The 2014 Orange Bowl, featuring the No. 12 Clemson Tigers and No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes, promises to be full of offensive fireworks, as both teams present matchup nightmares on paper.
The two programs finished the season with just three losses between them, and they both rank in the top 10 nationally in points scored.
Who you got?
Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins lead an explosive passing attack for Clemson, while Braxton Miller and Carlos Hyde lead a potent running game for Ohio State.
Here's a look at the biggest matchups in the upcoming BCS bowl game.
Sammy Watkins vs. Ohio State's Secondary
Ohio State's top pass-rusher, Noah Spence, won't be playing in this game after being suspended for three games, as reported by Erick Smith of USA Today:
Release from Ohio State: DL Noah Spence suspended three games for violation of Big Ten rule. Misses Orange Bowl and first two games of 2014.— Erick Smith (@erick_smith) January 1, 2014
Even with Spence in the game, Ohio State was going to have a tough time corralling Clemson's passing attack, according to Bleacher Report's Michael Felder: "With or without Noah Spence, the Ohio State defense is going to have its work cut out for it against the Clemson Tigers' attack. Spence is growing into a phenomenal pass-rusher, but the key to the Buckeyes stopping Clemson is the pass coverage, not just the pass rush."
Adding to the challenge, cornerback Bradley Roby isn't expected to play as he's dealing with a knee injury, as noted by ESPN Big Ten:
Roby unlikely to play in Orange Bowl http://t.co/jMv7TxaabG— ESPN Big Ten (@ESPN_BigTen) January 1, 2014
Ohio State struggled to defend the pass throughout most of the second half of the season, finishing with the nation's No. 103-ranked passing defense (259.5 passing yards allowed per game) while allowing 26 passing touchdowns.
Without Roby, going up against Sammy Watkins, who has wowed Bleacher Report's Matt Miller, Ohio State's defensive secondary could be doomed:
The gap between Sammy Watkins and the next best WR is huge. Arguably the biggest gap at any position in 2014 class.— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) October 26, 2013
The talented junior receiver finished the year with 85 catches for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's a force to be reckoned with. Given Ohio State's weakened defense, he's going to go off at the 2014 Orange Bowl—likely his last game in college before he heads to the pros.
Ohio State Running Game vs. Clemson's Defensive Front Seven
The Auburn Tigers have a shot at winning a national championship thanks to their top-ranked rushing offense. Ohio State has been nearly as impressive this season, however, coming into the Orange Bowl with the No. 3-ranked rushing attack, averaging 317.5 rushing yards per game.
Clemson features the nation's 50th-ranked rushing defense, allowing 152.6 yards per game, which is just above average, and the Tigers allowed 19 rushing touchdowns.
Carlos Hyde and Miller combined to rush for 2,441 yards this year—both players eclipsing 1,000 yards—and 24 touchdowns.
Hyde feels confident coming into the game, noting that he watched Todd Gurley run for 154 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson earlier in the year, as reported by Kyle Rowland of ElevenWarriors.com:
Carlos Hyde said he was encouraged by Clemson-Georgia game when Bulldog RB Todd Gurley ran for 154 yards and two touchdowns.— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) December 31, 2013
It's worth noting that South Carolina's running game was stymied in part during the final game of the season—a loss for Clemson. Mike Davis was held to just 22 yards on 15 carries, while Connor Shaw did the bulk of the work on the ground for the Gamecocks, totaling 94 yards and one touchdown on 22 carries.
That doesn't necessarily bode well for the Tigers in this upcoming game because Miller is much more dangerous than Shaw in the open field.
Needless to say, Clemson's front seven must play with discipline, leverage and fire in order to keep Ohio State's potent offense in check. In particular, defensive end Vic Beasley, who's known for his pass-rushing abilities, must be razor-sharp against the run in this one.
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