Five For Friday, Orange Bowl Expectations for the Buckeyes
By Tony Gerdeman
COLUMBUS, Ohio — It's been a rough week off the field for the Buckeyes, what with a flu outbreak and the announcements that both Noah Spence and Bradley Roby would not play in the Orange Bowl. The fear among some Buckeye fans is that the on-field news could be just as bad once the Clemson offense takes the stage Friday night.
Like you, I am not of the opinion that this is going to be a low-scoring affair, but let's also not forget that the Ohio State offense will have an advantage or two in this game as well. I am expecting a shoot out, and I am expecting a football game long into the fourth quarter. What else am I expecting? Funny you should ask.
1. A big game from Braxton Miller on the ground. Clemson does not have a great run defense, but when they gear up to stop a top guy – like Boston College's Andre Williams – they can have some success. The Tigers held Williams – who is the nation's leading rusher – to just 70 yards on 24 carries. I expect the same type of focus on Carlos Hyde in this one, which means that if Braxton Miller reads the options properly, he should have some room to run. No team has been able to take away even one portion of Ohio State's running game this season, but that doesn't mean Clemson isn't going to try. If they can keep Hyde from burning the clock and churning yards, they'll like their chances. If they don't set their sights on Hyde, then their defense is going to be in for a very long night. Either way, I still expect Hyde to have a good night, but I think Miller will as well.
2. Receiver struggles. Ohio State hasn't gotten much from their receivers of late, and I'm not expecting that to change much against Clemson. Over his last five games, Buckeye leading receiver Philly Brown has averaged just 27 yards receiving per game. Second-leading receiver Devin Smith has managed just 26.2 yards receiving over those same five games. The playing conditions have limited Braxton Miller's passing accuracy, but that doesn't explain away the lack of playmaking over the second half of the season for the receivers. Clemson has the #15 pass defense in the nation, and I expect them to make life difficult on both Smith and Brown. If the Buckeyes are going to make some noise in the passing game, they may have to get it from the tight ends. They will also need to hit at least one deep pass to somebody. If they don't, life might be too difficult on offense to keep up.
3. Defensive line success. Yes, the Buckeyes will be without their top pass rusher, but if there's an area where Ohio State can lose a guy, it's at defensive end. There are still several options that we will see from the Buckeyes, and I expect most of them to work well enough. Clemson is 96th in the nation in sack allowed, so it's not like a team has to have dynamic pass rushers to have success. The Buckeyes will be able to move Adolphus Washington around if they want, as well as sending in Jamal Marcus in on passing downs. Marcus is one of the more aggressive pass rushers on the team, he just isn't necessarily the complete player quite yet. Steve Miller is more of a veteran and can be asked to do a few things at once. They should all provide a nice mix in place of Noah Spence, and I haven't even mentioned Joey Bosa and Michael Bennett, who are two of the better players in the Big Ten. I think the Buckeyes will be okay without Spence.
4. Cornerback issues. Buckeye fans are already in a fright because of Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, and while that's a proper condition to be in, they also need to worry about his pal Martavis Bryant. Bryant is a 6-5 monster who can go up over anybody to get a football, and he'll have a half-a-foot on anybody the Buckeyes send at him. Without Bradley Roby, I expect Armani Reeves to be targeted early, often and repeatedly. How he handles the first quarter could spell out the rest of the game. If it's bad early, panic could set in quickly, and the pressure could rise with each snap. If he handles the initial challenge, then the confidence will build and build. But it will only be able to build so much, because these receivers are just too good – as is quarterback Tajh Boyd – to expect to hold them below any type of average.
5. Lots of Ryan Shazier. Just thinking back to the disappointment on Shazier's face after the Big Ten Championship Game, I can't imagine getting anything other than his absolute best in this game, especially if it's his last game as a Buckeye. I expect him to be in the backfield quite a bit, including as a rush end on some passing downs. The Ohio State defense has been getting badmouthed for a long while now, and Shazier's performance in this game could bring that talk to a halt. As an aside, Shazier is only 3.5 tackles for loss away from tying Mike Vrabel's school record of 26.0 from 1995. Don't be surprised if he gets there.
Bonus: The Unexpected. That's right, I'm expecting the unexpected. How novel. What I'm really trying to say is that when it comes to the Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell experiment, I have no idea what to expect. Sure, the expectation is for them both to eventually be very good players, but right now they're still freshmen and they'll be going against the best quarterback they've ever seen. I have absolutely no clue how they'll do.
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