It’s bowl season and with that comes the College Football Playoff. The ACC and the Big Ten lock up in a CFP semifinal matchup when the #3 Clemson Tigers battle the #2 Ohio State Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, December 28 with the winner advance to the CFP National Championship Game. Clemson steamrolled an overmatched #23 Virginia team 62-17 in the ACC Championship Game in their last game on December 7. Ohio State rallied to defeat #8 Wisconsin 34-21 in the Big Ten Championship Game in their previous contest on December 7. The Tigers have won each of the three previous meetings, including a 31-0 whipping in a similar #2/#3 matchup in the Fiesta Bowl on December 31, 2016 in the most recent matchup.
Clemson Tigers Look to Take Next Step to Defend TitleClemson remained unbeaten as they blasted #23 Virginia in the ACC title game. The Tigers have won each of their last eight games by at least 31 points after nearly being upset by North Carolina back in last September. Virginia was overmatched from the start as the Tigers reeled off 24 unanswered points to break a 7-7 tie and take a 31-7 halftime edge. Clemson poured it on in the second half as they ensured that there would be no doubt about their 28th consecutive victory. The Tigers piled up a 619-387 edge in total offense, picked up 28 first downs while allowing 23 and forced three turnovers without committing one in the game. That more than made up for a 33:14 to 26:46 disadvantage in time of possession in the contest.
For the season, Clemson is 20th in the nation in passing offense (294.8 yards per game) and 10th in rushing offense with 252.9 yards per contest. The Tigers come into bowl season ranked fourth in the FBS in scoring offense with 46.5 points per game this season. Clemson is first in the nation in scoring defense by allowing 10.6 points per game. Trevor Lawrence has completed 232 of 337 passes for 3,172 yards with 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions. He adds 407 yards and seven scores on the ground this season. Chase Brice is 50 of 85 for 581 yards with four touchdowns and an interception plus 94 rushing yards and a score. Taisun Phommachanh is six of 12 for 56 yards and an interception while adding 56 yards on the ground. Travis Etienne is the leading ground gainer as he racked up 182 carries for 1,500 yards and 17 scores. Lyn-J Dixon (102 carries, 619 yards, six TD) and Chaz Mellussi (44 carries, 276 yards, three TD) are next in line should they be needed. Justyn Ross leads the team with 55 receptions for 742 yards and eight scores on the season. Tee Higgins (52 receptions, 1082 yards, 13 TD), Etienne (29 grabs, 298 yards, two TD) and Amari Rodgers (27 catches, 380 yards, four TD) are other key options. B.T. Potter has hit all 74 extra point attempts but is 12 of 19 on field goals with a long of 51. Steven Sawicki hit all six extra point attempts and is one of two on field goals with a long of 26.
Clemson is going to have to try to move the ball on the ground against a pretty stout Ohio State defense. The Buckeyes allowed only 99.5 yards per game on the ground this season, along with a 2.8 yard per carry average. Ohio State was seventh in the nation in rushing yards allowed. The Buckeyes are going to try and limit Etienne in an effort to get their pass rush going to disrupt Lawrence. Ohio State was second in the nation in passing yards allowed per game (148.1) and in QB rating (93.56) while recording more than twice as many interceptions (15) as touchdown passes allowed (seven) this season. One additional note: co-offensive coordinator Jeff Scott has been named the head coach at South Florida. He is the first coordinator to leave Clemson during their recent run of success. How that impacts the team remains to be seen.
Ohio State Buckeyes Seek First Ever Win vs. ClemsonOhio State found themselves in an unfamiliar situation at halftime of the Big Ten title game as they were in a 21-7 hole against Wisconsin. The Buckeyes regrouped in the second half, scoring 27 unanswered points to earn the victory and punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff. Ohio State clamped down defensively in the second half as they stifled the Wisconsin ground game. After allowing 194 yards on the ground to Jonathan Taylor and the Badgers in the first half, they allowed just six yards in the second half. Ohio State held a 492-432 advantage in total offense, picked up 28 first downs while allowing 23 and won the time of possession 31:46 to 28:14 to overcome committing the game’s lone turnover. The Buckeyes did take advantage of a botched punt attempt that gave them the ball deep in Wisconsin territory.
On the season, the Buckeyes are 48th in the nation in passing offense with 258.8 yards per game through the air while the team is fifth in the country in rushing by averaging 272.2 yards per contest. Ohio State is first in the FBS in scoring offense with 48.7 points per game while they rank third in the nation in scoring defense as they allow 12.5 points per contest. Justin Fields is 208 of 308 for 2,953 yards with 40 touchdowns and one interception: he’s added 471 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Chris Chugunov is 26 of 43 for 286 yards with six touchdowns while Gunnar Hoak has hit all six passes for 104 yards and a score. J.K. Dobbins leads the team with 283 carries for 1,829 yards and 20 scores: Master Teague III (128 carries, 780 yards, four TD) is next in line. K.J. Hill has caught 51 passes for 569 yards plus 10 scores to lead the team. Binjimen Victor (31 receptions, 507 yards, six TD) and Chris Olave (46 receptions, 799 yards, 11 TD) are other top targets in the aerial game. Blake Haubell has hit all 83 extra-point attempts and is 10 of 12 on field goals with a long of 55. Dominic DiMaccio is two of three on extra points and has not attempted a field goal this year.
Fields has thrown 40 touchdown passes this season against just one pick and has tossed at least three scores in 12 of the Buckeyes’ 13 games. He’s going to be challenged here by a Clemson defense that is first in the nation in pass yards allowed per game (138.5) and QB rating (92.81) while allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete just 50.3 percent of their throws. The Tigers have allowed just eight touchdown passes while picking off 17 balls this season. Clemson is ninth against the run, allowing 106.2 yards per game and 2.97 yards per carry this season.
The big question for Ohio State is whether Fields will be healthy. The sophomore quarterback has a sprained left MCL that slowed him down late in the regular season and forced him to wear a knee brace that limited his mobility. On Tuesday, Dec. 24, he estimated that he was "80 to 85%" healthy. But on Thursday at the Fiesta Bowl media day, Fields basically issued a no-comment on his health.
I'm not going to talk about my knee at all today," said Fields.
The top trends for this contest according to Covers.com:
- Tigers are 2-6 in their last eight bowl games as a favorite
- Buckeyes are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 neutral site games as an underdog
- Buckeyes are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 bowl games
- Buckeyes are 10-2 ATS vs. a team with a winning record