With only four short days away, the inevitable clash between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Clemson Tigers in Glendale, Arizona is coming. The thought of the Semi-Final Playoff bout between two top-tier programs that are vying for a spot in the Playoff Championship Game fills my heart with a good mix of nervousness and excitement, and I am somewhere in the middle. I occasionally am paranoid when the Buckeyes play and this game is no exception. Hopefully, Ohio State can advance, but this should be another instant classic that the Buckeyes are participating in.
Defensive Front Seven:
Both teams possess stellar and stout defenses capable of holding opposing offenses down until their respective offenses get things rolling. After the completion of last season, both Ohio State and Clemson suffered a mass exodus when a group of starter left to begin their careers in the NFL. Clemson had 12 players drafted with Shaq Lawson being the only player who was drafted in the first round. Clemson had four players taken in the first three rounds. Ohio State also had 12 players drafted, but they saw Joey Bosa, Ezekiel Elliott, Eli Apple, Taylor Decker and Darron Lee being taken in the first round and a total of 10 players taken in the first three rounds. Both teams took a hit on talent on the defensive side of the ball and when comparing both teams losses, Clemson lost 8 total defenders and Ohio State lost 7 on their end. Both teams showed their ability to recruit and reload, and they both have players on their respective rosters that they battled each other for. Can their new-look defenses shut down the opposing teams’ offense?
Christian Wilkins, DE:
Christian Wilkins, who stands at 6-4, 310 lbs is one of the playmakers on this Clemson Defense who can disrupt the rhythm of opposing offenses and he will be the one to set the tone for this defense. Wilkins was a one of the few five star recruits that Coach Meyer wanted badly, but things tend to happen for a reason. Wilkins is a beast who can affect offenses because of his motor and his willpower. Wilkins has 44 total tackles this season with 21 solo tackles. He has 12 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks to go along with that. The Slobs will face their toughest defensive front to date. Wilkins will look to make an impact in the trenches.
Carlos Watkins, DT:
Carlos Watkins is Clemson’s 6-3, 300 lbs Redshirt Senior who is the oldest player on the Defensive Line. Watkins has tallied 41 tackles with 22 solo tackles. He has 8.5 sacks for the season and 10.5 tackles for loss with a blocked kick to add to his stat sheet. Watkins is a penetrator and one of the most influential players on the young Defensive Line. He will work with the other linemen to disrupt the Ohio State Offensive Lineman. Watkins is the third heaviest lineman on the line, but he is ruthless. He will look to take advantage of True Freshman Michael Jordan in this matchup inside the trenches.
Dexter Lawrence, DT:
True Freshman Dexter Lawrence was the other prized five star recruit that Coach Meyer missed out on. His recruitment went down to the wire and Ohio State nearly had it, but distance was the key determining factor in this recruiting battle between Clemson and Ohio State. Lawrence is from North Carolina and he is the heaviest lineman on the defense. He is 6-5 and he weighs 340 lbs. Lawrence is literally the anchor and he will be matched up against Elflein and Price along the interior. He has logged 58 total tackles with 19 solo tackles, he has 9 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and he has 2 blocks on Special teams. He has an engine and he will be a problem for the Slobs the entire game.
Clelin Ferrell, DE:
Clelin Ferrell is the lightest Defensive Lineman on Clemson’s roster. Ferrell is 6-5, 265 lbs and he is the quickest member on the squad as well. Ferrell has 39 tackles with 16 solo tackles, he has 8.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks for the season. He earns his keep by pressuring the opposing Quarterback. He will line up against Isaiah Prince, who is Ohio State’s biggest question mark. He has given up an excess of 45+ Qb pressures and Clemson will take that matchup. They will look to pressure J.T. Barrett early and often to disrupt his rhythm and put him on his back. This will be one of the matchup’s to watch as Prince will look to redeem himself against a stout Clemson front who loves to blitz, a lot.
