Friday, December 30, 2016

Buckeyes Preview 12.30.16: Playstation Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State vs. Clemson

By Jason Disantis, @JasonInCLE

As 2016 comes to a close this New Years Eve the college football playoff will be kicking off as the no.3 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes will be traveling to the Fiesta Bowl to take on the no.2 ranked Clemson Tigers for a chance at a national championship.  

Statistically Ohio State and Clemson are very similar.  Both teams are loaded with NFL players, many of which will be early round selections. Clemson features a Heisman trophy candidate at quarterback and possibly the number one wide receiver in the upcoming draft.  Ohio State has one of the most dynamic players in the nation and the best secondary in the nation.  Lets take a closer look at a couple match-ups to keep eye on come Saturday night.

Conley, Lattimore and Hooker vs. Watson, Williams and Leggett
This match-up is chock-full of NFL talent.  Gareon Conley and Marshon Lattimore are two lock down corners for the Buckeyes and Malik Hooker has a knack for taking interceptions to the house.  They will have their hands full as they take on the Heisman trophy runner-up Deshaun Watson and the no.1 ranked WR in next years draft, Mike Williams, and a 6-5 freak athlete tight-end, Jordan Leggett.  

Although Lattimore may be the Buckeyes best NFL prospect, Ohio State's best corner is Conley.  Conley has only given up one touchdown this season and is physically equipped to handle the 6-3 220 pound Williams.  Ohio State has seen some very good WR in the past couple bowls in Amari Cooper and Sammy Watkins.  Mike Williams may be the best of them all.  Having Conley and Lattimore on the field allows the Buckeyes to focus more on total scheme rather than worrying about where Williams is lining up.  The Buckeyes can allow both Lattimore and Conley to lineup with Williams and if one is having more success, allow him to shadow Williams for the rest of the game.  

Watson has been one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.  He has focused more on his passing this year and has ran the ball 78 times less this year with half of the yardage of 2015.  Despite Watson rushing less he is always a threat to break a big play with his legs.  

It might be in the Buckeyes best interest to keep him in the pocket and force Watson to beat them with his arm.  Watson has been prone to turnovers as he has thrown 15 INT's this year.  Buckeye safety Malik Hooker will be roaming the field looking for an opportunity to chase on of those balls down and take it for a score.  Hooker has three touchdowns this year and would like nothing more than to add to that total.  Hooker may have his hands full if he gets the responsibility of covering Leggett.  Leggett is versatile and will line-up at the slot along with other positions on the field.  With Mike Williams getting so much attention if you forget Leggett is on the field, the match-up nightmare will make you pay.  

Isiah Prince vs. Christian Wilkins
Anyone who has watched Ohio State this year knows that Isiah Prince has struggled in certain moments.  This first year starter at right tackle has been the subject of some strong praise from coach Urban Meyer over the last three weeks.  Meyer has mentioned the work Prince has put in and how much he has progressed during these bowl practices.  Let's hope Meyer is right because Isiah Prince will have to block a 6-4 300 pound defensive end in Christian Wilkins.  Wilkins is an All-American and had 52 tackles, 12 being for a loss, and 3.5 sacks this year.  If Prince can't handle Wilkins alone Ohio State will be in trouble.  Clemson also has three other studs on the defensive line so Prince will most likely be on an island against Wilkins.  If Prince struggles, Ohio State will have to find a way to get him help without hurting his offenses ability to handle the rest of Clemson's D-line.  

Curtis Samuel vs. Cordrea Tankersley
The question mark is because Clemson hasn't tipped their cap to how they exactly plan on defending the play-making dynamo for Ohio State. Tankersley is an All-American and Clemson's best cornerback.  Clemson has had a hard time covering backs out of the backfield to go along with tight end's and slot wide receivers.  Samuel has spent most of his time this year out of the backfield or lined up in slot.  Although Tankersley typically lines up on the outside, he has spent some time in the slot.  Clemson might give him the responsibility of shadowing the Buckeyes best playmaker.  If Clemson decides to keep Tankersley on the outside they may live to regret it.  Tankersley is the only player on that side of the ball with a chance of keeping Samuel from turning an 8-yard catch into a 70-yard touchdown. 

Urban Meyer vs. Dabo Swinney
We would be re-missed if we didn't take a closer look at the leaders of these two teams; head coaches Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney.  Coach Meyer is an incredible 9-2 in bowl games and has three national championships.  Meyer and his Ohio State Buckeyes won the first ever College Football Championship with their third string quarterback under center.  When coach Meyer gets multiple weeks to prepare for an opponent he has shown an ability to get his kids ready and focused but keep them loose and enjoying the experience as well.  

Dabo Swinney has turned Clemson into a powerhouse program.  Although Swinney doesn't boast the same success as Meyer in bowls, he is still has a winning percentage north of .500 at 5-4 in 9 bowls.  Swinney had his Tigers in this same position last year as they lost to Alabama in the National Championship game.  Clemson has been looking forward to this all year and through Swinney's leadership has handled the pressure of being an elite team with elite expectations well.  

With these two teams so evenly matched this game has all the makings of a nail-biter.  J.T. Barrett has struggled with down field accuracy all year.  If he continues to struggle then the Buckeyes are in trouble.  If Barrett can complete some of those throws for big plays then the Buckeyes will be in good position to return to the National Championship game.  

For many, this is the game they have been waiting to see this bowl season. New Years toasts can wait. Keep the champagne on ice.  Hold off on dropping the ball for a couple extra minutes.  2017 isn't going anywhere.  There are more important things at stake this Saturday night.  

What:  College Football Playoff Semi-final; Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Clemson Tigers
When:  Saturday December 31, 2016 at 7:00 PM ET
Where:  University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale Arizona
Watch:  ESPN
Line:  OSU -3, O/U 59

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