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Friday, January 3, 2014

BCS Bowl Preview: Orange Bowl

Wild on Sports
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BCS Bowl Preview: Orange Bowl
By Wild on Sports Analyst Bryan Ridall

While this is only the second time ever these two teams have met, the first meeting will always be remembered in college football history. In the 1978 Gator Bowl, then-Ohio State coach Woody Hayes grabbed and punched Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman, after Bauman intercepted quarterback Art Schlichter, sealing a 17-15 win for Clemson. While this game likely won’t have the fireworks and long-lasting reputation that the first meeting did, this match up is intriguing nonetheless.

How Ohio State Got Here:
Everything had played out perfectly for the Buckeyes: they finished the regular season undefeated after barely escaping The Big House, Alabama lost to Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Florida State was the only undefeated team left, and all Ohio State had to do is defeat Michigan State in the Big 10 Championship game and they would be in the National Championship again. However, Ohio State lost its first game in two years under Urban Meyer in the Big 10 Championship game, ruining their National Championship aspirations. Ohio State was able to overcome the loss of quarterback Braxton Miller for two games and a variety of other injuries and suspensions to key players on the way to their 12-1 record. Ohio State has the third best scoring offense in the nation, averaging 46.3 points per game, and the offense has failed to score 40 points only three times this year, never scoring less than 31 points this year. Ohio State also boasts the nation’s third best rushing offense, using the two-headed attack of Carlos Hyde and Miller to combine for over 2400 yards and 24 touchdowns, and using the rest of their arsenal for an additional 1700 yards and 18 touchdowns, having a total of eight players with over 100 yards rushing. The Buckeyes receiving corps seems rather underwhelming when you look at the overall numbers, but they have been extremely consistent and dynamic once the ball gets into their hands. Seven receivers have averaged 10 yards or more per reception, and their top three receivers have accounted for 24 touchdowns. Ohio State’s defense has been completely transformed since Meyer took over, shifting to a smaller, more athletic unit. Ohio State was tough against the run, only giving up over 150 yards one (152), but teams with above average quarterbacks could exploit their pass defense, if they can keep the ball away from the Buckeyes’ opportunistic secondary. For Ohio State to win, they will need to pressure Tajh Boyd so that he doesn’t get the time he needs to dissect the secondary and let Sammy Watkins get open for big plays. On offense, Ohio State will need to run, run, and run some more on Clemson’s mediocre rush defense, allowing Miller to set up the play action pass, opening up the secondary and taking advantage of the Clemson defense’s poor execution with two-deep safety formations.

How Clemson Got Here: Clemson went 11-2 last year and seemed poised to control its own destiny in the ACC with the maturity of quarterback Tajh Boyd and the return of Sammy Watkins, one of the nation’s most dynamic playmakers. After beating Georgia in a shootout on the first weekend of the season, Clemson seemed to have lived up to the expectations, and won their next five games, setting up a matchup with undefeated Florida State. Clemson was blown out by FSU, eliminating any chance they had at the BCS National Championship game, and then lost their rivalry game to South Carolina for the fifth year in a row. Despite the “unsuccessful” season, Clemson’s offensive playmakers had great seasons, resulting in the 11th best passing offense and the 9th best scoring offense in the country. Boyd threw for almost 3500 yards with 29 touchdowns and added over 250 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground. Watkins finished the season with 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns, making him the second most efficient receiver in the ACC. Clemson’s defense is a unit of feast or famine, when you consider advanced statistics. Clemson’s defense averages five plays per possession, which indicates, that the defense forces a lot of three and outs. However, closer investigation into the statistic shows that while the defense does produce a lot of three and outs, they are also prone to the big play, which Florida State took advantage of, and Ohio State has the offensive capabilities to exploit. Though Clemson often fell victim to the big play, they were one of the best units against long drives, only allowing drives of ten or more plays ten percent of the time. Clemson’s biggest weakness is its run defense, which is ranked 51st in the country, and has only held four teams under 100 yards rushing in the entire season, including giving up 323 yards to Syracuse. For Clemson to have a chance in this game, they need to hold Ohio State’s third ranked rushing offense under control by winning the battle up front. Ohio State’s linemen are extremely athletic and get to the second level very well, which will create match up problems against Clemson’s slower linebackers. Clemson’s offense will have to limit its mistakes and hope that Sammy Watkins can break free of Ohio State’s secondary.

Outcome: Well I have been wrong on my last two predictions, but it has to turn around at some point. Ohio State has looked relatively mortal its last two weeks against underwhelming offenses, but will be reeling off of their loss to Michigan State. Clemson is coming in after the loss to South Carolina, and Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins will be looking to end their careers with a win. This one should be a high scoring game and is likely to be decided by whoever has the ball last.  

Prediction: Ohio State: 41, Clemson: 38

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