WHY OHIO STATE WILL COVER
Eric Seger is a writer at Ohio State Buckeyes blog Eleven Warriors. You can follow him on Twitter (@EricSeger33) and Eleven Warriors on Facebook (@elevenwarriors) and Twitter (@11w).
A ball-hawking defense
This section could and probably should be extended to include something about Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson’s penchant for throwing interceptions. He has 15 this season and the Buckeyes are the nation’s leader at making teams pay for turning the ball over. Led by unanimous All-American and safety Malik Hooker, they returned seven of 19 interceptions for touchdowns during the regular season, most in college football. Ohio State’s offense can do enough to keep it close but its defense can flip the script from a close loss to a win in a hurry.
J.T. Barrett is a master and a winner
Barrett’s statistics don’t rival Watson’s by any stretch of the imagination except in one category: wins. He is 26-3 as a starting quarterback and makes winning plays when his team needs him to the most. Against Michigan, Barrett and the offense was horrid for three quarters. His touchdown run and key completions down the stretch helped the Buckeyes beat the Wolverines and make it into the College Football Playoff.
The Urban Meyer factor
Meyer is an astounding 61-5 at Ohio State in five seasons, though one of those losses is to Dabo Swinney and Clemson in the 2014 Orange Bowl. Only Mark Dantonio owns more than one victory against Meyer since he took over at Ohio State ahead of the 2012 season. Meyer is 10-2 in bowl games. Give him a month to prepare for anybody and chances are good he will come out on top.
WHY CLEMSON WILL COVER
Ryan Kantor is an editor for Clemson Tigers’ blog Shakin’ The Southland. You can follow him on Twitter (@ryan_kantor) and Shakin’ The Southland on Facebook (@stsouthland) and Twitter (@ShakinSouthland).
Ohio State struggles to pass the ball
Ohio State is excellent at running the ball. According to the S&P+, they’re No. 2 in rushing offense, No. 1 in adjusted line yards, and No. 1 in power success rate (short yardage success). Conversely, they’re not so good when forced to pass the ball. They’re just 78th in sack rate and suffered eight sacks in their overtime win over Michigan.
The Tigers have excellent talent on their defensive line, especially in the middle. Dexter Lawrence, a 340lbs five-star freshman, and Carlos Watkins, a NFL-bound senior leading the team in sacks (8.5), start at defensive tackle. Scott Pagano, one of the more overlooked contributors, is back from a foot injury and will get plenty of snaps to keep them fresh. The Tigers seldom get consistently beat up the middle. Stretch plays from the running back tend to be more successful, but getting balance from the passing game will be key for OSU’s run game to keep the chains moving.
Clemson will force them to pass the ball by making big plays
Here’s where that becomes a problem. Clemson is No. 4 in the nation in Havoc Rate. They cause sacks, tackles for loss, deflections, and interceptions. It’s not that their defense is totally dominant, though they’re No. 6 in the nation (S&P+), it’s that they’re highly aggressive. Sure, they’ll get burnt for a few big plays, namely by Curtis Samuel, but invariably they’ll put Ohio State in 2nd-and-13 or 3rd-and-seven type situations where they have to pass the ball. If the Buckeyes think they can rely solely on a ground and pound attack against a defense that has beef in the middle and brings enough pressure to wreck havoc against anyone, they are mistaken.
Ohio State will need to pick up key first downs in obvious passing situations, and that’s their weakness.
Watson, Watson, Watson
If all else fails, go with the better QB. JT Barrett is very good, but like Clemson safety Jadar Johnson said, he isn’t the best QB they’ve faced. The Tigers already beat Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and they battle Deshaun Watson in practice everyday. In what is likely his final year, the Clemson QB will be the best player on the field and I wouldn’t bet against him.