Friday the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes (12-1) take on No. 12 Clemson Tigers (10-2) in the Discover Orange Bowl.
Ohio State enters the game after their first loss in two seasons. They fell 34-24 in the Big Ten title game, snapping their 24-game undefeated streak and ruining their shot at the BCS National Championship.
The Tigers also enter this game following a loss, their second of the season, 31-17 to South Carolina. Earlier in the season, Clemson had their hopes at a national title ended early in the season, falling to Florida State 51-14 in October.
Both teams had bigger ambitions this season, but if they want to end things on a positive note, they will have to put that behind them and focus on this opponent in their last BCS game.
When Clemson Has The Ball
The Tigers’ strength is their offense. They are in the top-15 nationally in scoring offense and total offense. They are on pace to be top-two in school history in total offense and scoring average and best in passing yards per game and completion percentage.
The majority of their offense comes from senior quarterback Tajh Boyd. The former Buckeye recruit can tie the school record for wins by a starting quarterback if he can beat OSU and would also set the record for wins against ranked teams.
The second-team All-ACC quarterback finished the year completing 67.6% of his passes for 3,473 yards, 29 touchdowns and nine interceptions and was a finalist for the Johnny Unitas Award for the nation’s best senior quarterback.
His top target is Biletnikoff finalist Sammy Watkins. Clemson’s all-time leader in reception yards was a first-team All-ACC player this season with 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Watkins may be the team’s top target, but he is not their only weapon. Junior Martavis Bryant has become a solid second option for Boyd with 800 yards and five touchdowns.
The duo has combined for 2,037 yards, good for the third best combination in Tiger history behind Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins the last two seasons. They need just 161 yards between them to become the top combination.
Clemson does most of their damage through the air, which could be a big issue for Ohio State. The Buckeyes had secondary problems all year long and things have gotten worse since the Big Ten Title game.
OSU will be without cornerback Bradley Roby, who will miss the game with a knee injury, and defensive end Noah Spence who was suspended three games for violating conference rules.
This means the unit that has allowed 259.5 yards per game in the air won’t have their top cover man or their best pass rusher.
Armani Reeves will step in for Roby and have to matchup with Watkins or Bryant. Reeves was inconsistent this year and will need his best game to help the Buckeyes shutdown this high-powered offense.
They will also need Doran Grant to step into the number-one corner slot, asking him to be the man in coverage.
Ohio State has already decided to make changes, electing to start freshman Vonn Bell at nickel. Bell was a highly-recruited five-star player coming out of high school, but saw limited time this year – mostly on special teams.
Spence led the defensive line this year and others will have to fill the void. Freshman Joey Bosa was a beast once he became a starter, and more will be asked of him with Spence unavailable.
The Tigers are not a heavy run team, averaging just 172.7 yards on the ground per game, but their senior Rod McDowell needs just 44 rushing yards to reach 1,000 on the season.
The third-team All-ACC back has five touchdowns on the season and will go against the nation’s sixth-best rush defense.
The defensive line has been a big part of that, but the Ohio State linebacking corps has improved, especially against the run, throughout the season. Ryan Shazier has led the Big Ten in tackles and tackles for a loss and has 62 tackles in his last four games.
Offensive tackle Brandon Thomas and his offensive line will look to give Boyd time and create running lanes for McDowell throughout the night.
Kicker Chandler Catanzaro was an All-Conference honorable mention, but has only attempted 14 field goals this season – missing just one – with a long from 51 yards.
When Ohio State Has The Ball
There was a lot of confusion in Buckeye nation after the game against Michigan State. In the games leading up to the title game, Ohio State had relied on the run game and Carlos Hyde, yet Urban Meyer and Tom Herman leaned on Braxton Miller in the loss.
Miller is one of the most dynamic players in college football, but struggled as a quarterback down the stretch. Miller only competed 46% of his passes in his last four games for just 136 yards per game and seven total touchdowns.
The coaches have had 26 days to work with Miller to get him back to the player he was earlier in the season.
No matter how well Miller is playing, it would be surprising if OSU did not feed Hyde as Clemson ranks 17th defensively against the pass, but 50th against the run.
Hyde became Meyer’s first 1,000-yard back this season and his total has now reached over 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns. Despite 18 carries and 118 yards, the ball was not in Hyde’s hands late in the game against the Spartans when OSU was attempting to hold a lead.
These two players will be protected by one of the best offensive lines in the country, led by three first-team All-Big Ten seniors. They will also get fellow senior Marcus Hall back from his one-game suspension.
Receiver Corey “Philly” Brown will be playing his final game as a Buckeye. He will be looking to eclipse his receptions and yardage from last season, as he is five receptions and 14 yards short. He has scored 10 touchdowns this season, seven more than all of last season.
A player who could be a game-changer for Ohio State is freshman Dontre Wilson. He did not record an offensive statistic in the season finale against Michigan – though he was ejected in the first half – or in the Big Ten Title game.
With the time to prepare, they may have worked to get him more involved because he has the ability to break the game open at any point.
Another set of weapons would be either of the tight ends, Jeff Heuerman or Nick Vannett. Both Heuerman and Vannett showed their potential as more than blockers at times this year, but were not used consistently.
Senior Drew Basil is 9/10 on field goal attempts this year with a long of 45 yards.
How It Will End Up
This is a difficult game to call because of the inconsistencies on both sides of the ball.
Tajh Boyd has been a good quarterback throughout his career, but has also flopped in big games. Against the Seminoles, Boyd completed less than 50% of his passes and threw two interceptions. Versus the Gamecocks, he was more efficient but had two more picks and no touchdowns.
Both of these defenses are better than what he will see against the Buckeyes, but if he has a bad day, OSU can certainly take advantage.
This game may come down to the offenses, in which case Ohio State would want to burn clock to keep the Tigers’ offense off the field. If the Buckeyes can do that, they should have a good chance.
Meyer is undefeated in BCS bowls and has always been able to use the time between the end of the season and bowl season to get his team prepared. It would not be surprising to see a new wrinkle or two on either side of the ball.
Clemson has firepower offensively, but OSU’s defense will do enough against a one-dimensional team. The Buckeyes will stay balanced offensively throughout and send this senior class out with a final win.
Ohio State 48 Clemson 44