The Buckeyes were pretty straightforward on Monday in saying they don't think their opponent respects them.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney, defensive coordinator Brent Venables and several defensive players all said the right things publicly on Monday afternoon, but the Buckeyes are reading between the lines.
Between Swinney's near-constant defending of his personal vendetta to rank the Buckeyes No. 11 in his final coaches poll, to his omni-present politicking for Trevor Heisman to win the Heisman Trophy, to his saying that Texas A&M, Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma and Cincinnati were all punished for playing more games than Ohio State, the Buckeyes have a pretty clear picture in their heads of what Clemson thinks of them.
After all, Ohio State has played the Tigers three times in the last seven years and have yet to beat the ACC powerhouse.
“Clearly what we’ve seen all week and I’m sure all of you have seen this week, we’re going into this game not respected at all,” All-American Wyatt Davis said. “So that adds a lot of motivation.”
“We're really just trying not to let it affect our preparation," tight end Luke Farrell said. "We know what we're capable of, and that's what matters.”
The Buckeyes certainly don't need any additional motivation for this game, especially considering what they've gone through and what's at stake on Friday. But with that in mind, here are the most pressing questions for the Buckeyes ahead of the playoffs.
1. How Impactful Will the Big Ten's CoVID-19 Rule Change be for the Buckeyes?
It's no secret that Ohio State has been hit hard by the coronavirus over the last six weeks, both by players and coaches that have tested positive and those that have missed time because of contact tracing. Each team in the College Football Playoff must adhere to its respective conference's CoVID regulations, and the Big Ten came to Ohio State's aid by shortening its' 21-day return-to-play mandate to 17 days.
Ryan Day said Monday that it will enable "a bunch" of guys to return for the Sugar Bowl, but he didn't get more specific than that.
It goes without saying, but obviously Ohio State hopes to be at full strength against Clemson. The Buckeyes haven't had as many game reps to develop their depth the way other top teams have that have played twice as many games, but that's just the way it goes this year. Chris Olave, Baron Browning and Drue Chrisman all returning would be a big lift for Ryan Day's team.
2. Can Ohio State Contain Trevor Lawrence Better Than Last Year?
Last year against the Buckeyes he ran for a career-high 107 yards and he's coming off the second best rushing performance of his career against Notre Dame, when he ran for 90 yards in the ACC championship. It's not like he couldn't pass in either game - he threw for 581 combined yards in those two games too. Lawrence is an exceptional athlete, and even though he would prefer not to run (he's only had four 50-yard rushing performances in 39 career games), he can certainly hurt you with his feet.
Clemson averages 508 yards of total offense per game (No. 6 among Power 5 teams) and nearly 45 points per game (No. 3 nationally). They have arguably the best all-purpose player in the country in All-American Travis Etienne and two stud wide receivers in Amari Rodgers and Cornell Powell. Lawrence has a lot of options; it would help the Buckeyes tremendously if they can at least keep him contained and prevent him from making big players with his feet.
3. How Can the Buckeyes Negate Clemson's Defensive Pressure?
No top-end defense in the country is better at consistently getting in the backfield than Clemson this year. Only the Pitt Panthers racked up more tackles for loss and more sacks this year than Clemson, but the Panthers finished the season 6-5 and lost 52-17 to Clemson on Nov. 28.
Clemson has seven players that have earned at least three sacks this year and 13 players with at least four tackles for loss. Myles Murphy, Baylon Spector, Trenton Simpson and K.J. Henry have been particularly tenacious. A couple Buckeyes admitted Monday that they need to control the line of scrimmage better on Friday than they did last year if they're going to beat the Tigers. The Buckeyes offensive line has had a terrific season and they have several veteran players. But this should be their stiffest test of the season. I would imagine their experience picking up exotic blitzes like they did against Indiana could be especially helpful this week.
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