Last week’s results
No. 12 Clemson (10-2, 7-1 ACC) lost to South Carolina 31-17.
No.7 Ohio State (11-1, 8-0 Big 10) lost to Michigan State 34-24 in the Big 10 title game.
Can Clemson finish 2013 on a high and erase the ugly memories from its last Orange Bowl trip?
There’s no avoiding what happened to Clemson the last time it stepped foot in Sun Life Stadium, and to their credit, the Tigers haven’t even tried.
Two years ago, a young Tiger team that featured 63 freshmen and sophomores was thoroughly embarrassed by West Virginia, which applied a 70-33 whipping in the 2012 Orange Bowl. The Mountaineers scored more points than anyone in college football bowl history and handed Clemson its second-worst bowl loss ever.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows his team is far more mature than it was two years ago. As is his nature, he accentuated the positive.
“I told the guys, we were in the locker room after the game a couple years ago, we were very disappointed with the outcome of the game,” he said. “But I said, ‘It’s not going to be 31 years before we’re back in the Orange Bowl. I promise you that. It’s good to have a chance to be back. We’ve got to get a better result. That’s our goal.”
Clemson trailed only 21-17 midway through the second quarter, but the tide turned after West Virginia stripped tailback Andre Ellington at its goal line and ran the fumble back 99-plus yards for a backbreaking score. The Mountaineers led 42-20 at the half.
“When they got that fumble and ran it (99) yards it was just, I looked up, it was 40-something and it isn’t even halftime yet,” junior defensive tackle DeShawn Williams said. “I was like, ‘Dang.’”
Williams says he and his teammates are more mature, but youth doesn’t explain the 2012 meltdown.
“People want to use that as an excuse,” he said. “With that type of atmosphere and the way we’d played that season, we should have known what was going to happen. We can’t use (the excuse) just because we were young.
“We had all the talent on the world on that field. We just didn’t execute. I don’t think it was a young thing. They executed their calls and when something bad happened all hell just broke loose. We couldn’t stop them.”
Clemson is coming off a 31-17 loss to rival South Carolina and a 51-14 loss to BCS title game participant Florida State still stings, too. Beating the Buckeyes, who had their 24-game win streak snapped against Michigan State, would be a meaningful win in a number of ways for Swinney and Co.
Can Clemson contain Braxton Miller?
Clemson’s struggles against mobile quarterbacks came back to the forefront following the South Carolina defeat. Senior Connor Shaw rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, converting multiple third downs with his feet.
That’s a problem since Miller, Ohio State’s star junior quarterback, is one of the best dual-threat signal callers in college football.
Miller has 1,033 rushing yards and 10 rushing scores as well as 1,880 passing yards with 22 touchdowns against five interceptions.
“We have not faced one like this guy,” Swinney said of Miller. “He has great instincts. He is not a quarterback running the ball, he is a legit runner. He can change direction. He is fast and runs away from people. He turns broken plays into positive plays for them. He can scramble and find the guys down the field. He is one of the best players in the nation.”
Williams said he and his defensive teammates are prepared for the challenge Miller presents. They simply must be more patient and avoid the busts that Shaw exploited so ably in Columbia.
Which team will enter 2014 with momentum?
Between Clemson’s South Carolina defeat and Ohio State’s loss to Michigan State, neither team enters Friday with momentum on its side.
The Tigers lost their fifth consecutive game to their archrival, and the Buckeyes suffered their first defeat since 2011, watching a BCS title shot slip through their hands.
Following a 25-24 Chick-fil-A Bowl win over LSU, the 2012 offseason was far more pleasant than Clemson’s 2011 offseason. A win over Ohio State would give the Tigers their first back-to-back 11-win seasons in program history, and Swinney knows just how much an Orange victory would mean for his team.
“We’ve gotta get over that hump,” Swinney said of winning a BCS bowl game. “That’s one of those things we haven’t done. There’s not a lot of things we haven’t done, but that’s one of them. We want to win a BCS bowl. We want to have back to back 11-win seasons. We want to be a consistent top-10 team. It’s a huge opportunity. You’re playing Ohio State, who represents the best of the best. They’ve been unbelievable. Coach (Urban) Meyer has been great everywhere he’s been. This is a great challenge for us.”
Time: 8 p.m. Friday
Place: Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Radio: Clemson and Ohio State radio networks (regional); ESPN Radio (national)
Spread: Ohio State -5 via VegasInsider.com
*Unless otherwise noted, all quotes in this article were obtained directly by the author.