Dorian O’Daniel, WLB:
Dorian O’Daniel is 6-1, 215 lbs and is a fourth year Junior. He has 48 tackles for the season with 31 solo tackles. He is a sure tackler with the grit and determination to bring down the ball carrier. He has 9 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. O’Daniel will be used on the edges and he is one of the many speed rushers that Clemson seems to stockpile on their roster. He plays like Vic Beasley as he looks to terrorize the Ohio State Offensive Tackles.
Kendall Joseph, MLB:
Kendall Joseph is 6-0, 230 lbs and he is from South Carolina playing for his home state team. Although he is the smallest member of their Linebacking core, he plays with the grit and the determination of a bigger player. Joseph is a playmaker and he sits at second on the team in tackles with 94 tackles and 49 of those are solo tackles. He has 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 5 Qb hurries and a forced fumble. He will attempt to wreak havoc on the Buckeyes O-Line to expose their youth at both Offensive Tackle spots and at Left Guard. Joseph is only Redshirt Sophomore, but he has played in big games, as he gained valuable experience during last season’s College Football Playoff run.
Ben Boulware, WLB:
Ben Boulware is the heart and the soul of this Clemson Defense. He play with fire and you could see it when he steps onto the field and after he makes plays. Boulware, a Senior out of Anderson, South Carolina who is 6-0, 235 lbs leads all tacklers in the front seven with 105 tackles and he has 50 solo tackles. He has been disruptive with 9 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 3 forced fumbles. Boulware plays with the raw emotion that gets his team up for games, but that could also be his downfall. He is known to have a short fuse and he is prone to penalties, but he is a valuable playmaker that needs to get going early. He will be used on blitzes and in coverage as he looks for the win and a Championship berth.
Sam Hubbard, DE:
Sam Hubbard stands at 6-5, 266 lbs and he was tabbed as an Athlete coming out of high school. He was supposed to become a Safety for the Buckeyes, but a growth spurt shifted him toward the D-Line. Hubbard has 41 tackles and 18 of those were solo tackles. He has 7 tackles for loss with 3 sacks. He sees a lot of double teams while on the field and not in the vaunted Rushmen Package. He does his job well and frees up the Line Backers from the trenches. Hubbard is an effective pass rusher and he will be looked at to hold containment when Watson attempts to rush the ball and rush the passer as well.
Dre’mont Jones, DT:
Dre’mont Jones benefited from the injury to Tracy Sprinkle during the offseason. He is 6-3, 280 lbs and he fits the Ohio State mold of the athletic and disruptive space eater in the interior. Jones, a Redshirt Freshman, started off slow, but he has gained more consistency and confidence as the season draws to a close. Jones has registered 46 total tackles as an interior Defensive Lineman with 18 solo tackles. He will be used to disrupt the linemen in the trenches. He will most likely be used in a rotation as the Buckeyes have depth at just about every spot on the defensive front seven. Although Jones has no sacks to show, he shows up on film constantly taking on double-teams and catching the attention of O-Lineman to free up a blitzing member of his defense. He will look to doing battle in the trenches.
Michael Hill, DT:
Michael Hill also benefited from the Sprinkle injury, but unlike Jones, he was slated to start alongside him. Hill is 6-3, 305 lbs and he is the heaviest member of the team. Like Jones, his stats aren’t mind blowing, but he serves a purpose on the defensive gameplan. He is another space eater that will take on double teams to free up teammates. He has 19 tackles this season with 7 solo tackles. He has 3 tackles for loss. He has the ability to penetrate if given the opportunity and he will line up against a mammoth Right Guard Tyrone Crowder who weighs an astounding 340 lbs. He will certainly be tough to move and maneuver against, but the war in the trenches will be another aspect of this game to pay attention to. Hill played high school ball in Pendleton, South Carolina and was also recruited by Clemson. Hopefully, he plays with the intensity and a chip on his shoulder as he dons the Scarlet and Gray during his third season at Ohio State.
