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Ohio State vs. Clemson: Fiesta Bowl Tale Of The Tape

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There isn’t much separating Clemson and Ohio State entering Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl, but who has the edge at each unit, including special teams and the coaching staffs? Here’s a tale of the tape for the semifinalists.


Clemson and Ohio State are similarly talented squads, with similar one-loss seasons that were tainted by upset losses to teams from the state of Pennsylvania. And they share the same goal of continuing their season in Tampa a week from now. But who has the better collection of personnel, both on the field and on the sideline heading into this weekend’s playoff showdown at the Fiesta Bowl?

Quarterback

Deshaun Watson is the premier quarterback in this year’s playoff, as well as the only one with playoff experience. Remember, Watson almost singlehandedly slayed Alabama in last year’s national championship game, accounting for 478 yards and four scores. Plus, he was peaking at the end of the 2016 regular season.

A team can win a title with J.T. Barrett under center, but he’s more likely to be a complement than the leading man. And his erratic play this fall is cause for concern against the talented and active Clemson D. Both QBs are threats to score and pick up first downs with their feet.

Advantage: Clemson

Running Backs

Clemson enjoys a slight edge at the feature back, Wayne Gallman over rookie Mike Weber. But Curtis Samuel, the H-back who’ll occasionally be used out of the backfield, pushes Ohio State over the top.

Gallman and Weber are a couple of solid, 1,000-yard backs, though don’t count on either being the star of Saturday’s Fiesta Bowl. Samuel, on the other hand, is a gamebreaker, with some of the best hips and hands in the country. He’s averaging more than seven yards a carry during his Buckeye career, and his open-field quickness and sudden starts and stops will cause fits for the Clemson linebackers.

Advantage: Ohio State

Receivers and Tight Ends

This is the unit of greatest disparity, with Clemson being significantly deeper and more dangerous than Ohio State. The Tigers are gushing with size, speed and next-level talent, from 6-foot-3 acrobat Mike Williams and 6-foot-1 field-stretcher Deon Cain to big-play all-star TE Jordan Leggett. And somehow Artavis Scott, Hunter Renfrow and Ray-Ray McCloud can’t be forgotten either by opposing defenses.

The Buckeyes, conversely, are light in the passing game after Samuel, who lines up at H-back and won’t take the top off defenses. OSU sure could use an appearance from the Noah Brown, who schooled the Oklahoma secondary for four touchdown catches back in Week 3.

Advantage: Clemson

Offensive Line

It’s very close. Both teams boast units with three first or second-team all-stars and a blend of youth and experience. And both have been unbalanced at times in 2016, Clemson at consistently blowing open holes for Wayne Gallman and Ohio State at protecting J.T. Barrett in the pocket. The Buckeyes have allowed 11 more sacks than the Tigers, but are also averaging more than a full yard per carry.

Ohio State gets the razor-thin nod based on a superior interior, headlined by junior RG Billy Price and senior C Pat Elflein, the All-American and recipient of this year’s Rimington Trophy.

Advantage: Ohio State

Defensive Line

NFL scouts in Glendale are going to love the assortment of D-line talent on both rosters. The Tigers and the Buckeyes are not only gifted, but they’re also deep. Fresh legs won’t be a worry this weekend.

While Tyquan Lewis fuels Ohio State off the edge, Sam Hubbard Nick Bosa and Jalyn Holmes are all capable of hunting down Watson from the backside. However, Clemson’s combination of brute force and uncommon quickness is at an even higher level. Christian Wilkins is an emerging star at end, while Elflein and Price will have their hands full trying to contain Carlos Watkins and 6-foot-5, 340-pound Dexter Lawrence on the interior.

Advantage: Clemson

Linebackers

There’s not much daylight between the Ohio State and Clemson linebackers. Both feature hard-hitting run defenders, namely Buckeye Raekwon McMillan and Tigers Ben Boulware and Kendall Joseph, who’ll figure prominently into Saturday’s outcome. And both lineups are littered with quality athletes.

Ultimately, McMillan is better than Boulware and Joseph, and Ohio State is quicker from sideline to sideline. Jerome Baker has played real well since replacing an injured Dante Booker at weakside, and Chris Worley had 18 stops in the final two games from strongside. Plus, Booker could be a wild card, or at least add depth, now that he’s months removed from spraining his MCL in the opener.

Advantage: Ohio State

Secondary

Watson and Barrett will be facing some of their toughest challenges of 2016 in Glendale. Clemson and Ohio State are home to two of the top five pass efficiency defenses in America, each surrendering less than a touchdown pass per game. Tiger Cordrea Tankersley is a lockdown corner, while SS Jadar Johnson has blossomed into a solid pro prospect as a senior.

The Buckeyes, though, are a fortress in pass defense, allowing quarterbacks to complete just 47.3% of their passes for 5.4 yards an attempt. Marshon Lattimore and Gareon Conley form one of the country’s top corner duos, and Malik Hooker is an All-American who returned three of his six picks back for touchdowns.

Advantage: Ohio State

Special Teams

The Buckeyes and the Tigers have confidence in their kickers, Tyler Durbin and Greg Huegel, respectively. And neither team has generated many fireworks in the return game. The biggest difference between the special teams units of Ohio State and Clemson? Punter, where Cameron Johnston was a Ray Guy Award finalist and Andy Teasdall was a liability, averaging just 37.7 yards per attempt.

In a game that figures to be tight throughout, the little things, such as field position, could tip the scales in one direction or the other. Advantage, Buckeyes and Johnston.

Advantage: Ohio State

Coaching

No disrespect to Dabo Swinney and his staff headlined by defensive coordinator Brent Venables, but Nick Saban is the only coach looking down on Urban Meyer, especially at this time of year. Meyer is 9-2 in the postseason, winning national championships in 2006, 2008 and again two years ago with a third-string quarterback. When given time, few prepare better than Meyer, who’ll most definitely have wrinkles and new looks in store for the Tigers. Luke Fickell has been hired to replace Tommy Tuberville at Cincinnati, but he will be co-coordinating the Ohio State D alongside Greg Schiano for at least one more game.

Advantage: Ohio State

WATCH: Urban Meyer Discusses Recruiting Against Dabo Swinney, Clemson

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