WHO: 10-2 Clemson vs. 12-1 Ohio State
WHAT: The Orange Bowl (80th year)
WHERE: Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida
WHEN: Jan. 3 at 8:30 p.m. ET
WHY: While it may be simplistic — and I’m nothing if not simple — the key to the outcome of this game could very well come down to the answer to a singular question: can Ohio State’s beleaguered secondary even remotely slow down Clemson’s high-powered passing game? That’s going to be a helluva lot easier said than done.
The Tigers, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins under the leadership of offensive coordinator Chad Morris, boast an aerial attack that averages nearly 330 yards per game, a total that’s currently 11th in the country. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, are 103rd in passing yards allowed, giving up an average of 259.5 yards per game. Over the past four games, OSU has given up a total of 1,267 yards (317 ypg) to the likes of Indiana’s Nate Sudfeld, Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase, Michigan’s Devin Gardner and Michigan State’s Connor Cook, none of whom will ever be confused with Tajh Boyd.
Adding to OSU’s secondary woes is Bradley, the Buckeyes’ top cover corner who will likely miss the Orange Bowl due to a knee injury. Not only that, but Noah Spence will be sidelined due to a three-game suspension. The defensive lineman leads Ohio State in sacks and would’ve been expected to help apply pressure on Boyd in the hopes of forcing the senior into mistakes.
The good news for the Buckeyes is they have the offensive firepower to at least match the Tigers’ explosiveness. Quarterback Braxton Miller and running back Carlos Hyde have combined 2,441 yards on the ground and 4 rushing touchdowns despite missing multiple games due to injury (the former) and suspension (the latter). When it comes to defending the run, Clemson shades toward the middle of the pack (50th at 152.6 ypg).
Miller could also test the Tigers’ stingy 16th-ranked pass defense with his arm, having completed more than 63 percent of his passes in 2013 and throwing 22 touchdowns in what amounts to 10 games.
The only previous meeting between the two programs came in the 1978 Gator Bowl when, well, this happened. Wayne Woodrow Hayes, you will always be The Man despite the misguided emotion that connected with Charlie Bauman‘s throat.
Both teams are coming off tough double-digit losses to end their “regular” seasons, with the Buckeyes falling 34-24 to Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game — snapping OSU’s 24-game winning streak — and the Tigers getting dropped 31-17 by in-state rival South Carolina.
As important as the game is to each program individually, its crucial for the battered images of their respective conferences. Thus far this postseason, current members of the ACC are 3-6 while the Big Ten is 2-4.
The Orange Bowl is the final 2013-14 postseason game for the Big Ten, while the ACC has Florida State in the BCS title game Monday night remaining.
PREDICTION: Clemson 48, Ohio State 42