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Fiesta Bowl Matchup Analysis - Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Clemson Tigers

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NCAAF Fiesta Bowl Lines

Can Urban Meyer win his fourth national championship? His Ohio State Buckeyes are going to try to do just that but first they have to take on Dabo Swinney’s Clemson Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl. Ohio State is favored in this one, but don’t be surprised if the line creeps down to within a field goal by kickoff as Clemson was in a similar situation to this last year. Then, the Tigers ended up knocking off the favored Oklahoma Sooners by 20 points and there seem to be a lot of similarities between that game and this one.

Buckeyes vs. Tigers
Date and Time
: Saturday, December 31, 2016, 7 p.m. ET
Location: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
Fiesta Bowl Odds at BookMaker.eu: Ohio State -3.5, O/U 59
Ohio State vs. Clemson TV Coverage: ESPN

When Ohio State Has the Ball…

Few teams are able to run the ball like Ohio State can. Both Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel averaged at least 6.1 yards a carry and Bill Connelly’s S&P+ Ratings had this as the second best rushing attack in the country. Although Weber and Samuel were great, the offensive line were the real stars, blowing opposing defenders off the ball with ease throughout the season. The Buckeyes had the best power success rate of any team in the country, picking up a first down or touchdown on third or fourth and short 87.3 percent of the time.

JT Barrett has some troubles throwing the ball at times, but he is one of the best running quarterbacks in the nation and when he struggles with his passing, he more than makes up for it on the ground. It’s no surprise that the three games in which he registered a passer rating under 100 were also the three games in which he picked up at least 100 yards on the ground and Meyer has been great in knowing how to best use him.

When Clemson Has the Ball…

Surprisingly, the Tigers have been ineffective at running the ball this season and that has meant they have had to rely more and more on DeShaun Watson’s arm to bail them out. For the most part, Watson has obliged, but there have been times where the superstar quarterback has been asked to do too much and has made mistakes. He has thrown 15 interceptions this season and will have to avoid mistakes against an Ohio State defense that has picked off opposing quarterbacks 19 times.

It’s hard to see Clemson being able to run the ball against Ohio State. The Tigers had a tough time picking up the yardage it needed all season, finishing more than 20 points behind the Buckeyes in Power Success Rate, and even though Wayne Gallman averaged over 5 yards a carry, he had some issues against the better defenses on the schedule.

Ohio State doesn’t have a weak unit on its defense and if Watson isn’t sharp, Clemson isn’t going to be able to beat the Buckeyes.

The X Factor

Who will control the line of scrimmage when Ohio State is on offense? The Buckeyes have road graters along the offensive line and a talented trio of skill position players in Weber, Samuel, and Barrett, but if the Tigers blow up the middle of the defensive line, watch out.

The Tigers defensive line has been good per advanced metrics, but not the unit that many were expecting heading into the season, even with the loss of Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson.

The interior of the line has been fantastic, with true freshman Dexter Lawrence living up to his potential in being a force of nature in the center of the line. The duo of Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins has been great as well with each doing a solid job at run stuffing, but the defensive ends have been a different story.

Clemson has trouble holding the edge when defending the run and that has put additional strain on a linebacker corps that wasn’t as strong as last year’s unit. If the defensive ends aren’t able to do their job against the Buckeyes offensive line, Ohio State is going to gash Clemson.

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