Orange Bowl Primer: Ohio State vs. Clemson
By Matt Natali
Both Ohio State and Clemson boasted double-digit win seasons, respectively, but both enter the Orange Bowl on sour notes. Ohio State had a 24-game winning streak snapped and a chance to play for a national championship denied after losing to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. Clemson lost to bitter in-state rival South Carolina, snapping a four-game winning streak.
All late-season circumstances aside, the No. 7 Buckeyes (12-1) and No. 12 Tigers (10-2) are still playing in a BCS game (Jan. 3, 8 p.m. EST, ESPN) in the final season of the current championship format.
This matchup pits two teams against each other that are similar in style and looking to end their season on a high note.
Motivation: The Buckeyes are almost in a lose-lose situation here from a national perspective. If they win the Orange Bowl, the perception could be that they only beat the third-best team in the ACC (Florida State and Duke were the representatives in the ACC title game). If they lose, the perception could be that Ohio State lost to only the third-best team in the ACC and, perhaps, was undeserving of being so highly ranked this season. It would also mean yet another blemish for the Big Ten and its place as a major football conference.
The motivation here for Ohio State is simply to win a BCS bowl game. The Buckeyes were banned from postseason play last season, got throttled by Florida in the Gator Bowl in 2012, and were forced to vacate the Sugar Bowl win in 2011. So, for nearly the entire roster, it is a chance to play for a BCS bowl game win.
Ohio State has played in 10 BCS bowl games, which is more than any other school since the system was adopted in 1998. The Buckeyes are 6-3 having had to vacate the 31-26 win over Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Look no further than junior quarterback Braxton Miller and senior running back Carlos Hyde. Miller (146-of-231 passing for 1,860 yards; 153 carries for 1,033 yards) was named the Big Ten player of the year for the second straight season. Hyde (183 carries, 1,408 yards and 14 touchdowns) became the first Urban Meyer-coached running back to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark despite missing the first three games and most of two others. The Buckeyes sputtered in the running game in the Big Ten championship against Michigan State and will need to get it back on track against Clemson.
Weakness: The defense was exposed on several occasions this season, particularly in the secondary, but none more than in the Big Ten championship. The Buckeyes will be without junior All-American corner Bradley Roby, who is suffering from a knee injury. Roby going up against Clemson All-American receiver Sammy Watkins (85 catches for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns) would have been a great matchup to witness and break down, but it isn't going to happen. Ohio State is also without team sack leader Noah Spence. He got to quarterbacks eight times this season but begins a three-game suspension with the Orange Bowl, for reportedly using an unapproved dietary supplement. Freshman defensive end Joey Bosa (38 tackles and seven sacks) and junior defensive tackle Michael Bennett (11.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks) will have to pick up the slack on the defensive line to get pressure on Clemson All-American quarterback Tajh Boyd.
Motivation: Clemson opened the season with an impressive win over then-No. 5 Georgia, but that win doesn’t seem as impressive now as Georgia stumbled to an 8-5 record this season, eventually losing to Nebraska in the Gator Bowl. The Tigers played two other ranked opponents this season and lost both games badly (Florida State and South Carolina). So, Clemson has a shot to knock off a Top 10 team in a BCS bowl game to prove it deserves a high ranking.
Furthermore, Clemson was throttled by West Virginia, 70-33, in the 2012 Orange Bowl its only other BCS bowl game appearance. A win over the Buckeyes will give the Tigers its first BCS bowl win in program history.
If You’ve Never Seen Them: Look no further than Boyd and Watkins. Boyd (252-of-373 passing for 3,473 yards; 134 carries for 273 yards) is similar to Miller in that he is a mobile quarterback who can create plays when the set plays breakdown. This is the most athletic offense Ohio State has faced this season and perhaps the best passing attack. The Tigers boast the No. 11 passing attack in the country (328.1 ypg).
Weakness: Clemson ranks No. 49 in the country against the run (152.6 ypg) and faces a tough challenge against Ohio State’s No. 3 rushing attack (317.5) led by Miller and Hyde. Linebackers Stephone Anthony (120 tackles, 13.5 for loss and four sacks) and Spencer Shuey (110 tackles) will need to plug the running lanes all night to counter the Ohio State rushing attack.
Las Vegas Hilton Line: Ohio State -3.