PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (CFP Semifinal) Preview

Dec. 27, 2016

Third-ranked Ohio State has earned a place in the semifinals of the College Football Playoff for the second time in the playoffs three-year existence and will play the No. 2 Clemson Tigers in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl Dec. 31 at Glendale, Ariz. Game time is set for 7 p.m. EST at the University of Phoenix Stadium, and the game will be televised on ESPN.

The Buckeyes enter the game will a handful of impressive wins on their resume. OSU defeated No. 7 Oklahoma by 21 points on the road in September; it defeated No. 8 and Big Ten West Division Champion Wisconsin, on the road in overtime in October; and beat rival and sixth-ranked Michigan in double overtime to cap its 11-1 season. Ohio State also defeated Nebraska, 62-3, when the Cornhuskers were ranked No. 10 by the CFP committee. The Buckeyes' only loss came at No. 5 and eventual Big Ten Champion Penn State, 24-21. Ohio State is 22-24 all-time in bowl games and has won three consecutive.  The Buckeyes are 2-0 in College Football Playoff games and 3-0 in New Year's Six bowl games.

ACC Champion Clemson is 12-1 on the year and making its second consecutive trip to the College Football Playoff. The Tigers are coming off their second straight and 16th overall conference title, defeating Virginia Tech 42-35 to earn back-to-back league titles for the first time since 1988. Clemson’s schedule included 11 games against bowl teams with 10 of the contests resulting in a Tiger victory, including six away from home. Clemson leads the nation in games and wins over teams in bowl games this year. This will be Clemson's second trip to Glendale. Last year Clemson's season ended at the facility with a 45-40 loss to Alabama, who will play in the other semifinal on Dec. 31 against Washington in a game in Atlanta.

This will be the third meeting between Clemson and Ohio State. The Tigers have won the previous two, a 17-15 win in the 1978 Gator Bowl, and the 40-35 win in the 2013 season Orange Bowl. As far as strength of schedule, Clemson opponents are 76-46 this year when not playing Clemson, a .623 mark, third best in the nation. Ohio State opponents have a .625 winning percentage when not playing the Buckeyes this year, second best in the nation.





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Ohio State ranks first in the Big Ten in total offense (479.5), scoring (42.7) and rushing (258.3), while rating sixth in passing (221.2). Nationally speaking, the Buckeyes rank sixth in time of possession (33:55), ninth in scoring and rushing, and 21st in total yards. Junior J.T. Barrett, the Big Ten’s Griese-Brees Quarterback of the Year, was one of two recipients to share the Chicago Tribune Silver Football award as the league’s most valuable player. He led the Buckeyes with 3,275 yards of total offense (2,428 pass, 847 rush) in 2016, completing 214 of his 346 passes and only five interceptions. He also paced the conference in points responsible for (33 TDs, 198 points, 16.5 ppg) and was second with 24 TD passes. He finished the regular season third in total offense (272.9) and completion percentage (.620) and fourth in passer rating (140.8). He enters the postseason just six touchdowns responsible for shy of the conference record of 106 held by Purdue's Drew Brees. Up front the Buckeyes are led by senior team captain Pat Elflein, the winner of the 2016 Rimington Trophy as the most outstanding center in the nation. He was also named the Big Ten’s Rimington-Pace Offensive Lineman of the Year. In the backfield, Big Ten Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year Mike Weber is just the third Ohio State newcomer to run for 1,000 yards, joining Robert Smith (1990) and Maurice Clarett (2002). He totaled 1,072 yards on the year, posted four 100-yard games, and led all freshmen in the Big Ten with 89.3 rushing yards per contest. Curtis Samuel, one of four unanimous first-team All-Americans for the Buckeyes, ranks second in the Big Ten with 5.4 receptions per game and fifth with 68.5 receiving yards each time out. Coupled with his 58.7 rushing yards per game, Samuel tops the Big Ten charts in all-purpose yards with 128.8 yards gained each week.

