If you like offense, Friday night’s Orange Bowl matchup between Clemson and Ohio State will be must-see television. The Tigers and Buckeyes combined to average 86.5 points a game during the regular season, and there’s little to suggest a defensive struggle is in store at Sun Life Stadium.
Outside of the National Championship, the Orange Bowl matchup between the Buckeyes and Tigers might be the most intriguing bowl from the 2013-14 postseason.
Ohio State was a win away from playing for the BCS title, while Clemson capped off its best three-year stretch in program history with a 10-2 mark during regular season. The Buckeyes only defeat came in the Big Ten Championship against Michigan State, while the Tigers lost 51-14 to No. 1 Florida State and 31-17 to rival South Carolina.
Clemson and Ohio State have played only once – and what a meeting it was. These two teams played in the 1978 Gator Bowl, with the Tigers winning 17-15. But a Clemson victory wasn’t the biggest storyline from that game. Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass with less than two minutes to go, which sealed the victory for the Tigers. However, after he was tackled along the Ohio State sideline, Bauman was punched by Buckeyes’ coach Woody Hayes. The incident resulted in the end of Hayes’ coaching career at Ohio State.
Clemson vs. Ohio State
Kickoff: Friday, Jan. 3. at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Ohio State -2.5
Three Things to Watch
Ohio State's secondary vs. Clemson's receivers
The biggest weakness on Ohio State’s defense is the secondary. The Buckeyes ranked 11th in the Big Ten against the pass, allowing 259.5 yards per game and 26 passing scores. Opposing quarterbacks completed 60.5 percent of their throws against Ohio State’s defense this year. The Buckeyes are strong in the trenches with an outstanding defensive line, but the secondary has not played at an elite level. In the last four games of 2013, Ohio State allowed at least 288 passing yards and gave up seven passing scores in its last two contests. Making matters worse for coach Urban Meyer is the status of top cornerback Bradley Roby. The junior suffered a knee injury in the Big Ten Championship and is not expected to play. With Roby sidelined, sophomore Armani Reeves is listed as the backup and would slide into the starting lineup. But without Roby, the pressure also increases on the rest of the secondary, including the other starter at cornerback (Doran Grant) and senior safeties Corey Brown and C.J. Barnett. Even if Roby was able to play, Ohio State’s secondary would have its hands full against Clemson’s passing game. Quarterback Tajh Boyd has thrown for 11,526 yards and 102 touchdowns in his career and has completed 67 percent of his throws in back-to-back years. Boyd also has plenty of weapons at his disposal, including the explosive Sammy Watkins (14.6 ypc, 10 TDs), Adam Humphries (41 receptions), and Martavis Bryant (20.5 ypc). If Ohio State can generate a consistent pass rush, it would help take the pressure off a questionable secondary. However, if Boyd has all day to throw, the senior will torch the Buckeyes’ secondary.
Despite a three-game suspension to start the season, Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde led the Big Ten by averaging 140.8 yards per game and finished only 160 yards behind Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah for the conference rushing title. The senior averaged at least six yards per carry in each of his last eight games, including a ridiculous 10.3 average against Illinois. Clemson’s rush defense finished ninth in the ACC, allowing 152.6 yards per game. At first glance, those numbers would appear to be a huge problem for the Tigers. However, a deeper look at the statistics shows Clemson hasn’t been awful against the run, as giving up 248 to Georgia Tech and 323 to Syracuse skewed the numbers. Winning the battle in the trenches will be critical for the Tigers, especially against an Ohio State offensive line that features four senior starters. The Tigers can counter in the trenches with an underrated defensive front. End Vic Beasley was an All-American in 2013, and there's depth at end with Corey Crawford, Tavaris Barnes and Shaq Lawson. The tackle spots are in good shape with Grady Jarrett, D.J. Reader, Josh Watson and DeShawn Williams. There’s no question the Buckeyes want quarterback Braxton Miller to throw downfield. However, the run game helps to set the table for the offense. While Clemson can’t solely focus on stopping Hyde, keeping Ohio State in long yardage situations is critical to its Orange Bowl title hopes.
Clemson's secondary vs. Braxton Miller
As we mentioned above, the defensive backfields will be under fire on Friday night. Ohio State’s secondary struggled during the regular season and could be shorthanded in the Orange Bowl. Clemson’s secondary finished third in the ACC in pass defense and 16th nationally in pass efficiency defense. However, the Tigers are thin on depth in the secondary, as three freshmen are listed on the depth chart. Safety Jayron Kearse finished tied for second on the team with three interceptions, but fellow freshman Jadar Johnson played in less than 100 snaps this year. Needless to say, Clemson cannot afford an injury in this unit on Friday night. While depth may be an issue, there is talent for coordinator Brent Venables. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland had an All-ACC caliber season, and senior Darius Robinson picked off three passes on the other side. Ohio State doesn’t have a No. 1 option like Sammy Watkins, but the Buckeyes aren’t short on talent at receiver. Corey Brown led the team with 55 catches, while Devin Smith averaged 15.6 yards per catch, and tight end Jeff Heuerman quietly recorded 25 receptions. Evan Spencer, Chris Fields and freshman standout Dontre Wilson are also options to watch. And the triggerman for Ohio State’s offense is junior quarterback Braxton Miller, who threw for 1,860 yards and 22 touchdowns this season. Miller missed two games due to injury but also rushed for 1,033 yards in 2013. When healthy, the junior is one of the top quarterbacks in the nation and makes the Ohio State offense go. Clemson didn’t play a plethora of elite quarterbacks this year but allowed 444 passing yards to Florida State and Jameis Winston. If Clemson struggles to stop Carlos Hyde on the ground, Miller and his receivers should have no trouble carving up this secondary.
Key Player: Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State
With cornerback Bradley Roby expected to sit due to a knee injury, and the suspension of defensive end Noah Spence, there’s even more pressure on Shazier to set the tone for Ohio State's defense. Shazier led the team with 134 tackles (22.5 for a loss) and recorded six sacks and four forced fumbles in 2013. The junior will be tasked with keeping Clemson running back Roderick McDowell from breaking any big plays, while also cleaning up any missed tackles all over the field. The Tigers are always capable of throwing a trick play or two at opposing defenses, which makes having a veteran leader in the linebacking corps even more valuable. And most importantly, Shazier is the heart and soul (and leader) for this defense. With a dangerous offense on the other sideline, Shazier will need to play one of his best games in an Ohio State uniform for the Buckeyes to earn the victory.
Get ready for an offensive showcase. Ohio State and Clemson are loaded with talent on offense, including two of the best quarterbacks in the nation (Tajh Boyd and Braxton Miller). While Boyd and Miller should put on a show, the outcome of this game will be determined by which defense can get the most stops or create a turnover at an opportune time. The Buckeyes’ secondary is a huge concern, but the front seven should get pressure on Boyd to disrupt the timing of Clemson’s offense. With Hyde and four senior starters on the offensive line, Ohio State will grind the clock in the fourth quarter, with Miller tossing a late score that gives the Buckeyes their first victory in the Orange Bowl since 1977.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Clemson 34