Sugar Bowl: Can Clemson crack Buckeyes in CFP semifinals again?
Old foes renew acquaintances on New Year’s Day when No. 2 seed Clemson faces No. 3 Ohio State for the third time in the past five semifinals.
The Tigers won the previous two, including last year, 29-23. Clemson also won 31-0 in 2017 and owns an all-time record of 4-0 against the Buckeyes.
The Tigers (10-1) defeated Notre Dame 34-10 on Saturday in the ACC title game to avenge their only loss. The Buckeyes (6-0), who had three games canceled (two by opponents) because of COVID-19 issues, downed Northwestern, 22-10, on Saturday to win the Big Ten championship.
Opening line: Clemson -6 ½
When and Where: Jan. 1, 8 p.m.; Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
Why Clemson could win: The Tigers have made six straight appearances in the playoffs and ooze confidence and experience. Those attributes showed against Notre Dame when all facets of their game clicked. They totaled 541 yards (322 passing, 219 rushing) and averaged 8.2 yards per play while limiting Notre Dame to 263 yards (219, 44) on a 4.5 average.
While Clemson is sixth nationally in total defense (298.5 yards per game) the Tigers will be missing safety Nolan Turner for the first half because he was ejected for targeting in the second half against Notre Dame.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the presumed top pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, wants to go out in style with his second national title in three seasons.
Why Ohio State could Win: The Buckeyes may have found their running back to replace J.K. Dobbins, now with the Baltimore Ravens, who in last year’s game ran for 174 yards on 18 carries and a 68-yard touchdown. Oklahoma graduate transfer Trey Sermon set FBS conference championship game and Ohio State single-game rushing records with 331 yards against Northwestern. Ohio State is fifth nationally with 275.7 rushing yards per game.
If the Buckeyes can take care of business on the ground, it will make life easier for quarterback Justin Fields, who was picked off twice by Clemson last season.
Ohio State was driving for a late, potential winning score in the 2019 game when Fields was intercepted in the end zone. Other than Michigan (before the game was canceled), the Buckeyes have thought of no other team more than Clemson for a year.
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Ohio State: DT Haskell Garrett is lucky to be alive, much less menacing quarterbacks. On Aug. 30, he was trying to break up an argument between two people he didn’t know when he was shot in the face. The bullet went through one cheek and out the other and he lost five teeth. On Dec. 5 against Michigan State, he tipped a pass in the end zone and caught it for a pick-six.
Clemson: A great quarterback needs a supporting cast and Travis Etienne has emerged at the right time. He had six straight games rushing for fewer than 100 yards but against Notre Dame he ran for 124 on 10 carries (12.4) with a 44-yard touchdown. This season he has 882 yards (5.6 average) and 13 TDs.
Our prediction: Clemson, 38-33
–Field Level Media