Clemson ranks first in the ACC in scoring defense (18.4), second in passing yards allowed (188.2) and total defense (313.9), and fifth against the rush (125.8). From a national perspective, the Tigers are third in both sacks (3.54) and tackles for loss (8.6) per game, fifth in team passing efficiency defense (102.41), seventh in interceptions (18), ninth in total defense, 12th in scoring, and 20th in turnovers gained (24). Four Tigers earned first-team All-ACC honors this year, including team sack leader Carlos Watkins (8.5), leading tackler Ben Boulware at linebacker (105 stops/8.8 tpg), and defensive secondary players Cordrea Tankersely and Jadar Johnson. Tankersley leads the team in pass deflections with nine, while Johnson leads the team in interceptions with five. Also earning recognition from the league was freshman Dexter Lawrence – the ACC Rookie of the Year. Lawrence ranks fourth on the team with 71 tackles, while also totaling 7.5 tackles for loss, five quarterback sacks, and 19 quarterback hurries on the year.

Offensively, Clemson ranked first in the ACC in passing (332.6), second in total yards (505.7), third in scoring (40.2), and sixth in rushing (173.1). The passing attack is seventh-best nationally, while the overall unit rates 13th in total yards and 15th in scoring. The Tigers are led by junior quarterback Deshaun Watson, who is fifth in the nation in touchdown passes with a school record 37, and is sixth in total passing yards with 3,914.   He is also in the top 10 in the nation in completion percentage (.676) and completions per game (25.31). He is also eighth in total offense with 342 yards per game. Watson has multiple threats in the offense, as six receivers have hauled in at least 27 passes each this year. Junior Mike Williams is second in the ACC with 90.1 receiving yards and fourth with 6.5 receptions per game. Junior Artavis Scott is seventh with 5.5 catches each time out, while sophomore Deon Cain (19.4) and senior Jordan Leggett (16.8) are fourth and 10th, respectively, among ACC receivers in yards per catch. Those four wideouts garner at least 45 receiving yards per game apiece and have combined to total 31 touchdown receptions on the year. In the backfield, junior Wayne Gallman has 1,002 rushing yards on the year, good for 77.1 yards per game. Gallman, who ranks fourth in the ACC with 15 rushing touchdowns, has turned in two 100-yard efforts on the ground in the team’s last three contests.

Ohio State boasts one of the nation’s top defensive units. The Buckeyes own the nation's No. 5 total defense (282.3), including the No. 1 pass efficiency defense (91.43) and the No. 3 scoring defense (14.2). They also rank second in defensive TDs (7) and total TDs allowed (15), third in turnover margin (+1.33) and fourth with 19 interceptions. The Buckeyes set a school record this season with seven interceptions returned for TDs -- three of those by Malik Hooker, another unanimous first-team All-American. Junior end Tyquan Lewis, the Big Ten Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year, has netted 7.5 quarterback sacks and 10 tackles for losses on the season. Second-team All-American and first-team All-Big Ten selection Raekwon McMillan is the team’s leading tackler. The linebacker tops the team charts with 87 stops on the season, including a career-high tying 16-tackle performance against Michigan in the regular season finale. Marshon Lattimore, the first-year starting cornerback who ranked second on the team and sixth in the Big Ten with four interceptions, also recorded nine pass break-ups for 13 total passes defended.

On special teams, Ohio State’s Cameron Johnston is the Big Ten Eddleman-Fields Punter of the Year, having ranked fourth nationally and first in the conference in net punting (46.2). Parris Campbell is second in the league and 15th in the country in kickoff return yardage (26.6), while kicker Tyler Durbin is 18th nationally with an 85.0 field-goal percentage. Clemson’s Greg Huegel has hit 76.5 percent of his field goals to rate 52nd in the country and punter Andy Teasdall is 114th overall with an average of 37.7 yards per punt. In the return game, Artavis Scott is 50th overall with 22.9 yards per kickoff return, while Ray-Ray McCloud is 32nd with 8.4 yards on every punt return.