Ohio State’s defense is not as bad as a cursory glance at its final scores this season would indicate — it’s actually 29th nationally. But that’s because the Buckeyes are seventh in the country against the run … and 102nd against the pass.
That could be a problem against Clemson, the No. 12 passing offense in the country.
Ohio State has only faced one team this season ranked higher in passing offense — Cal, which finished with a 1-11 record and still put up 371 yards through the air against the Buckeyes.
Clemson and its senior quarterback Tajh Boyd — along with head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris — have one game left to try to cement Boyd’s legacy with the program, and to continue to prove that this offense works consistently against elite opponents.
It seems silly to say that when Clemson has actually been one of the more consistent programs in the country over the last few years, but after the fifth straight loss to in-state rival South Carolina, here we are.
Ohio State’s defense is certainly susceptible to the pass, so it’s reasonable to expect that Clemson should be able to move the ball. Sammy Watkins (85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 scores), is far and away the Tigers’ top WR, with 41 catches more than anyone else (Adam Humphries is second with 41) and 437 yards than the next-closest Tiger (Martavis Bryant is No. 2 at 800). Can Ohio State key on him and shut down the passing game, or merely limit it?
Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller perhaps got lost in the shuffle a little too early this season. He missed basically two and a half games in September with an injury, but somehow he still finished with 32 touchdowns accounted for (10 rushing, 22 passing) and just five interceptions. He averaged 263 yards of total offense (93.9 on the ground, 169.1 through the air) and averaged a ridiculous 6.8 yards per carry.
Clemson’s defense is much better this season than it has been in recent years, particularly against the run. But it’s going to have to be good up front and in the back; Michigan State slowed down Miller (8-of-21 passing) at least in part because of its excellent secondary. Clemson’s pass defense has been inconsistent this season and has benefitted from the Tigers’ excellent front. Mobile quarterbacks that can buy time — like Miller — will certainly test that group.
70 — These two starting quarterbacks (Miller and Boyd) have combined to run or throw for 70 touchdowns this season (and 207 combined in their careers). They’re also a combined 57-15 in terms of win-loss record, and both average nearly the same yards per completion in their career (Miller 13.3; Boyd 13.2). These are two of the top quarterbacks in the country, and there should be plenty of points to go around in this one.
Both teams will come into this game feeling like they have something to prove. The Buckeyes were a quarter or so away from meeting Florida State in the national title game, and they’ve had to hear all year how bad their schedule was and how overrated they were. This is a chance for them to prove they can beat a quality opponent.
It’s last year all over again for Clemson. The Tigers thought beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl would have put to bed the talk that they can’t beat an elite team. Heck, they thought beating Georgia in this year’s season-opener (a healthy Georgia team, by the way) would’ve quieted that talk.
But a blowout loss at home to Florida State and a turnover-riddled loss to South Carolina later, they’re largely back where they started.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which team has the bigger chip on its shoulder or which team wants it more. It’s about which team matches up better. Both of these secondaries are a weak link for their respective teams, but Ohio State probably has a few more offensive weapons at their disposal than Boyd and Clemson. But it’s close.