CFP Sugar Bowl Preview: Can the Buckeyes Pull Off the Upset?

 

Despite only playing six games this season in a conference that reversed course on canceling its season, The Ohio State Buckeyes nonetheless won every game they played en route to claiming a fourth-straight Big 10 Championship title and, more importantly, the No. 3 seed in this year’s college football playoff tournament. In this semi-final, they are set to face an all too familiar opponent: Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers.

Buckeye fans have a bad taste in their mouth over last year’s game; several controversial calls such as Shaun Wade’s ejection and the overturned scoop-and-score that would have given the Buckeyes the lead in the 3rd quarter. After compounding these big calls with several offensive mistakes when given chances to score, Clemson eventually came out on top by a score of 29 to 23.

However, quarterback Justin Fields and head coach Ryan Day have their chance for revenge in this year’s Sugar Bowl in a highly anticipated matchup.

From an early preview of the game, it seems like the level of talent of both teams has fallen from last year’s clash. Clemson’s defensive superstars Isaiah Simmons (linebacker) and AJ Terrell (cornerback) were both selected in the first round, and top receiver Tee Higgins was drafted by the Bengals early in the second. They also were forced to replace four offensive linemen who started during the 2019 campaign.

That being said, the Buckeyes arguably lost more talent. Heisman candidate DE Chase Young was picked number two overall, cornerbacks Jeff Okudah and Damon Arnette were picked at three and 19, respectively, and running back J.K. Dobbins was picked in the second round. As a result, the Buckeyes defense has not been nearly as menacing and the running game has not been nearly as effective as last year with Master Teague III and Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon vying for the primary ball carrier role.

So how do the teams stack up against each other?

Trevor Lawrence is the best quarterback in college football; this is not a question. No matter what happens, Clemson is going to put points on the board. In fact, since Lawrence was made the starter in 2018, the Tigers have only failed to score less than 25 points on two occasions. Ohio State’s elite defense could only hold Clemson to 29 points last year. Expect them to post at least 40 this time around.

The Tigers’ high-powered offense doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the Buckeyes. In every game except Northwestern, Ohio State scored at least 38. It’s very hard to compare stats across conferences normally, let alone during the COVID year. But with weapons like Justin Fields and wide receiver Chris Olave (who is set to return), the Buckeyes may be able to keep up if they get a few breaks along the way.

However, “keeping up” on the scoreboard doesn’t normally win you football games and it certainly won’t against an elite team like Clemson. This game will come down to a few big plays that decide if the Buckeyes will be able to keep the game close and win it at the end, or if Clemson will blow the game open and start running up the score.

I trust Trevor Lawrence to make the big throws on offense for Clemson and I trust the Clemson defense to disturb Fields and Sermon much more than I trust the rebuilding Ohio State defense to trouble the future No. 1 overall pick. Ohio State will have to open up the offense to keep up on the scoreboard and I think this will allow defensive coordinator Brett Venables’ defense to create turnovers for Dabo and Trevor to turn into points.

The Buckeyes are good, but the Tigers are better. It’s going to take something special on both sides of the ball for this one to swing in the Buckeyes’ favor.

My prediction: Clemson 45, Ohio State 31.

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