Scully's Fiesta Bowl preview: Clemson vs. Ohio State
The Fiesta Bowl on Saturday, December 28 promises to be a treat for college football fans. Clemson and Ohio State enter the College Football Playoff semifinal game with unbeaten records and two of college football’s most powerful offenses. They are fierce on both sides of the ball, as well, and rank first and second in passing defense.
Expect plenty of offense
OSU quarterback Justin Fields leads a high-scoring attack and has thrown 40 touchdowns and only one interception, but he also hurt opponents with 471 yards and 10 touchdowns rushing. He has a deep and talented assortment of receivers. Running back J.K. Dobbins (20 rushing touchdowns) combines breakaway speed with the ability to make the first defender miss and has averaged 140.7 rushing yards per game and 6.7 yards per carry.
The Buckeyes led the nation with 48.7 points per game, despite playing the fifth-toughest schedule.
After he threw eight interceptions in Clemson’s first seven outings, Trevor Lawrence has been nearly flawless, with 20 passing touchdowns and no interceptions in his last six games. He delivered on the biggest stage, when he carved up Alabama’s well-respected defense with 347 passing yards and three touchdowns in last year’s championship game rout, and throws to NFL-caliber targets in Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross.
The Tigers bring a balanced attack, as running back Travis Etienne rushed for 1,500 yards and 17 touchdowns, and I’m not underestimating the experience edge Dabo Swinney owns over first-year head coach Ryan Day. Clemson has won 28 straight games and will be playing in the College Football Playoff for the fifth consecutive season.
Ohio State must protect Fields
Ohio State has given up 31 sacks, so protecting the quarterback will be a premium. Butkus winner Isaiah Simmons leads an outstanding group of Clemson linebackers, and the Tigers feature elite secondary play.
Clemson must face the nation’s top pass-rushing team. Chase Young led the nation with 16 1/2 sacks, and Davon Hamilton, Malik Harrison, Malik Harrison and Jashon Cornell all recorded at least four. The Buckeyes are better up front defensively than Clemson, and they have a shutdown corner in Jeff Okudah.
Clemson was untested in its last eight games
Virginia moved the ball on Clemson’s defense early in the ACC Championship Game, and Clemson will have to crank up the intensity after facing hopelessly overmatched opponents in the last eight games. The Tigers are big and fast on every level of the defense, but the line is still relatively young and untested.
Ohio State played Penn State, Michigan and Wisconsin in it last three games, and the Buckeyes won all three by double digits. They overcame adversity and displayed a toughness against quality opponents that should serve them well in the semifinal.
Ohio State will catch Clemson off balance with its prolific offense early in the game. Clemson will settle into a rhythm and score points, but Ohio State has the better defense and can make key stops late to escape with a narrow win.
NCAAF free pick: Ohio State +2
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