One year ago, Florida State romped Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl and then proceeded to earn a berth in this season's national title game. Clemson and Ohio State would love to follow the same path, starting with their high-profile Orange Bowl clash.
Clemson went 10-2 during the regular season, including a 7-1 mark in ACC play. The Tigers' biggest win came all the way back in late August when they knocked off No. 5 Georgia. They lost their other two games against ranked foes, Florida State and South Carolina, by a combined score of 82-31.
Ohio State took advantage of a very favorable schedule to win its first 12 games of the season. A win in the Big Ten Championship Game would have likely netted the Buckeyes a spot to fight for the national championship, but they fell short against Michigan State. How they respond is key.
With that in mind, let's check out all the important details for the Orange Bowl, followed by a preview and a prediction for which team will end the season with a marquee victory.
Where: Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida
When: Friday, Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Live Stream: WatchESPN
As mentioned, Ohio State isn't only going up against a talented Clemson squad, but it is also battling the disappointment of coming so close to a national title shot, only to fall short. Those types of situations are always ripe for a letdown.
The team's leadership is doing everything in its power to make sure that doesn't happen. Rusty Miller of the Associated Press passed along comments from senior offensive lineman Jack Mewhort about the task of getting refocused on the task at hand:
Obviously, we’re not going to where we thought we were going or where we wanted to be going, but we’re playing in the Orange Bowl and that’s a big-time bowl game...When you start going back to the coulda, woulda, shouldas, that’s poisonous for team. It’s our job as leaders to look ahead and make sure everybody is doing their business.
For Ohio State to come out on top, it must put the Michigan State loss in the rear-view mirror and get back to what made the team successful all season. That is, pounding away on the ground to control the possession battle.
The most amazing thing is how efficient the Buckeyes running game has been, even though opponents know what to expect. The top seven rushers on the roster are all averaging more the six yards per carry, including leading rusher Carlos Hyde at nearly eight yards per touch.
A lot of that is thanks to the improvement of Braxton Miller. While the quarterback is a key piece of the rushing attack, he also made strides as a passer, increasing his completion rate to 63 percent. It forces teams to at least respect the pass and play action.
It bodes well heading into a matchup with a Clemson defense that is giving up over 150 yards per game on the ground this season. If the Tigers completely sell out to stop the run, Miller should have some easy, moderate and deep throws available.
Clemson sports an equally dynamic offensive attack, although it plays in reverse of the Buckeyes. The Tigers lean far more heavily on the pass, which makes sense with Tajh Boyd, who threw 29 touchdowns and just nine interceptions, leading the way.
Once defenses start dropping back to defend the passing game, that's when they use Roderick McDowell to take advantage of the soft opposing front seven. The end result is much the same, as both teams average over 40 points per contest, but they get there in different ways.
And just like Ohio State should feel good about attacking Clemson on the ground, the Tigers have to like their chances of beating the Buckeyes through the air. They finished second last in the Big Ten at defending the pass.
Moreover, Sharon Katz of ESPN notes Ohio State really struggled to contain the deep passing game:
The Buckeyes have been especially vulnerable against the deep ball. In conference games, opponents completed 39 percent of their passes thrown 20 yards or longer against Ohio State, seven percentage points higher than the Big Ten average. Connor Cook completed 3-of-5 such passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Big Ten Championship.
In other words, Sammy Watkins should have a field day. The outstanding junior wideout caught 85 passes for over 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns, including scores from 96 and 91 yards.
Ultimately, it comes down to which stronghold is more effective—Ohio State's ground game or Clemson's aerial attack. It's an enticing duel that should result in a shootout not decided until the fourth quarter.
In the end, Ohio State has a slight advantage thanks to Miller, Hyde and Co.
Prediction: Ohio State 38, Clemson 34
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