Tyquan Lewis, DE:
Tyquan Lewis was another recruit that fought over by both teams. He played in nearby North Carolina, but chose to branch away and play further away from home. Lewis is in his third year at Ohio State. He is 6-4, 266 lbs and he is another pass rusher that fits the mold at Ohio State. He will be utilized to rush the passer and disrupt the Clemson tempo. Like Hubbard, he lacks in the statistical aspect of things, but he does his job and plays his role on defense. He has 10 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. He has 5 Qb hurries and 3 forced fumbles. He is a disruptive force and in obvious passing situations, he will be utilized in the Rushmen Package to get to the Quarterback. He will be looked at to set the tone and ensure his brothers follow suit. The opposing Tackles opposite of them will be tough tests for Lewis and his teammates, but they will bring the heat as often as they are allowed to.
Chris Worley, SLB:
Chris Worley, a Junior out of Cleveland will be one of the playmakers on this defense that will look to cause fits for Clemson’s Offense. Worley is 6-2, 228 lbs and he plays to Ohio State’s standard for Line Backers. There is a legacy at the position that he has to uphold and he has done a good job as he finally gets his chance after sitting behind players like Darron Lee. Worley has 59 tackles for the season and 35 of those were done by himself. Worley has no sacks this season, but he filled that void by gathering an interception, a forced fumble, 2 Qb hurries and he has batted down 4 passes. He has 4.5 tackles for loss and he will looks to shut down the strong side of the Clemson Offense with his speed and his ability to tackle. He will have a tough time getting past the Offensive Tackles, but we will have to see what will happen during gameday.
Raekwon McMillan, MLB:
Raekwon McMillan will lead the defense after taking the reins after sharing snaps with Curtis Grant. McMillan is a Junior and a projected early round pick in the upcoming draft, but like all draft eligible players, they are locked-into this matchup with Clemson. McMillan is 6-2, 243 and he is one Coach Meyer’s most prized recruits that he pulled from the heart of the south. McMillan is from Georgia and he picked Ohio State over Clemson. He is as motivated as anybody on this defense due to the proximity to home. McMillan leads all tacklers with 87 total tackles and 37 solo tackles. He has 5 tackles for loss with a sack, 2 Qb hurries and 2 forced fumbles. He will need to play the game of his life on defense against a potent Clemson Offense. He will need to make the right checks and audibles. He will need to get his teammates motivated and he will need to play motivated like the “basic defense” that shut down the potent Oklahoma Offense.
Jerome Baker, WLB:
Jerome Baker also benefited from an injury to a Dante Booker. Although Booker began as the starter, injuries derailed his chances and it gave way to Baker’s talent. Baker, a Cleveland native, is 6-1, 225 lbs and he plays with a reckless abandon that Darron Lee played with during his Buckeye career. Baker, Sophomore had the chance to grow under Lee and he certainly plays with the same intensity. Baker is second on the team in tackles with 79 and 42 of those were solo tackles. Baker has 8.5 tackles for loss and he is the swiss army knife of the defense. He has 2 interceptions, 1 of which was a pick-six that he had against Oklahoma and 3.5 sacks. He will be used to rush the passer and play in coverage. He is as rangy as they come and he has the speed to do both. The only question mark is his tackling ability. Sure, he is second on the team, but he rarely wraps up and goes for the huge hit. He will need to bring his A Game if he wants to advance.
Both teams have depth in their front seven. Clemson has Richard Yeargin and Austin Bryant on the Defensive Line to spell the starters. Ohio State has the likes of Nick Bosa, Jaylin Holmes and Robert Landers who are all disruptive in their own right. This will be a test of wills for both teams as they looks to advance and both teams are just about even talent-wise. This will be a game within a game and the team who dominates in the trenches will advance. This will be a battle until the end and as it draws near, the excitement becomes more overwhelming. This is a game that could go either way, and it is probably the matchup to watch in the Playoffs.