By the Numbers: Examining Some Statistics That Could Help Determine Fiesta Bowl Matchup Between Ohio State, Clemson

By Tim Shoemaker on December 31, 2016 at 8:35 am
Urban Meyer and Dabo Swinney pose with the Fiesta Bowl trophy.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — All of the talking is finished.

Ohio State versus Clemson is finally here. The Buckeyes and Tigers will square off at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday with a berth in the College Football Playoff national championship game on the line.

Led by head coach Dabo Swinney, second-seeded Clemson enters the Fiesta Bowl as the ACC champions sporting a 12-1 record. The Tigers are one year removed from a national championship game appearance.

Urban Meyer leads No. 3-seeded Ohio State into University of Phoenix Stadium two years after he brought a national title to Columbus. The Buckeyes are 11-1, but haven't played since their dramatic double-overtime victory against Michigan on Nov. 26.

On paper, it appears to be a hell of a football game. The talent is equal, with each sides boasting plenty of NFL prospects, and it's two of the most successful programs within the last five seasons.

When discussing the Tigers, things begin with quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Heisman Trophy finalist is one of the best players in the country having thrown for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns this season. But while Watson orchestrates a dynamic Clemson offense, there has been a tendency for the Tigers to turn the ball over a bit as...

Deshaun Watson has thrown 15 interceptions so far this season.

That's a number that certainly jumps out to an opportunistic Ohio State defense. 

The Buckeyes' trio of talented cornerbacks — Gareon Conley, Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward — along with All-American safety Malik Hooker will certainly hope to get their hands on at least one of those Watson passes. 

The Ohio State secondary has been awfully successful this season at doing just that as...

The Buckeyes have 19 interceptions on the year.

That number is tied for sixth nationally.

But Ohio State does a bit more than just force turnovers. The Buckeyes are one of the best at capitalizing on those mistakes as their seven defensive touchdowns are No. 1 in the country. 

If Ohio State's defense can't find a way to put some points on the board, however, the Buckeyes are going to need the offense to pull its weight. That starts at the line of scrimmage where Ohio State needs to find success running the football and protecting quarterback J.T. Barrett.

The latter has been a struggle at times this season for the Buckeyes as the line had difficulty protecting Barrett in games against Wisconsin, Penn State and Michigan. In those three games alone against elite defensive talent, Ohio State allowed 16 sacks. For the season...

The Buckeyes allowed 25 sacks.

That's just over two per game.

If you're an Ohio State fan, that's a bit concerning when you take the Buckeyes' opponent into account. Clemson's defensive line is as talented as there is in college football.

The Tigers' front — which features names like Dexter Lawrence, Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins — are big, strong, fast and ferocious, and they'll be trying to get to Barrett all evening.

Clemson has had a ton of success this season at doing just that, too, as...

The Tigers recorded 46 sacks this season.

That number ranks third in the country, so Ohio State will have its hands full in trying to protect Barrett.

For the Buckeyes to win, they're going to need to establish the run. But while Clemson's defensive line is stout, if there's a weakness on its defense it may be at linebacker. If Barrett, Mike Weber and Curtis Samuel can get to the second level, there's a good chance Ohio State can create some explosive plays.

The Buckeyes have one of the nation's top-ranked rushing attacks as...

Ohio State averages 258.3 rushing yards per game.

Meanwhile, Clemson has done a pretty good job all season of stopping the run despite the perceived "weakness" at linebacker. The Tigers have allowed an opposing team to rush for over 200 yards just once this season as Louisville gained 273 on the ground back in early October.

Ohio State hopes to get to the 250-yard mark, but it will be a challenge as...

Clemson's defense allows an average of 125.8 rushing yards per game.

On paper, this matchup between Ohio State and Clemson is about as tight as it gets. It should make for a fascinating football game on the sport's biggest stage.

Buckle up.

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