Follow the author: @Jpilutti94
As many of our readers and casual football fans across the country are aware, The Ohio State Buckeyes made it into the College Football Playoff, matched up against Clemson. The other two teams being Alabama and Washington.
This matchup pits a solid Ohio State squad against the ACC champion, Clemson. Led by Heisman Trophy candidate Deshaun Watson, the Tigers were able to fend off a pesky Virginia Tech squad to earn their second consecutive ACC crown. This matchup adds even more intrigue to the other contests, with the most recent matchup having been in the 2013 Orange Bowl.
To be able to preview the upcoming playoff game against Clemson, you have to go back and analyze the 2013 Orange Bowl to get an appreciation for how far both programs have come.
Coming into that 2013 game, Ohio State had just lost to Michigan State in the BIG Championship, the starting quarterback was Buckeye legend Braxton Miller, current Houston Texans wide receiver. During that game, Braxton was injured, having hurt his shoulder horribly.
This would directly lead to redshirt freshmen JT Barrett earning the starting quarterback job next fall, as Miller had a season-ending setback a week before the Navy game. JT Barrett can almost thank Clemson for having the career he had. Braxton missed the 2014 campaign, then switched to wide receiver for the 2015 season.
As for the outcome, Ohio State ended up losing 40-35, while losing their star quarterback to injury and star running back to the NFL. The Tigers would lose Sammy Watkins and Deandre Hopkins, as well as running back Andre Ellington to the NFL. All of the aforementioned players are still on rosters, with Hopkins and Watkins arguably in the top-20 receivers in the league. That much NFL talent leaves giant shoes to fill, as well as quarterback Tajh Boyd graduating.
Replacing him was a graduate and former classmate of mine, Cold Stoudt. His backup? Highly touted recruit Deshaun Watson. Stoudt had been on the bench for several years, then the team was finally his to lead. Watson played well in relief and in lieu of Stoudt who struggled from time to time.
Suffering a season-ending injury, Stoudt would lead Clemson to a bowl game win at season’s end. At that point, Watson had already planted the seeds that would become his starting job and his team.
Fast forward to present day: year three of the CFP. Ohio State won the inaugural CFP, defeating Oregon in the final, 42-20. The following year, Ohio State suffered a loss at home to Michigan State, 17-14. Michigan State would subsequently be slapped around and mauled by the Crimson Tide, 38-0. Ohio State settled for a Fiesta Bowl matchup against Notre Dame. Clemson made the CFP final, losing in a closely contested matchup to the eventual National Champion, Alabama.
Year 3: Clemson and Ohio State have now made two College Football Playoff appearances. This game is a culmination of the year, with many seeing Clemson as overrated. Their inability to win gimme games against bad teams this year lends credence to that thought. Being upset at HOME by Pitt, squeaking out an overtime win against North Carolina State, once again at home. This Tigers team has played much like that of Florida State during their 2014 run to the College Football Playoff, which ended with them being trounced by Oregon.
Each side has fantastic athletes and players. To highlight only Deshaun Watson would be doing the Tigers a disservice, as the team collectively has earned the right to play for a national title. Mike Williams has been a terrific talent since he stepped on campus.
Per ESPN, Williams has recorded 84 receptions for 1171 yards, with 10 touchdowns. Seen as a first round talent for the NFL draft, Williams is highly likely to forgo his last year of eligibility to pursue a career in the NFL. With a large 6’3 frame with speed to burn, Williams will be a tough test for one of the best secondaries in college football, Ohio State.
Wayne Gallman is the starting tailback for Clemson. Statistically, Gallman is the best running back in Clemson history, having rushed for 3298 yards and 32 touchdowns. Gallman has speed to burn and power to run in between the tackles. He’s also a great option out of the backfield when a play breaks down and Deshaun Watson has to create. In space, he can make you miss and run over you. These OSU linebackers will have a true test trying to bring Gallman down at the point of attack.
There are plenty of Clemson players who can take the lid off the defense, or change the game in an instant. These two have been reliable playmakers for several years now and will continue to make plays come the Fiesta Bowl.
With regards to Ohio State, one unit needs to stand their ground, the defensive line. The secondary has been fantastic all year, having breakout stars Malik Hooker and Marshon Lattimore show off their ball-hawking skills on display. Nick Bosa, Jalyn Holmes, Tyquan Lewis and Sam Hubbard need to create pressure at the point of attack, distract Watson so that he can’t escape and create.
The linebackers will have their hands full covering star tight end Jordan Leggett and running back Wayne Gallman. The “Rushmen” haven’t been nearly as successful this year pressuring the quarterback as when Joey Bosa was leading the charge. But this group of linemen is no joke and can still get the pressure needed to wreck plays. Sam Hubbard and Tyquan Lewis can step up and will step up.
There will be plenty of time leading up to this game, with finals in between, Christmas break following shortly thereafter, for us to scrutinize and overanalyze every facet of both teams.
Buckeye fans should be worried because this Clemson offense is no joke. After the heart-wrenching win over TTUN, Ohio State fans have plenty of time to catch their breath and make travel plans for Pheonix!
Oh, Come let’s sing Ohio’s praise…
Follow the author: @Jpilutti94
Photos via: Bleacher Report, ESPN, CBS, FOX