Written By: Ryan Lippert|@Lippert42
As we enter a new year, there is still some very meaningful college football to be played, most notably with the College Football Playoff semifinals. The second semifinal game that fans will get to enjoy on New Year’s Day features two teams that are no strangers to each other on the big stage. This will be the third meeting between the Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes in the College Football Playoff era. The Buckeyes will be looking to avenge their 29-23 loss to the Tigers in the semifinals last year and are also out to prove that they belong in the playoffs this year despite only playing six games. On the other side, the Tigers have lived up to their high expectations, finishing the season with only one loss, wrapped up by a dominating 34-10 victory over Notre Dame in the ACC Championship. Now that the stage is set with a rematch of two very talented teams, let’s take a closer look at the Allstate Sugar Bowl and College Football Playoff semifinal matchup between the Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes.
Lawrence Looks to Get One Last Shot at a Championship
Over the past few seasons, one thing has remained a constant in regards to the success of the Clemson Tigers. That one thing is that they have a very special talent in Trevor Lawrence at quarterback. While he was already considered the top quarterback prospect, he proved to be every bit of that this season, throwing for 2,753 yards with 22 touchdowns and only four interceptions, earning him a spot as a Heisman Trophy finalist. Lawrence’s top target this season has been senior wide receiver Amari Rodgers, who has had an outstanding final season for the Tigers. Rodgers leads the team with 69 catches for 966 yards and seven touchdowns. He will be joined in the passing attack by fellow senior Cornell Powell along with freshman receiver E.J. Williams and junior tight end Braden Galloway.
Lawrence will be facing an Ohio State secondary that has been about average against the pass this season. The Buckeyes have given up 261.3 passing yards per game and nine total passing touchdowns while coming away with six interceptions. Their secondary is led by junior cornerback Shaun Wade who has a lot of NFL Draft buzz surrounding his name. Wade leads the Buckeyes with two interceptions on the season. He is joined in the secondary by senior Marcus Williamson at the slot corner and junior Sevyn Banks on the outside with sophomore Marcus Williamson at strong safety and junior Josh Proctor at free safety.
While Lawrence has had an outstanding career, he has also had a future NFL running back by his side along the way. Senior Travis Etienne has continued to prove that he is one of the best backs in the country this season, carrying the ball 158 times for 882 yards and 13 touchdowns. He is also a huge threat in the passing game with 44 catches for 524 yards and two scores this season.
Etienne will be up against a Buckeyes defense that has been at its strongest against the run this season. They have allowed 96.7 rushing yards per game and only six rushing touchdowns so far. Their front seven is led by three talented senior linebackers in Pete Werner, Tuf Borland, and Baron Browning. Werner leads the Buckeyes with 37 total tackles. In front of them, they have a very solid defensive line unit with two seniors in Jonathon Cooper at end and Haskell Garrett at tackle, along with two juniors in Tyreke Smith at the other end and Tommy Togiai at tackle. Talented sophomore Zach Harrison will also be in the rotation at end.
Can Fields Save His Draft Stock?
Coming into this season, the consensus among a lot of draft analysts was Trevor Lawrence at QB1 and Ohio State’s Justin Fields at QB2. While Fields has still shown to be talented enough to be drafted in the first round, he hasn’t quite lived up to his high expectations and is looking over his shoulder as quarterbacks such as BYU’s Zach Wilson, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, Florida’s Kyle Trask, and Alabama’s Mac Jones are slowly creeping up to him. Fields has put up solid numbers in six games, throwing for 1,521 yards with 15 touchdowns and five interceptions along with 67 carries for 274 yards and five scores but has shown inconsistency in his decision making. He will be looking to overcome that on Friday night with some help from his talented receiver duo of junior Chris Olave and sophomore Garrett Wilson. Wilson leads the team with 38 receptions for 621 yards and five touchdowns with Olave closely behind him with 36 catches for 528 yards and five scores of his own. They will be joined in the passing attack by sophomore Jameson Williams, freshman Julian Fleming, along with two reliable tight ends in senior Luke Farrell and junior Jeremy Ruckert.
Fields will be facing a Tigers secondary that has been solid this season. They have allowed 198.6 passing yards per game and 11 total passing touchdowns while coming away with 13 interceptions. Their secondary has been led by senior free safety Nolan Turner who leads the Tigers with three interceptions. Turner will be joined in the starting secondary by sophomore Lannden Zanders at strong safety with junior Derion Kendrick and sophomore Sheridan Jones at the corners. Junior Mario Goodrich and sophomore Andre Booth Jr. will also be in the rotation at corner.
While the offense revolves around Fields, the Buckeyes also have a solid duo out of the backfield in Oklahoma transfer Trey Sermon and sophomore Master Teague III. Sermon leads the team in rushing yards with 675 off 84 carries along with three touchdowns. However, Teague is listed as the starter as he has carried the ball 89 times for 449 yards and six scores.
This two-headed monster will be going up against a Clemson front seven that is loaded with talent. The Tigers have allowed 99.8 rushing yards per game and only eight total rushing touchdowns this season. Their front seven starts with a very impressive and still young defensive line unit. This group consists of two sophomores in K.J. Henry at defensive end and Tyler Davis at tackle along with two standout freshmen in Bryan Breese at the other tackle and Myles Murphy at end. Junior Jordan Williams and senior Nyles Pinckney will rotate in at tackle as well. Behind them, the starting linebacker core is led by senior Baylon Spector who leads the Tigers with 67 total tackles. Spector will be joined by fellow senior James Skalski with sophomore Mike Jones Jr. playing in an outside linebacker/nickel role.
There will be no love lost when these two teams face each other on Friday night. The Buckeyes should be fired up after Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney publicly announced that he ranked them as 11th in his final College Football Playoff rankings. I expect this to be a back and forth game for about two and a half to three quarters as both of these teams are very talented. Fields has an opportunity to show that he is the quarterback that the experts projected him to be at the beginning of the season and I believe that he will make some plays to keep the Buckeyes in this game. However, it won’t be enough to match the Tigers at the end of the night. Lawrence will continue to show his true greatness with a huge performance against this secondary. I see him taking over down the stretch to help the Tigers pull away in a 35-24 victory to get to a third straight National Championship Game.