The second semifinal takes place in Glendale, Arizona with Clemson taking on Ohio State. The Tigers have had some close calls this season against Louisville, Troy, NC State, and a one-point loss to Pitt. Lately, they have been “hitting stride” as they have really started to click offensively. Ohio State had a slip-up at Penn State, and has not played great as of late as they needed a failed two-point conversion to beat Michigan State. The Buckeyes beat Michigan, but they had to rally from a 10-point deficit. This game has the look of two teams going in different directions. Here are the keys to this game.
1. The Quarterback Battle. DeShaun Watson and J.T. Barrett have one common thread, they win and win a lot. They have done it in different ways, however. Watson throws the ball all over the place to a group of very talented receivers. Barrett, on the other hand, does it with his legs a bit more than Watson. Barrett has ran for close than 900 yards and nine touchdowns. It will interesting to see if the defenses can take away the strengths of both quarterbacks and force them to play differently. The plays and decisions these two make will play a large part in who wins the game.
2. Clemson’s Defense. As good as Clemson has been this season, their defense has had plenty of struggles. The Louisville game comes to mind for me because I think they are the closest comparison to Ohio State because both teams use the QB in the run game. Lamar Jackson threw for 295 yards and ran for 162. J.T. Barrett presents a lot of issues for Clemson because of his impact in the running game, he can wear on defenses. The Tigers really have to be disciplined to keep Barrett in the pocket in the passing game so he does not use his legs. Also, make sure they keep eye-discipline with the zone-read because Barrett is very good at executing it.
3. Ohio State’s Secondary vs Clemson’s Receivers. This is what intrigues me most about the Fiesta Bowl. Let’s be honest, Clemson has the best group of receivers in college football. Mike Williams is a big target on the outside, Deon Cain and Artavis Scott are speedsters, Hunter Renfrow can kill you in the slot with his dependable hands. Clemson also has Jordan Leggett who is a tight end, but he also can line up in the slot like a receiver. Ohio State might have the best secondary in the game with cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley who can play man defense on the outside as well as Malik Hooker who has returned three interceptions for touchdowns this season. Hooker, Lattimore, and Conley combined have 13 interceptions this season.
Clemson- Offensive Line. Ohio State’s defensive line is really good led by Tyquan Lewis, Nick Bosa, and Sam Hubbard. These three have combined for 15 sacks and are disruptive in the running game. Clemson’s offensive line needs to keep those three guys at bay because of the havoc they can cause.
Ohio State- Skill players NOT named Curtis Samuel. Samuel has accounted for 25 percent of Ohio State’s touchdown total this season. He is “the man” of this offense, Clemson will definitely have him targeted. Someone else has to help out Samuel. Noah Brown has only six receptions in his last four games. Maybe Dontre’ Wilson could be that guy. Running back Mike Weber has only had one 100-yard game since October 1st. J.T. Barrett needs his skill guys to step up in a big way.
Prediction: Urban Meyer is a ridiculously good with in bowl games, and he will have his group prepared. Dabo Swinney has become a top 5 coach in America in my opinion, very underappreciated. I think what this comes down to is which team can get the most “chunk” plays. I think that team is Clemson. Deshaun Watson will have some tough moments with this Ohio State defense, but I believe that he is the best player on the field and he will guide Clemson to a tough victory. Clemson 34-30