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Clemson looks for respect

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Orange Bowl (ESPN, 8:30 p.m. ET)
Matchup: Clemson (10-2 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Ohio State (12-1 SU, 6-6-1 ATS)
Venue: Sun Life Stadium
Location: Miami, Fl. Line & Total: Ohio State -3, 69.5

Falling one game short of a national championship berth, No. 7 Ohio State will have to regroup and prepare to take on No. 12 Clemson in the Orange Bowl, featuring two of the nation’s most prolific offenses.

The Buckeyes averaged 46.3 PPG this year (3rd in FBS), scoring at least 30 points in every single game this season. Their lone loss of the year came in the Big Ten Championship to Michigan State, when they fell 34-24. Between that and a narrow victory against Michigan, they gave up 37.5 PPG over their past two contests.

The Tigers scored 40.2 PPG (9th in nation), running one of the most effective pass offenses in the country (329 YPG 11th in FBS). They also lost their most recent game, falling 31-17 at in-state rival South Carolina, while their other defeat came to No. 1 Florida State (51-14 on Oct. 19). Overall, the Tigers went 7-5 ATS this season, including 3-1 ATS in their final four games.

As an underdog, they were 1-2 ATS. Ohio State finished 7-6 ATS, going 0-4 ATS in their final four contests. Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer is 38-11 ATS (78%) in all non-conference games he has ever coached, while Dabo Swinney is 12-3 ATS against good rushing defenses (allowing 120 rushing YPG or less) as the head coach of Clemson.

The only time these programs met was the 1978 Gator Bowl, when Clemson won 17-15.

The Clemson passing offense continues to flourish with 8.7 YPA on 68.4% completions. That’s all credit to another solid season for senior QB Tajh Boyd (3,473 pass yards, 9.3 YPA, 29 TD, 9 INT), who completed 67.6% of his passes. Two of those picks came in the loss to South Carolina, but in the three games prior to that, he exploded for 1,005 passing yards, 12 TD and just 2 INT. He also added 273 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, despite averaging only 2.0 YPC.

His top target is future NFL first-round pick, junior WR Sammy Watkins (85 catches, 1,237 yards, 10 TD), who can create a big play at any moment with his vertical speed. Watkins has at least 90 receiving yards in nine of 12 games this year. Junior WR Martavis Bryant (39 catches, 800 yards, 5 TD) also made big plays, averaging a hefty 20.5 yards per reception.

On the ground, RB Roderick McDowell (956 rush yards, 5.4 YPC, 5 TD) should break the 1,000-yard mark this game after a solid season taking advantage of defenses that key in too much on Boyd. McDowell ran for 111 yards on just 14 carries (7.9 YPC) in the loss to South Carolina.

Defensively, the Tigers were decent against the run, allowing 153 YPG on just 3.7 YPC, and opponents completed only 52.4% of their passes (45.9% in away games) for 198 passing YPG against a unit that yielded 21.1 PPG (17th in nation). But Clemson will be hard-pressed to keep the Buckeyes below 30 points.

Ohio State’s offense is built more on the ground, where it averaged 317.5 rushing YPG, third-most FBS. The Buckeyes scored 42 rushing touchdowns, with both RB Carlos Hyde (1,408 rush yards, 7.7 YPC, 14 TD) and QB Braxton Miller (1,033 rush yards, 6.8 YPC, 10 TD) both eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark. Hyde accomplished that feat that after missing the first three games of the year, rushing for more than 110 yards in each of his final eight games, breaking 200 yards in a game twice in the past four contests.

Miller, who missed two games due to injury this year, ran for more than 140 yards in each of his past four games, averaging 156 rushing YPG on 9.4 YPC with 8 TD. But the junior is also an efficient passer, completing 63.2% of his throws for 1,860 yards (8.1 YPA), 22 TD and 5 INT. He also missed some time this year due to injury. WRs Philly Brown (55 receptions, 10 TD) and Devin Smith (42 receptions, 8 TD) were his top targets, tying for the team lead with 655 receiving yards each.

While the Ohio State defense was stingy against the run, yielding a mere 103 YPG on 3.1 YPC, the pass defense often struggled, allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete 60.5% of their attempts for 260 YPG (6.8 YPA). The Buckeyes hope to capitalize on a turnover-prone Clemson team with 20 giveaways in its past eight games, including six in its most recent game, but they have forced only two turnovers in past three contests combined.

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