Fiesta Bowl 2019: Underrated Stars to Watch and Picks in Clemson vs, Ohio State

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 23, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - DECEMBER 07:  Jordan Fuller #4 of the Ohio State Buckeyes celebrates during the BIG Ten Football Championship Game against the Wisconsin Badgers at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 07, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes come into the Fiesta Bowl with a pair of dominant defenses, but the stars on that side of the ball are lesser known than the offensive talents on both rosters. 

The ACC and Big Ten champions rank first and second in total, passing and scoring defense, and both units sit in the Top 10 of rushing defense. 

Both programs will be tasked with arguably their toughest tests of the campaign due to the number of weapons Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields have to work with. 

How some of the underrated stars on the two defenses perform could make the difference Saturday.


Underrated Stars to Watch in Fiesta Bowl

Tyler Davis, DT, Clemson

Clemson's defensive line does not contain a bevy of potential first-round picks as it did entering last year's playoff, but it still has some dominant figures in that area. 

Freshman Tyler Davis is coming off one of his best performances of the season after racking up 1.5 sacks in the ACC Championship Game win over the Virginia Cavaliers. 

Davis' teammates have noted he plays above his grade, as linebacker Isaiah Simmons told Scott Keepfer of the Greenville News

"He's a beast," Simmons said. "He came in so mentally ready. He takes everything in, learns really fast. It's hard to tell he's a freshman."

The first-year player totaled 37 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 13 games, and he could be one of the difference-makers who contains Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins. 

Clemson owns the ninth-best FBS rushing defense that allows 106.2 yards per contest. 

The Tigers are also one of 12 FBS programs to concede fewer than 10 rushing touchdowns, which is an advantage heading into their matchup with Dobbins. 

If Davis and Co. thrive with their initial push into the backfield, it may hurt the production of the junior running back, who has three straight 150-yard performances. 


Jordan Fuller, S, Ohio State 

Ohio State's secondary could face its most difficult matchup of the season against Clemson's duo of Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. 

With Jeff Okudah taking on one of the wide outs in an individual matchup, the other has to be silenced by the rest of the Buckeyes' defensive backs, including Lott Impact Trophy finalist Jordan Fuller. 

Fuller is one of three Ohio State players with a pair of interceptions, which ranks second on the team behind Okudah's three. 

The senior does not have to come up with a pick to be effective, as his main priority should be containing Higgins and Ross when they do get the ball. 

The Big Ten champion should have plenty of motivation to reverse its recent form, as it allowed Wisconsin's Quintez Cephus to put up 122 yards on seven receptions in the Big Ten Championship Game and 305 passing yards to the Michigan Wolverines. 

If Fuller provides cover against the Clemson pair and the Buckeyes limit their big-play potential, they could force the Tigers off the field on a few occasions. 

If that happens, the Ohio State offense may have better field position to work with, which it could turn into points and possibly an advantage on the scoreboard. 



Clemson over Ohio State

Given how well both defenses have played and how much talent resides on the two offenses, the Fiesta Bowl is expected to be a tight affair. 

The difference may be playoff experience, as a good chunk of Clemson's roster was on the field for the national championship run a year ago. 

In its two playoff matchups, Dabo Swinney's side outscored Notre Dame and Alabama 73-19 and produced 809 total yards.

The reloaded Clemson defense has held all but one opponent under 20 points, and the one exception was North Carolina's 20-point performance September 28. 

Ohio State's defense has displayed some weaknesses of late, as it allowed 48 points to Michigan and Wisconsin. 

Since the start of November, Ryan Day's squad conceded at least two touchdowns in each of its five games, and if that trend continues, it may not be able to contain the reigning national champion. 


Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90

Statistics obtained from ESPN.com