We’re only a day away from the matchup between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers in the College Football Playoff Semifinal. It’s time for predictions.
I think we’re going to see more of the Ohio State offense we saw against Oklahoma rather than the one we saw struggle down the stretch against Michigan State and Michigan, partly due to the weather not being an issue in Glendale, Arizona. Vegas usually knows what they’re doing and they’ve got the Bucks as a steady favorite to win the game by three points or so.
During our research the last month leading up to the game, it has become apparent that on paper this looks like a Clemson win. Both teams defensively are strong, but the Clemson offense is what separates the Tigers in the matchup.
I think the opportunistic defense we’ve talked about the whole time will be a difference maker for the Buckeyes. A couple interceptions in key situations (similar to what we saw against Michigan) will give the Buckeyes more scoring opportunities.
While the Tigers’ defensive line is formidable, the Buckeyes will spread the defense out enough with their multi-faceted running game and J.T. Barrett will make enough plays through the air to keep pace with the potent Clemson offense. I could definitely see J.T. throwing a pick since the Clemson defense is aggressive and opportunistic under defensive coordinator Brent Venables. However, Ohio State’s offensive attack is more balanced and should eat up more clock, therefore lessening the blow of turnovers compared to ones on the Clemson side.
Defensively, the Buckeyes gave up an average of 164.5 passing yards to opponents this season with a high of 258 yards through the air given up against the Northwestern Wildcats. Deshaun Watson is surely the best QB they’ll face up to this point, but the OSU defense has yet to give up massive passing yardage.
We’ve seen Ohio State’s offense have success before, so we know it’s there somewhere. The offensive attack is likely to succeed with the game being played indoors along with controlled conditions. It’ll be a close game, but Urban Meyer knows what he’s doing and Vegas knows what’s up.
OHIO STATE 35
Finally the moment is here. Time to pick a winner.
Drew’s commentary above is on the money in my opinion, but I’ll spice things up a little bit to add some more perspective.
Starting with the attention-grabbing matchup. Deshaun Watson against the Ohio State secondary. There are a couple things worth mentioning that I’ve found out since arriving in Arizona:
- I asked ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg if there was any insight I could gain from him seeing Watson in person and covering Clemson occasionally in the past year. He told me that the coaching staff has gained a stronger trust in Watson’s decision making and essentially have a firm belief he can make all the throws.
- I talked with some Clemson reporters and in the end it sounds as if about half of Watson’s interceptions were bad decisions and half were bad throws (keep in mind this was just spitballing back and forth, but it should be pretty accurate in the end).
After all that I predict Watson to throw two interceptions in the game (Drew, the aerospace engineer he is, of course came to the exact same conclusion in way less time).
Ohio State is a run-first team and it sounds like Mike Weber is mentally prepared to for a breakout game.
I asked Weber about his thoughts on being “the guy” at running back and no longer in the shadow of Ezekiel Elliott. Weber answered by saying “That’s one of my goals”.
He then talked about what he could do on gameday.
Hopefully I get a lot more opportunities… This is for all the marbles and I’m ready.
After plenty of analysis, it appears Clemson has the better defensive line and Ohio State has the better secondary. Offensively the Tiger’s strength is throwing the ball and the Buckeyes have had more success running.
I expect Clemson to outgain Ohio State by at least 50 yards in this game. Wide receiver Mike Williams reminds me a little bit of Northwestern receiver Austin Carr, who had a huge day when they faced the Buckeyes in late October. Williams has a 2-inch size advantage on Carr, but arguably is a tad less explosive. It’s pick your poison at that point.
Clemson’s Jordan Leggett will also present a challenge to the Bucks. He had at least three receptions in his four previous games in 2016 and averages a mind-blowing 16.8 yards per catch as a tight end.
The more yards the better, but it doesn’t always decide the victor. The Tigers will have multiple drives stall in the red zone and costly turnovers won’t help their cause.
However, Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney ensured my reasoning to pick the Buckeyes during this morning’s press conference saying
When you play teams like Ohio State, the margin for error gets really small because they have great players and great coaches, and you just don’t have a lot of room for error.