all over the field, any mistakes on defense will be exploited. On the big stage with talented quarterbacks at the helm of each offense, expect a big play or two to be a major factor in determining the outcome of the game.