GAME NOTES: The Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes will close out their respective seasons in a BCS Bowl Game, as the two teams square off at Sun Life Stadium in the Orange Bowl.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers had their sights set on an ACC title and shot at the BCS National Championship and certainly looked headed towards those goals halfway through the season, winning their first six games, most of which came in impressive fashion. However, a humbling home loss to current top-ranked Florida State (51-14) derailed the Clemson train, leaving the Tigers chasing the Seminoles the rest of the way in the ACC's Atlantic Division. Clemson bounced back with four straight victories to reach the 10-win plateau, but suffered a 31-17 loss to rival South Carolina in the regular-season finale.
This marks Clemson's fifth trip to the Orange Bowl, with the Tigers splitting their four previous appearances. The last time they were in this contest however, the Tigers were humiliated by West Virginia, 70-33 in 2011.
Two seasons into his reign in Columbus and Urban Meyer has just one loss total. Ohio State remained among the top teams in the country by winning its first 12 games this season after winning all 12 in 2012. The one setback however, came in this year's Big Ten Championship Game, as Ohio State dropped a 34-24 decision to Michigan State. The loss kept the Buckeyes out of the National Title game and left the team at 12-1 on the year.
Swinney knows the caliber of team his squad is facing in this contest.
"Playing Ohio State is another opportunity to face a top 10 team. Coach (Urban) Meyer's team was just a few plays away from playing for the National Championship. It is one of the top programs in the nation. We are playing a program that has lost just once in the last two years."
This is just the second time that Ohio State will play in the Orange Bowl. The first came 37 years ago, a 27-10 victory over Colorado following the 1976 campaign. The Buckeyes have played in more BCS Bowl games than any other program, this game marking the ninth in school history.
These two teams have met just one previous time and that came in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Clemson prevailed in that game, 17-15, the final for famed Ohio State coach Woody Hayes.
The Tigers will certainly present a problem for Ohio State's defense, as they are one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. Clemson comes into the postseason ranked 11th nationally in scoring (40.2 ppg) and 13th in total offense (502.0 ypg). The team is fueled by a lethal passing attack that generates 329.3 yards per game, but that doesn't stop the team from racking up a healthy 172.7 yards per game rushing.
It all starts with senior quarterback Tahj Boyd. A Honorable Mention All- American selection this season, Boyd has completed 67.6 percent of his passes, for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns. Boyd also has a knack for finding the end zone on the ground, leading the team with nine rushing scores.
It certainly helps to have a star wideout to throw to. Boyd's favorite target is junior WR Sammy Watkins. A Second-Team All-American this season, Watkins was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award after hauling in 85 balls, for 1,237 yards and 10 TDs.
Roderick McDowell does the majority of the work on the ground and finished just under 1,000 yards this season with 956 yards and five TDs.
While Clemson is first thought of as an offensive team, the defense has made plenty of plays this season. The Tigers limited foes to 350.8 yards per game, and were particularly strong against the pass, holding opponents under 200 yards through the air. Of course, a big part of that success was due to a feverish pass rush that accounted for 33 sacks and aided in the team's ability to record 16 interceptions.
Leading the way in that regard was another All-American in defensive end Vic Beasley, who amassed 39 total tackles, with 19 TFL, 12 sacks and four forced fumbles. Linebackers Stephone Anthony (120 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 4 sacks) and Spencer Shuey (110 tackles, 5.5 TFL) were extremely active sideline to sideline.
The Buckeyes won't shy away from turning this game into a shootout, although they tend to take a vastly different approach in moving the ball. Ohio State ranks fourth nationally in scoring (46.3 ppg), controlling the tempo of most games with a devastating ground attack that ranks third nationally (317.5 ypg). In terms of total offense, OSU ranks seventh nationally (518.5 ypg).
Not many quarterbacks played better than Braxton Miller this season. Miller's passing numbers were modest, although he did complete 63.2 percent of his passes, for 1,860 yards, with 22 TDs and just five INTs. One of the nation's top dual-threats, Miller also rushed for over 1,000 yards (1,033) with 10 more scores. Backup Kenny Guiton (68.8 percent completion rate, 749 yards, 14 TDs) was more than serviceable when on the field under center this year as well.
Regardless of who is throwing the football for OSU, Cory Brown (55 receptions, 655 yards, 10 TDs) and Devin Smith (42 receptions, 655 yards, eight TDs) are the preferred targets downfield.
Miller wasn't the only player to eclipse 1,000 yards on the ground for OSU, as tailback Carlos Hyde had 30 more carries than Miller, but rushed for nearly 400 yards more, finishing with 1,408 yards (140.8 ypg) and 14 TDs.
The OSU defense was adequate, but not the feared unit that terrorized foes in recent memory. The Buckeyes allowed 21.3 ppg this year, showing some weakness against opposing passing games, allowing 259.5 ypg through the air. Despite opponents' affinity for passing against OSU, the Buckeyes certainly made their fair share of plays, with 40 sacks and 14 interceptions on the year.
Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier is the heart-and-soul of the unit, posting 134 tackles this season, with 22.5 TFL, six sacks and four forced fumbles, en route to First-Team All-American honors. Defensive ends Noah Spence (52 tackles, 14.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks) and Joey Bosa (39 tackles, 12.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks) and defensive tackle Michael Bennett (38 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 7.0 sacks) also made significant contributions, especially upfield.
Meyer knows the task at hand going up against the explosive Tigers.
"I know their coaching staff very well...have a lot of respect for them. I know Dabo really well," said Meyer. "They have a great offense. Their defense...we're going to have to play our tails off to move the ball against them. They have some very good personnel. A couple of those games they haven't given up much yardage at all. It's going to be a war."
While the defenses have shown strong play at times this season, this game will be decided by the offensive stars for both teams. If Miller and Hyde can control the tempo, they can limit the amount of drives Boyd will have.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ohio State 34, Clemson 31