The 2019 Fiesta Bowl between Ohio State and Clemson is shaping up to be one of the most evenly-matched games in College Football Playoff history.
Both teams come in loaded with top talent at almost every position and coaching staffs made up of assistants with big names and strong reputations.
Statistically, both teams are nearly identical. The point spread has Clemson favored by less than a field goal.
In a game that close, one play could be the difference between winning and losing. If Chase Young gets to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence in time to strip the ball and force a turnover on a certain snap, that could be enough to tip the game to a Buckeye win.
But if the Tigers are able to hold Young up just for one extra second, that might be enough time for Lawrence to find one of his talented receivers like Justyn Ross downfield for big play that could swing the game in the other direction.
That makes the matchup of Young against Clemson’s sophomore left tackle Jackson Carman must-see TV.
The two crossed paths briefly in 2017 when Carman was still in high school and visiting colleges and Young was just a freshman at Ohio State.
At that point, Carman was a 5-star offensive tackle prospect, considered one of the 10 best players in all of America. He also played his high school ball in Fairfield, Ohio, about 100 miles from Columbus.
It’s the type of recruitment that occasionally features some drama, but almost always ends up with the recruit putting a Buckeye hat on when Signing Day rolls around.
But this time it didn’t happen. Carman picked Clemson over OSU and USC.
“If you’ve been somewhere your whole life and you have an opportunity to go travel the world, see what more is out there, that was definitely my mindset,” Carman said this week.
This week, Meyer said that decision was a big blow to the Buckeyes.
“It was disappointing because he’s an Ohio guy and we spent so much time with him. Good guy, good family, but he was very distant at times. You could tell he wanted to get away. So we weren’t that shocked when it happened. I think he wanted to get away.”
Two years after that announcement, things have worked out pretty well for Carman. He was a backup on the 2018 Tigers team which won the national title. Then, he earned the starting left tackle job this year and was named third-team all-conference. The Tigers are 28-0 since he arrived on campus.
Now, Carman and the Buckeyes will cross paths again. When he decided to sign with the Tigers, he knew that might happen.
“I definitely thought it was a possibility,” Carman said. “They’re both really good programs and title contenders every year.”
Now, the former 5-star prospect who left Ohio for a school south and east of the Buckeye state will have to go head-to-head with a former 5-star prospect who left a state south and east of Ohio to come to school at OSU.
Young vs. Carman is an intriguing matchup on its face: a pair of super-hyped recruits who have lived up to that billing.
But there’s seemingly a little bit of bad blood between them that could add a little extra spice to the matchup.
Young has talked repeatedly about how strong Clemson’s offensive line is, and what a “good young player” Carman is. But this week, when he was asked about Carman he also said, “I heard what he said. It’s all good. My coaches and everybody told me. It’s all cool. He said something on Twitter.”
Young declined to elaborate.
Carman hasn’t tweeted since the summer, so it may be a reference to something that happened at the time of his commitment. In December 2017, Carman told reporters that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney told him that Urban Meyer was in the back end of his career.
One day later, he tweeted this.
I’m so glad I made this decision.
— T H E J I A N T (@Jackthejiant) December 21, 2017
Or it could have to do with something Carman said earlier this month, when he was asked for his personal scouting report on Young.
“If you just run at him and try to throw a super hard punch at him, he’s going to take your hands and be gone,” Carman said. “You’ve got to sit back and play patient with him. Let him come to you, and then try to take up as much space as possible when he gets to you.”
Regardless of what it was that got under Young’s skin, the tension may add a little extra heat to an already spicy matchup. In fact, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said that the battle up front could decide the game.
“Our strength is our offensive line; their strength is their defensive line,” Swinney said. “And everybody gets kind of enamored with the quarterbacks and the wideouts and those defensive backs and all that stuff and these great backs, but that will be quite a battle right there to watch all night long.”
Young almost certainly won’t be going against Carman on every snap, as the Buckeyes’ defensive coaching staff moves him around to keep Clemson guessing. Young knows that there aren’t really any weak points on Clemson’s offensive line.
“They’re all pretty good, man,” Young said. “They’re all guys who can go. So it’s our job to just do our job and do it the best we can.”
But things won’t exactly be easy for the Tigers, either.
“Every week (Young is) doing something crazy. Having four sacks or something like that,” Carman said.
“Usually people who are athletic specimens like him aren’t necessarily the most refined with their technique because they can rely on being better than everyone else physically. But he’s really done a great job with his technique and his coaching.”
Young is impressed with what he’s seen on film from Carman, and is ready for the challenge.
“He has good feet and has a good set. It will definitely be a good one going up against him.”