OSU gets desired match-up, is desired result next?

By Jim Naveau - jnaveau@limanews.com

They talk about unfinished business.

Do you mean Ohio State or Clemson?

They probably had a more talented roster and a better chance to win a national championship last season than this season.

Are you talking about Ohio State or Clemson?

They don’t talk about it much, but the “What if’s?” from last year still run through their minds.

Are you psychoanalyzing Ohio State or Clemson?

The answer to all three questions could be both of them when you look at tonight’s rematch between OSU (6-0) and Clemson (10-1) in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Sugar Bowl.

From an Ohio State perspective, it’s easy to forget that the winner and the loser of last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal between OSU and Clemson both played this season motivated at least partially by feeling they had unfinished business to take care of.

Ohio State didn’t get the chance to play for the national championship it thought it should have gotten when it lost 29-23 to Clemson last season.

But Clemson got the chance and was no match for LSU and Joe Burrow in a 42-25 loss in the national championship game. And it undoubtedly has some “What if’s?” from that game.

Both teams have played with rosters which probably are not as quite as talented as last season when they both came into their semifinal unbeaten and had five players between the two of them selected in the first round of the NFL draft.

The expectations are the same, though, even if the rosters might not be quite as loaded.

Five things to watch in tonight’s game:

— Which Justin Fields will Ohio State have? In his first three games this season Fields completed 72 of 83 passes for 908 yards and 11 touchdowns without an interception. Since then he is 47 of 81 for 623 yards, 5 touchdowns and 5 interceptions.

He also suffered a sprained thumb in the Big Ten championship game. Asked about it on Monday, he said, “I’ll be good by Friday night.”

— Can Ohio State’s offensive line play an entire game at the level it played in the second half of the Big Ten Championship game?

OSU’s offensive line was dominant in the last 20 minutes against Northwestern on a night when Trey Sermon ran for a school record 331 yards.

It might have to play that well again against a Clemson defense that ranks fourth in the country in sacks per game (2.83) and allowed an average of 99.8 yards rushing per game.

—Has Ohio State’s defensive backfield improved since its struggles early in the season?

The Buckeyes’ defensive backfield was burned often by big plays at the beginning of the season, including five touchdown passes and four plays of 50 yards or more against Indiana.

It has not allowed a touchdown pass in its last two games against Michigan State and Northwestern. But Clemson’s passing game, with quarterback Trevor Lawrence and three receivers with big play capabilities, operates at a higher level than MSU and Northwestern.

— Can OSU’s defensive line control the line of scrimmage against a Clemson offensive line which has four first-year starters?

Clemson relies on throwing the ball significantly more this season than it did a year ago. The Tigers have averaged 343.8 yards passing and 163.8 yards rushing per game this season. Last year they averaged 288.3 yards passing and 240.5 yards rushing.

Travis Etienne, who averaged 108 yards rushing per game last year and in 2018 is averaging 80 yards a game this season.

— Who will be available and who might not be? Ohio State played without some key players, like wide receiver Chris Olave and punter Drue Chrisman, because of COVID-19 issues in the Big Ten championship game.

Asked on Thursday if Ohio State will be at full strength tonight, OSU coach Ryan Day said, “Full strength is a floating target right now. We are getting a lot of guys back. But to say 100 percent, it’s different this year.”

So, who will be the last team standing late tonight? Clemson’s playoff experience and Lawrence’s consistency might give the Tigers an edge.

The prediction: Clemson 28, Ohio State 24.


By Jim Naveau


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