While No. 1 Alabama (13-0) squares off against No. 4 Washington (12-1) in the Peach Bowl, all the hype has been focused around the matchup following it in the Fiesta Bowl.
No. 2 vs. No. 3. Clemson (12-1) vs. Ohio State (11-1). Tigers vs. Buckeyes. Swinney vs. Meyer. Watson vs. Barrett. A matchup fueled by tradition and made for the headlines.
With these two teams having prior experience in the newly implemented college football playoff, this game promises to be a dog fight from beginning to end. Ohio State surprised everyone in the inaugural season of the playoff by taking home the championship despite losing their starting quarterback in Braxton Miller and the backup (at the time) J.T. Barrett. Their last resort and 3rd string Quarterback, Cardale Jones, would burst onto the scene beating Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big 10 Championship, top ranked Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and then Oregon in the national championship.
This year’s buckeye team is not very reminiscent of the 2014-2015 national championship team. Both teams were equipped with the elusive Urban Meyer defense we have grown accustomed to. However, this year the buckeyes are healthy on the offensive side of the ball which will play to their advantage. The focal point for this Ohio State team is the offensive line. Going against one of the best defensive lines in the country in Clemson, this group will have their work cut out for them.
Clemson’s defense has proven to be lethal to many opponents this year. While the Tigers defensive attack is unconventional, it has proven to be very successful in only allowing 18.4 points per game this season. Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer explained:
“They’re very game plan-specific. Usually in the first two series of the game, you’ll see what you’re going to get. They’re very multiple, and they’re very unorthodox.”
The thing about this Clemson defense is they are very versatile. With an aggressive approach and varying coverage schemes, they can play against many different types of offenses and have been extremely successful in doing so all year.
The Tigers also have arguably the best quarterback in the country in Deshaun Watson. Expected to declare for the draft after this season, Watson has put together one of the best careers of all time for a Clemson quarterback. This dual threat quarterback has racked up 3914 passing yards on the season along with 529 rushing yards. Coming off a devastating loss last year in the national championship to Alabama, Watson will be extra motivated to come back out and fight for a spot in the national championship in hopes of getting a second chance at the Crimson Tide.
The winner of this game will be based on two factors: quarterback play and turnovers. Deshaun Watson was expected to come out this season and blow by every defense he faced. However, the former Heisman frontrunner faced some unexpected struggles early in the season against Auburn, Troy, NC State, and Louisville.
The same goes for Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett. Will we see the Michigan J.T. Barrett where he would lead his team to one of the biggest wins in program history or the Penn State J.T. Barrett who was nonexistent going down the stretch when his team needed him the most?
Either way, both quarterbacks have been more consistent as of late and hope to carry that over to the Fiesta Bowl.
Lastly, both teams have done a stellar job controlling the ball all year. Above anything else, this is what they need to focus on brining into this game. Neither team cannot afford to turn the ball over and give these strong offences more chances at putting points on the board. This is why the team who turns the ball over the least, will come out of this game with a victory.
The PlayStation Fiesta Bowl between No. 3 Ohio State (11-1) and No. 2 Clemson (12-1) will kick off tomorrow at 7 pm (EST) on December 31, 2016 on ESPN.