Justin Fields and the Ohio State Buckeyes get a chance for revenge in the Sugar Bowl against Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers. The Tigers defeated the Buckeyes 29-23 in last years Fiesta Bowl in a game that was an instant classic, and I can’t help but feel like this rematch is going to be another exciting contest.
These teams are fairly familiar with one another. This will be the third matchup in a CFP semifinal game between the Buckeyes and Tigers in the last five years. As mentioned, Clemson won last year 29-23, but Ohio State jumped out to a 16-0 lead in the first half. They slowly saw that lead wilt away, and Clemson came out on top. Clemson also took the meeting before that in the 2016 semifinal in a 31-0 rout. In fact, Clemson has won all four meetings with Ohio State in series history. In 2013, the Tigers beat the Buckeyes to win the Orange Bowl 40-35, and claimed a two-point Gator Bowl win in 1978. Ohio State just hasn’t been able to solve Clemson in their previous four matchups, but is matchup No. 5 going to be different?
Bulletin Board Material
In case you didn’t hear, Ohio State has only played six games this season. Ok, you knew that, but this team has been hearing about how undeserving they are to be in the CFP for weeks now. You think they’re tired of hearing that and ready to show everyone just how deserving they are? Dabo Swinney sure doesn’t think much of them, as he ranked the Buckeyes 11th in his final Coaches Poll submission. I have to think that Ryan Day and this Ohio State team are going to be extra riled up for this game. Add in the fact that it is a revenge game for the Buckeyes (they have a sign with the 29-23 score from the defeat last year in the locker room) and they have all the motivation they need and then some.
The Trevor Lawrence Effect
Clemson can win in a variety of ways, but Trevor Lawrence is what makes this team special. Lawrence has dominated at Clemson with a record of 34-1 as a starter. That lone loss came in last year’s National Championship game against Joe Burrow and LSU in this very stadium (Superdome). This season, Lawrence is completing 69.2% of his passes, his best at Clemson, and has 22 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. In the showdown with Ohio State last year, it was Lawrence’s running abilities that made the difference. He rushed 16 times for 107 yards and a touchdown. Ohio State simply was not prepared for that game plan, and it was a key aspect of Clemson’s victory. He also had 259 passing yards and two touchdowns through the air. I’m not sure how involved his running abilities will be in this one, but it will certainly help to keep the Buckeye defense honest. Lawrence should be ready for a big game through the air against an Ohio State passing defense that has had some problems this season. The Buckeyes are 103rd in the nation allowing 260.8 passing yards per game. Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. threw for 491 yards and 5 TD’s against them, along with six passes of 30+ yards. However, it was a pick-six from Shaun Wade that proved to be the difference in the game. The secondary can be opportunistic, and will have to take advantage of any poorly thrown balls from Lawrence.
Ohio State Offensive Attack
The Buckeyes have an elite offensive line, and with their duo of Master Teague and Trey Sermon, they are averaging 275 yards per game on the ground. Not only that, but the Bucks average six yards per carry, which is 3rd in the nation. Sermon exploded for 331 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in the Big Ten title game against Northwestern. Expecting a repeat of that performance is just a bit much, but Sermon has shown that he is a force to be reckoned with alongside Master Teague. Teague has 449 yards, 5.0 YPC, and six TD’s on the season, and the Ohio State running game is a three-headed attack featuring Teague, Sermon, and QB Justin Fields. Along with 1,521 yards and 15 passing touchdowns, Fields has rushed for 274 yards and found the end zone five times. Last season, it was Lawrence who torched the Buckeyes on the ground, but this time around, I think Fields could be poised for a big game on the ground. Fields had just 13 rushing yards in that game last year, and his mobility could be an x-factor for Ohio State in this one. When passing, Fields has a tendency to hold on to the ball, as well as make some ill-advised throws. In the two games against Northwestern and Indiana, Ohio State’s top two opponents this season, Fields looked flustered and made some bad decisions. He threw three picks against Indiana and two against Northwestern, along with taking five sacks to IU and three against NW. Clemson’s defense can give him problems and force him to make some bad decisions, but calling designed runs could catch them off-guard. On the outside, WR Chris Olave will be back after missing the Big Ten title game, and sophomore Garrett Wilson has been impressive all season. Wilson leads the team with 38 catches for 621 yards and 5 TD’s, while Olave has 36 catches for 528 yards and 5 TD’s.
Ohio State has been waiting for this rematch for a year. I think they will come out of the gates firing. Last year they got out to a 16-0 lead, and I wouldn’t be surprised if something similar happened this year. They will be rearing to go from the start, and with added motivation and a bit of a chip on their shoulder, I think they start off strong. However, I think the game will settle down and be a back-and-forth battle until the end. As the game settles down, I think Ohio State will run the ball. Trey Sermon erupted for 331 yards against Northwestern, and there is no way they don’t turn to him a lot in this game. I also think Justin Fields will be involved in the running game, much like Lawrence was in the game last year. As mentioned, Fields’ decision-making and holding of the football for too long has given him issues against good defenses this season, and designed runs could limit those instances. Clemson DC Brent Venables is one of the best in the biz, and I think he will have a tremendous game plan in place. J.K. Dobbins ran for 174 yards on Clemson last year, and I think Venables will look to see what led to that success, and be able to combat it with a solid plan this time around. The Tigers defense is healthy, and they have really hit a different gear since that Notre Dame loss in South Bend. In their three games since then, they have held their opponents to 17, 10, and 10 points. Clemson’s rushing defense is sixth in the nation, allowing 99.8 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry on the ground. Ohio State also possess a tough rushing defense, allowing 96.7 yards per game (seventh in the nation) and 3.4 yards per carry this season. I think this favors an Under. The only thing that worries me about the Under is Ohio State’s secondary, but I think they will be better than they were in that Indiana game. The Under is 4-0 in Ohio State’s last four bowl games, as well as 5-0 in Clemson’s five CFP semifinal games. I think those trends continue here with an Under.
Title Photo: Sports Illustrated