Clemson Over Its Struggles In Time for Ohio State; Like 2016
When it comes to Ohio State's College Football Playoff semifinal against reigning national champion Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State coach Ryan Day was against it before he was for it.
Speaking on the Fox post-game show following OSU's come-from-behind, 34-21 win over Wisconsin on Saturday, Day agreed with his predecessor, Urban Meyer, when the former Buckeyes' head coach said finishing No. 1 in the final CFP rankings was "so important."
Day agreed, until he didn't, or, more accurately, couldn't, because to stick with that stance after being matched against the Tigers would have sent the wrong message to his 13-0 Buckeyes.
"You have to beat the best to go win the national championship, and certainly Clemson is that," Day said. "What matters at the end of the year is who's won, not right now. So we have a big challenge ahead of us as we start to prepare for Clemson."
No one knew how big the challenge would turn out the last time Ohio State played the Tigers in a 2016 Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta.
Clemson had lost in the national championship game the season before against Alabama and were back in pursuit of their first title with essentially the same team.
Even with returning quarterback DeShaun Watson and a host of other future high NFL picks, Clemson sleepwalked through most of the year.
- It won its first two games, including a home date with Troy, by less than a touchdown.
- It won three of its first five games by six points apiece.
- It escaped defeat in overtime at home against unranked North Carolina State when the Wolfpack missed a 33-yard field goal on the last play of regulation.
- Three weeks later, after a three-point win at Florida State, the Tigers weren't so fortunate. PIttsburgh upset Clemson at home, 43-42, on a 48-yard field goal as time expired.
So the narrative on Clemson entering the post-season was that it had underachieved, despite being ranked No. 2 by the Playoff Committee, one spot ahead of Ohio State.
This year, until a late-season push, the book on the Tigers was also skeptical.
They eked past North Carolina by one point at home early in the season and quarterback Trevor Lawrence at one point had just eight touchdown passes and five interceptions.
He's since thrown for 22 TDs and only three picks.
OSU started a two-point favorite, but the line has moved to where the Buckeyes are now two-point underdogs.
Experts anticipated a similarly-close game in 2016, when the Buckeyes were two-point favorites.
Clemson instead handed OSU its worst bowl loss ever, inflicted the first and only shutout of Meyer's 17-year head coaching career and used the 31-0 victory to springboard to its first national championship.
Since then, the Tigers won another title last season, riding Lawrence, running back Travis Etienne and receivers Justyn Ross, Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers to a blowout win over Alabama.
Ohio State will have to contend with all of that offensive talent, plus a back seven on defense that features the Butkus Award-winner in linebacker Isaiah Simmons.
"They're the defending champs and they have haven't lost since," Day said. "They have a veteran quarterback now who has played a lot of football and is playing really well.
"Etienne is one of the best backs in the country. Tee Higgins and some of the wideouts they have are some of the best in the country. What they do on defense and what Brent Venables has done year in and year out, they're the best defense in the country."
Clemson enter having won 28 straight games, but OSU has won 19 in a row and hasn't won by fewer than 11 points all season.
"I’ve had a chance to see them several times,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of the Buckeyes. “And it’s just impressive. Impressive.
"(They are) built in the trenches. They’re good up front on both sides. They have as good a player as there is in college football (with Chase Young) coming off the edge. Their quarterback has been amazing. They have great skill outside and great backs. It’s going to be a challenge.”
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