The Playstation Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff Semifinal game between Ohio State and Clemson will kick off tonight at 7:00 pm EST. This is the second of two semifinal matchups that will determine who plays in the College Football Playoff Final on January 9th. This game should be very evenly matched, as Ohio State is currently just a 2 point favorite according to Vegas lines. Urban Meyer has the second highest career bowl game winning percentage of all time, at .818. His coaching acumen will be an advantage for Ohio State in this game. Clemson comes into this game with hopes of a rematch of last year’s Final game, which was between Alabama and Clemson. Clemson can have their shot at revenge if they can pull off this win.
Stats that Matter
Total Offense – 20th in Nation – 479.5 YPG
Total Defense – 3rd in Nation – 282.3 YPG
Scoring Offense – 9th in Nation – 42.7 PPG
Scoring Defense – 3rd in Nation – Allowing 14.2 PPG
Turnover Margin – 3rd in Nation – +16
- Ohio State comes into this game with a somewhat underrated defense, which is ranked in the top 10 in all major categories and has been the backbone of this team all season. The defense is fast and opportunistic, and the defensive line has the potential to take over games with the sack specialists they roll out at all times. Nick Bosa and Tyquan Lewis can get to the quarterback and disrupt plays in the backfield, and their ability to fluster Deshaun Watson will be key in this game. In the middle, they have linebacker Raekwon McMillan, an all-around linebacker who controls the flow of the game on defense. He excels in stopping the run, but is also effective against the pass in covering tight ends. His ability to set the tone will be important for Ohio State slowing Clemson and Deshaun Watson. On offense, J.T. Barrett is always the center of attention, and his ability to take care of the football and get the ball to playmaker Curtis Samuel will be key.
Players to Watch
J.T. Barrett – QB
Barrett is a modern college quarterback prototype, a player who can throw the ball well but also makes plays on the ground, giving defenses one more thing to worry about. If Barrett is on, he will dice up the Clemson defense and keep their talented defensive line in check. Barrett has 3,275 yards of total offense to this point to go along with 33 total touchdowns, and will look to get the ball into Curtis Samuel’s hands to create big plays and attack the Clemson secondary.
Curtis Samuel – WR/RB
Samuel is a weapon in every aspect of the offensive game, and should have been in consideration for the Heisman award. He is the only player in the FBS with over 600 yards rushing and receiving, and can change the game single handedly when he gets the ball in his hands.
Raekwon McMillan – LB
McMillan is a prototypical middle linebacker in both the college game and in what NFL scouts are looking for, and he will be key to Ohio State stopping Clemson’s running game. While McMillan excels in defending the run, he is not a one-dimensional defender, as he is athletic enough to run with tight ends and make plays in the passing game as well. He is the heart and soul of the Ohio State defense and will set the tone with big hits and tough tackles on Saturday.
Tyquan Lewis – DL
Tyquan Lewis has picked up where he left off in 2015, leading the team in sacks this year with 7.5 and spending most of his time in the opponent’s backfield. Lewis will give the Clemson offensive line a lot to worry about when protecting quarterback Deshaun Watson on Saturday, as Lewis has the potential to ruin the Clemson game plan with his constant barrage on the quarterback. Lewis is a mid-round draft talent but has been a key player on the Ohio State defense this season.
Stats that Matter
Total Offense – 12th in Nation – 505.7 YPG
Total Defense – 8th in Nation – 313.9 YPG
Scoring Offense – 14th in Nation – 40.2 PPG
Scoring Defense – 11th in Nation – Allowing 18.4 PPG
Turnover Margin – 67th in Nation – +0
Players to Watch
Deshaun Watson – QB
- Watson’s senior leadership and ability to both pass and run the football will be the key for Clemson’s offense tonight. Watson is both a prolific passer and able to make plays with his feet. Look for him to try to link up with Mike Williams early and often to establish a connection to go to throughout the game.
Mike Williams – WR
- Williams is a projected top-15 draft pick for his combination of size, speed and production at the college level. He is able to create separation and use his body to make plays both over the middle and on the outside. On the season, he has 84 receptions for 1171 yards and 10 touchdowns. If he he able to get loose and break off a big play it will soften the stout Ohio State defense and facilitate some offensive drives.
Carlos Watkins – DT
- With 41 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and 9.5 tackles for loss, Watkins is a force to be reckoned with along the defensive line. Watkins is a fringe 1st round NFL draft talent and he should be the part of the Clemson defense that Ohio State worries about most. His tendency to live in the backfield will be important in containing J.T. Barrett and limiting Ohio State’s big plays on offense.
Cordrea Tankersley – CB
- Tankersley is also a fringe 1st round NFL draft talent, and his matchup with Curtis Samuel will be one to watch tonight. If he is able to slow down Samuel and prevent him from getting loose for big plays, it will be key in slowing the Ohio State offense and getting J.T. Barrett out of his comfort zone.
Prediction: Ohio State 30, Clemson 27
- Urban Meyer’s big game experience and Ohio State’s defense will be the difference in this closely contested matchup, as Deshaun Watson and Clemson will be able to score, but not with the frequency and ease that they have been accustomed to this year. J.T. Barrett will do just enough for Ohio State to score and Curtis Samuel will break a big play or two to put Ohio State over the top.