Sometimes football is simple.
That statement doesn't necessarily pay the bills when it comes to giving reasons why one team will beat another. But when weighing all of the key factors heading into Friday's Sugar Bowl between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State, one in particular quickly comes to mind.
Blame recency bias. We just watched Tiger QB Trevor Lawrence rush for 90 yards and a touchdown against Notre Dame less than two weeks ago. He kept the Irish defense, that stuffed the run without Lawrence in the game Nov. 7, off-kilter all game. They couldn't solve the read-option, and after he got going in the ground game, so did star running back Travis Etienne.
It was something the Tigers couldn't use against the Irish in the first meeting because backup QB D.J. Uiagalelei wasn't a threat in the run game because of a bad shoulder.
The Irish knew that in the second meeting, but it didn't matter. Lawrence was effective, leading to Etienne having his first 100-yard rushing performance since Oct. 10. The Buckeyes know what those two are capable of as well, all too well.
This time last year, Ohio State was still trying to figure out how Lawrence went 64 yards on a scamper, outrunning members of the secondary and linebacking corps to score the longest TD of his career. Lawrence went off for 107 yards on the ground and kept the Buckeyes guessing in a 29-23 Fiesta Bowl victory.
That brings us to the here and now. This time, they know it's coming. They've witnessed Lawrence's elusive speed and ability to churn up yards with that long, gazelle-like stride.
Do you really think OSU's defense is going to let that happen again? Probably not. Ohio State is not going to get beat that way again. The Buckeyes will keep an extra eye on Lawrence and likely not have the defensive end crash down as Notre Dame did for much of that game.
That, however, means one less body to get to Etienne. And there it is. It's that simple. The Clemson senior rusher is going to be the key to this game. Etienne is going to feast on OSU's adjustments, and if the Buckeyes try to take him away by bringing up a safety, look for Lawrence to check out of it and throw a deep ball.
Clemson will also leak him into the flats and middle of the field to utilize Etienne's open-field ability with the passing game. Etienne had 98 yards through the air in last year's Fiesta Bowl and the go-ahead TD catch late in the game.
"Ohio State is structured to stop the run," Etienne said. "We have to find ways to get me the ball and get me in space and finds ways to make me effective in the game."
Regardless, Etienne is going to put up monster numbers in this game. Not only will the scheme allow for it, but so will his body. He's been banged up this year, but extended time off has him looking like himself again.
Without offensive coordinator/running backs coach Tony Elliott there, Etienne is going to take it upon himself to have a greater influence in the game. If all that isn't motivation enough, he's back in his home state, where he's 0-2 at the New Orleans Superdome.
This is his final chance to get a college football win in front of his family and friends.
"I know that's something that he really wants," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "I know he's going to put his best foot forward to play a great game."