who has the edge? | BY MANNY NAVARRO
WHEN OHIO STATE RUNS
Junior Braxton Miller (6-2, 215) and senior Carlos Hyde (6-0, 235) were the most productive quarterback-running back tandem in the country, combining to rush for 2,441 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. The Buckeyes rank third nationally in rushing (317.5 yards per game). Only Wisconsin, whom Ohio State beat 31-24, held the Buckeyes under 200 rushing yards and without a rushing touchdown. Clemson ranks 51st against the run (152.5 yards per game) but 26th in yards per carry (3.7). The Buckeyes are huge up front and feature four seniors in the starting lineup: left tackle Jack Mewhort (6-6, 308), left guard Andrew Norwell (6-6, 316), center Corey Linsley (6-3, 297) and right guard Marcus Hall (6-5, 315). With sophomore right tackle Taylor Decker (6-7, 315), the Buckeyes average 310.2 pounds. Clemson, which led the nation in tackles for loss with 113, features a four-man front that averages 281.5 pounds. Edge: Ohio State.
WHEN OHIO STATE THROWS
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Miller is efficient, ranking 14th among all passers. He has completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,860 yards, 22 TDs and only five interceptions. Clemson has faced some of the nation’s best quarterbacks, and the memories aren’t fond. Florida State’s Jameis Winston, Georgia’s Aaron Murray and South Carolina’s Connor Shaw — all ranked among the top 13 most efficient passers in the country —averaged 315 yards and combined for five touchdown passes against the Tigers’ 15th-ranked pass efficiency defense (197.8 yards per game, 12 TDs allowed, 16 INTs). The key here, though, will be putting pressure on Miller and then not letting him escape the pocket for long runs. Led by defensive end Vic Beasley, who ranks third individually with a dozen sacks, the Tigers have racked up 33 sacks (27th nationally). Ohio State has allowed only 17 sacks all season. Edge: Ohio State.
WHEN CLEMSON RUNS
The Tigers don’t get a lot of attention for what they do on the ground (173.8 yards per game), but they still run it fairly well (51st nationally). Tailback Roderick McDowell (5-10, 200) has run for 956 yards and five scores, and quarterback Tajh Boyd, when he decides to take off and run, has tallied 284 yards and nine scores in 134 attempts. Ohio State, led by leading tackler and outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, ranks sixth (102.6 yards per game, 8 TDs) against the run and allows only 3.1 yards per carry. Left tackle Brandon Thomas (6-3, 315) leads a Clemson offensive line that averages 298 pounds. Ohio State’s defensive front four, led by freshman Joey Bosa (6-6, 275), averages about 277 pounds. Edge: Even.
WHEN CLEMSON THROWS
Boyd is the seventh-most efficient passer in the country (3,473 yards, 29 TDs, 9 INTs), and his favorite target, 6-1, 205-pound junior Sammy Watkins (85 catches, 1,237 yards, 10 TDs), is considered the best draft-eligible receiver by NFLDraftScout.com. The Buckeyes rank 105th in passing defense (259.5 yards, 26 TDs allowed) and have faced only one quarterback inside the top 30 in passing efficiency — Michigan’s Devin Gardner, who threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns against them. Making matters tougher for the Buckeyes is that they will be without two of their best defensive players: All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby, who leads the team with 16 pass breakups and three interceptions, and defensive end Noah Spence, who leads the team with eight sacks. If there is a weakness for the Tigers, it’s pass protection. Clemson ranks 104th in sacks allowed with 33 this season. Ohio State has racked up 40 sacks, fourth most nationally. Edge: Clemson.
Buckeyes kicker Drew Basil hasn’t had to kick many field goals this season, but he has been accurate, making 9 of 10 attempts. Last season, he booted a career-long 52-yarder in a victory over Michigan. Clemson senior Chandler Catanzaro, who kicked the game-winning, 37-yard field goal in last year’s bowl win over LSU, was 13 of 14 on field-goal attempts and a perfect 57 of 57 on extra points this season. He booted a season-long 51-yarder against Georgia Tech. Ohio State freshman punter Cameron Johnston averaged 43.5 yards (21st nationally) in his 44 kicks and had only half of them returned. He has been more consistent than Clemson’s Bradley Pinion (39.5 yards per punt). The Buckeyes have blocked three punts this season. Neither team has returned a kick or a punt for a score. Edge: Even.
Clemson’s last trip to the Orange Bowl two years ago was quite humbling, as it gave up 70 points in a loss to West Virginia. The Tigers rebounded by rallying to beat LSU last year in the Chick-fil-A bowl. This year’s veteran group seems much more focused under Dabo Swinney, who has nine career wins against Top 25 teams but has lost his past two games against ranked foes. Ohio State coach Urban Meyer has lost just one game in his two years with the Buckeyes — to Rose Bowl winner Michigan State — and is 26-11 against Top 25 teams, 7-1 in bowl games and 4-0 in BCS games. Edge: Ohio State.
Ohio State 38, Clemson 34