Atkinson: Five reasons why Clemson will beat Ohio State
It’s no secret that the hype surrounding Saturday night’s second College Football Playoff semifinal is the game with all the buzz.
Two teams in Clemson and Ohio State are so closely matched on both sides of the football in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, each supplied with future NFL stars who’ll litter the University of Phoenix Stadium pitch.
Clemson has the best and most dynamic player of the four teams remaining in quarterback Deshaun Watson. Ohio State counters with a head coach in Urban Meyer that most (including me) believe is second only to Alabama’s Nick Saban in game planning and preparation.
The No. 3 Buckeyes are a narrow, two and a half-point favorite all due to Meyer being worth roughly a touchdown outta the gate. While the Urban Meyer factor has been beaten like a dead horse in the national media, it’s certainly a fair point.
Dabo Swinney’s team sits as an interesting underdog in the Playstation Fiesta Bowl. But the No. 2 Tigers are also the team I expect to come away with the win and move on to face undefeated Alabama in the CFB Playoff National Championship Game in Tampa.
Here are my five reasons why Clemson will beat Ohio State…
1) The two defenses in this game are so good neither has to bring pressure to get to opposing quarterbacks this season. Clemson and OSU are capable of playing a base defense in loading the box or dropping extra players into coverage. Hell, the Tigers were rushing three against FSU back in October and repeatedly brought the Noles’ Deondre Francois to the turf.
But because Meyer insists on a run-run-run offense mixed with short, sideline throws, Clemson’s fast defense won’t be stretched out all over the field like Alabama did last year or even Louisville earlier this year. Brent Venables’ unit is much better equipped to handle what tOSU does offensively.
2) “Dudes.” Don’t get me wrong, the Buckeyes are absolutely LOADED with talent. It’s mostly young talent, but they’ve got bodies most every other school in America craves come National Signing Day.
However, the Tigers have a bunch of dudes largely considered one of if not THE best nationally at their respective positions: true frosh DT Dexter Lawrence. DE Christian Wilkins, WR Mike Williams, TE Jordan Leggett and of course Watson. There’s simply more players in orange and white capable of dominating and taking over than those who’ll be donned in the scarlet and gray.
3) Playmakers. tOSU sports arguably the nation’s best secondary led by Malik Hooker along with Marshon Lattimore and company. On the other side of the football is a “sixtet” of weapons Clemson counters with offensively that makes defensive coordinators heads spin.
After Michigan and Penn State both punched the Buckeyes in the mouth, it could’ve been game, set, match with an ensuing blowout. Except neither Big Ten foe had anywhere close to the offensive firepower the Tigers bring into this desert showdown.
4) Motivation. Remember when Wisconsin was knocked off out of the Final Four by Kentucky yet came back the following season and upset the undefeated, 38-0 Wildcats in the very national semifinal they had lost almost 365 days earlier? I do.
Motivation is a powerful tool. Having spent time around this team and coaching staff, there’s no question this bunch of Tigers is driven by the loss to Bama from a year ago. They talked about refocusing in January immediately upon returning to campus from Glendale. And they did.
Don’t underestimate how close this band of brothers is. The juniors who went thru “Senior Day” ceremonies at Death Valley in November and are not expected to return are all playing for each other. They’re tight, close to one another and focused on doing what they came oh so close to doing last year.
5) Two words: Deshaun Watson. He’ll be the best player on the field Saturday night. Will he force throws or turn the ball over like he’s been prone to? He clearly won’t be able to get away with those type of mistakes in a game of this magnitude and have the Tigers live to play one more game.
Time and time again under the brightest lights and most intense pressure, the Gainesville native has shined. Whether it’s throwing the football into tight coverage or making plays with his legs on third down, Watson has done it. If this game becomes a shootout and both teams start going score for score, give me Watson’s arm and playmaking prowess over OSU’s J.T. Barrett any day of the week.
Prediction: Clemson 36, Ohio State 27