Date: December 31, 2016
Time: 3:00 PM or 7:00 PM ET
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
This year, the Fiesta Bowl will be a College Football Playoff game between #2 Clemson and #3 Ohio State. A look at the stats hints toward a strength-against-strength setup with Clemson’s offense against Ohio State’s defense. The Tigers have lit up scoreboards all year and come into the playoff averaging more than 40 points per game. But the Buckeyes have one of the stingiest defenses in the country, surrendering a hair over two touchdowns a game—a mark that ranks third nationally. The biggest advantage for either team, though, is the one Ohio State has in the turnover department. The Buckeyes have a turnover margin of +16 this season, putting them third in the nation. This makes Clemson’s margin of zero look sloppy, so the Tigers need to not make mistakes under pressure and turn the ball over.
Players to Watch (Ohio State)
- Ohio State goes as QB J.T. Barrett goes. The redshirt junior quarterback was named the Big Ten Quarterback of the Year after throwing for 2,428 yards and 24 touchdowns against just five interceptions. He also ran the ball more this season than in any other in his career, totaling 847 yards and nine touchdowns on 194 carries. Urban Meyer and the offensive coaching staff put a lot on Barrett’s shoulders. If he has a good game, it’s nearly impossible to beat the Buckeyes. However, if the defense can throw a monkey wrench into Urban Meyer’s game plan for Barrett, Ohio State’s offense becomes incredibly one-dimensional.
- J.T. Barrett has been the engine in Ohio State’s offense, but Curtis Samuel has been the team’s most explosive playmaker. The all-purpose back paced the receiving corps by a wide margin, leading the team with 65 catches for 822 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s also the team’s biggest home run threat from the backfield with 91 carries for 704 yards and eight touchdowns. In Ohio State’s only loss of the season, it struggled to utilize Samuel despite his big-play ability. He registered just two carries against Penn State, one of which went 74 yards for a touchdown. If Barrett can force Ohio State to throw the kitchen sink at the passing game, the door will be opened for Samuel to do what he does best: make big plays.
Players to watch (Clemson)
- Few wideouts in the country are playing better football right now than Mike Williams. The junior pass-catcher has eclipsed the 100-yard receiving mark in five games this season and finished the year with a team-high 79 receptions for 1,114 yards and 10 touchdowns. In addition to being Deshaun Watson’s most reliable target, he has the ability to go over the top with elite speed and punish a defense that leaves him on an island. He’ll need to be at his best against an Ohio State pass defense that only surrenders 164.5 passing yards per game, which is the fifth best in the nation.
- In a stout defensive line that features studs such as Dexter Lawrence and Carlos Watkins, Christian Wilkins is the most disruptive force that the Clemson defense has to offer. The standout defensive end earned second team All-ACC honors after leading the Tigers with 12 tackles for loss. But he’ll be key for the Tigers when he’s lined up against right tackle Isaiah Prince. The first-year starter for the Buckeyes has struggled when facing an elite defensive end, so Wilkins can give Clemson a huge edge if he wins that battle.
The last time Ohio State and Clemson faced off, the Tigers won a shootout. This time around, the Buckeyes will win a defensive slugfest.
Neither team will have a great day offensively. J.T. Barrett will account for 240 total yards and a pair of touchdowns, but Clemson’s run defense will keep Ohio State’s explosive attack in check and limit big plays.The Tigers will struggle when they have the ball as well. Deshaun Watson will have his moments, including a 40-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams. But a late Tigers turnover will put Ohio State in scoring position, and Barrett will run in the go-ahead touchdown to push the Buckeyes into the title game.
Ohio State: 24
If Christian Wilkins can win against Isaiah Prince, the Buckeyes’ game plan will need to be significantly altered. Even if Wilkins draws a double team, that leaves the door wide open for the rest of Clemson’s menacing defensive line. However, Ohio State’s defense that forced 25 turnovers this season is going against a Tiger offense that lost 24 this year. All the Buckeyes need to do is control the trenches on offense and capitalize on Clemson’s likely turnovers. I take the Buckeyes.
Ohio State: 21