Orange Bowl Preview – OSU vs Clemson

Tajh Boyd’s college football career comes full circle this Friday, when the stellar QB will lead Clemson against Ohio State in the Orange Bowl.

A little over four years ago, Boyd committed to Clemson, a decision that shocked Jim Tressel and the Buckeye coaches. Boyd had always been transparent about his Buckeye plans. He had grown up rooting for Tressel and the Buckeyes, and OSU was first on his list. The high school phenom even chose to wear a #10 jersey to honor his favorite football player, Ohio State QB Troy Smith.

In 2009, Boyd saw Tressel’s committment to Pryor and realized that he’d have a tough time competing for the starting position. At the eleventh hour, a new opportunity arose at Clemson, and Boyd took advantage.

He hasn’t looked back since. Boyd has spent the past four years tearing through his ACC competition like tissue paper, setting 58 team records. He also holds conference records for touchdowns (127!) and passing efficiency.

OSU fans are more than content with Braxton Miller. But it is interesting to realize that, had Boyd chose Ohio State, he likely would have inherited the starting job after Pryor’s suspension and the failed Bauserman experiment. Boyd had even established a solid rapport with future WR Philly Brown, having thrown a TD pass to him in the Army game.

And yet, as impressive as Boyd’s college career has been, it is fair to note a few caveats: He is frustratingly inconsistent. CFB fans have turned “Clemsoning” into a verb – one week, he appears formidable; the next, he’s completely befuddled and throwing panicked interceptions directly into the arms of defenders. This is the main reason for Boyd being left out of most national QB conversations and award lists. And you more cynical detractors might note the fact that his stats are padded against the weaker ACC teams that Boyd has spent a career playing against.

But enough background – let’s get to the analysis.

When OSU has the ball
One-sentence summary:

Run El Guapo often, run him hard, and complete short passes.

OSU fans are still smarting from the coaches’ puzzling decision to not properly utilize Carlos Hyde in the fourth quarter of the B1G title game. For this analysis, we’re going to assume that they saw the tape and realized that was the stupidest gameplan that ever stupided.

(If they haven’t, then hopefully they’re reading this post and realize it now. Stupid. You don’t score 24 unanswered points and come from behind to take the lead in the fourth quarter, and then deliberately decide “hey, you know what? We took the lead with Hyde; maybe we should stop using him from now on.” Stupid.)

Sorry, digressed there. Back to Clemson…

Clemson’s rush defense is rather pathetic (52nd), and this includes the fact that they only faced teams with rather pathetic rush offenses. Only Georgia Tech’s gimmicky offense is decent numbers-wise, and they easily ran for 5.5 ypc against Clemson. On paper at least, Clemson’s defense should not present much of a challenge to OSU’s two-headed rushing attack.

The biggest defensive threat comes from the Tiger DE Vic Beasley, a Hendricks finalist for the nation’s top defensive end. The OSU offensive line will have to keep him at bay if they expect to have any success with a run-first gameplan.

The Tigers tend to favor man coverage when facing spread teams. If OSU establishes the run, Clemson will likely bring a strong safety into the box to guard against it. From there it’s up to Miller. Late in the season, for some reason, he abandoned the middle routes that had been so successful for a combination of deep passes and screens. Deep passes work well to keep a secondary honest, but they are such low-percentage plays that they are not worth it against a team like Clemson. The risks outweigh the costs – it’s more important to keep the clock running and keep plugging away for manageable second & third downs.

If Miller can manage a solid rushing attack and midrange passing game, the drives will be long, points will come easy, and most importantly, the clock will keep running, keeping Clemson’s offense off the field. This is important because:

When Clemson has the ball
One-sentence summary:

The OSU defense made the trip to Miami, as well.

Bryant is out. Spence is out. Roby is out. Grant is injured and may see limited time. Cue sad trombone.

In an act of desperation, Fickell is revamping the lineup and starting Vonn Bell, hoping for a spark. But any benefit that Bell may bring will be negated by the crushing loss of Noah Spence. If ever there was a game where having your leading pass rusher was critical, it was against the best quarterback your team has seen in years.

There may be a silver lining. Unlike the Buckeyes, Clemson’s gameplan ought to be rather one-dimensional. They aren’t likely to have much success running against OSU’s front seven, even considering the loss of Spence. As easy as Boyd should theoretically have it, one-dimensional teams can often be exploited. Should Boyd have one of his off-days, as he has tended to do against decent competition, Clemson’s offense could suffer.

Prediction
Predictions are based upon experience gained during similar circumstances. But we’re on completely uncharted territory, here. We’ve never seen how a Meyer-led OSU team reacts to a big loss. While Meyer is 4-0 in BCS games, the ability of this OSU team to give him a 5-0 BCS record is in question.

The closest we can come to empirical comparisons (and this is a huuuuge stretch) is this: Both OSU and South Carolina beat Wisconsin in very similar games (although Wisco had an injured QB when playing SC). This may suggest that OSU and South Carolina are at least as good as one another; and SC had no problem whatsoever dispatching Clemson just a few weeks ago. Yes, transitive analyses are terrible, but if you’re looking for optimism… well… there it is.

On paper, it seems like one of two scenarios is likely:

  • Clemson’s offense makes a few mistakes and shoots itself in the foot, leading to a dominating victory by the Buckeyes. OSU, 56-24.
  • The teams engage in a shootout for the ages, and it comes down to one team’s final possession as the fourth quarter expires. Clemson, 63-59.

What say you?

Comments

  1. Other than calling GT’s offense “gimmicky” (I’m a triple-option devotee, sue me :) ), this preview hits on all the salient points. I think Clemson’s defense is going to have problems again against a QB that can run and throw (although Braxton doesn’t have the WR weapons Winston does) and a crushing RB. Hyde has to be salivating looking at that pedestrian run defense.

    I wish Spence didn’t run afoul of the B1G but Jamal Marcus and Steve Miller are more than adequate. They aren’t as good, but they’ll play well. Losing Roby scares me the most. We’ll see how badly our underclass DBs play.

    Either way, some scoring is going to happen:

    OSU: 49
    Clemson: 38

  2. sportsMonkey says:

    Totally agree that Marcus and Steve Miller are more than capable of filling in for Spence, definitely as far as rush defense is concerned. But I will miss Spence’s pass rush…

    I like your 49 points prediction – nothing but TDs, eh? That might be pretty likely, come to think of it.

  3. sportsMonkey says:

    Maybe the seventh will be a pick six from Pitt Brow-HAHAHAHAHAA I can’t even finish that sentence!!

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