Bold predictions for the Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl in a likely heated College Football Playoff semifinal matchup.
If you ask Clemson Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney, his team shouldn’t be playing the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl for a College Football Playoff semifinal. After a shortened season during the pandemic, the outspoken coach has not held any punches about the Buckeyes and the fact that he doesn’t believe they deserve to be among the final four teams. But that makes for one extremely juicy matchup on Friday, Jan. 1 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Arguably the two best quarterbacks in college football, Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields, are set to go head-to-head in the Sugar Bowl. But there is a boatload of talent elsewhere, especially at the skill positions, which is what you’d expect with two programs of this caliber meeting on this stage. Even better, it’s a rematch of arguably the best College Football Playoff matchup from last year.
But will Swinney be right and prove that Buckeyes doesn’t belong? Or will Ryan Day’s team send a message of their own? Let’s make five bold predictions for the Sugar Bowl diving into both Ohio State and Clemson to see how things will transpire on New Year’s Day.
Sugar Bowl bold prediction No. 5: Buckeyes hold Travis Etienne under 75 yards
When these two teams met last year, Ohio State shut down Travis Etienne on the ground, limiting him to 36 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. But the back was a killer through the air, catching three passes for 98 yards and two crucial touchdowns.
The Buckeyes aren’t capable of shutting down the entire Clemson offense but they are capable of honing in on Etienne and limiting his effectiveness. Perhaps to their detriment, they’ll keep the running back bottled up and the potential first back taken in the 2021 NFL Draft won’t get more than 75 total yards on Friday night.
Sugar Bowl bold prediction No. 4: Justin Fields rushes for 150 yards
If there’s an area of the Clemson defense that can be exploited, it’s the linebackers. The Tigers have solid, well-coached players in the middle but they don’t have the athletes that they had a season ago. And while that could mean big games for Trey Sermon and/or Master Teague, I believe it also means a big game for Justin Fields.
The mobile quarterback loves to be the one making plays and we’ll see plenty of that on Friday night. But with pressure in his face, he’ll look to get outside and around those linebackers — and he’ll find success in doing so, finishing as the Buckeyes’ leading rusher with over 150 yards.
Sugar Bowl bold prediction No. 3: Ohio State commits 4 turnovers
As mentioned when discussing Fields’ rushing prowess, Clemson should be able to generate pressure, especially after the first quarter once Brent Venables gets a look at the OSU offense and can adjust. And that’s bad news for Buckeyes fans who like to see the ball protected. In the Big Ten Championship Game, we saw Fields give up two interceptions and look out of sorts. Against an even more talented defense with just as quality of coaching, we’ll see that amplified as the Tigers will force four turnovers in the Sugar Bowl.
Sugar Bowl bold prediction No. 2: Trevor Lawrence accounts for 6 touchdowns
Though it’s hard to glean a ton from Ohio State’s shortened season, one thing we have seen against their better opponents is that this isn’t a typical Buckeyes defense. The secondary is a bonafide issue and the linebackers aren’t the best athletes. That’s music to the ears of Clemson great Trevor Lawrence.
Lawrence gave OSU fits last year with 259 yards passing and two scores along with 107 rushing yards and another touchdown. And he’s been even better this season. Out to prove something on Friday night and in his last College Football Playoff hurrah, the eventual No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft will dominate with a monstrous six touchdowns on the day.
Sugar Bowl bold prediction No. 1: Clemson beats Ohio State by 20 points
Dabo Swinney has often been boisterous in his coaching career but it’s not often that he’s in that mold without cause. And there’s a chance that his cause as he faces Ohio State is because he is about to put a hurting on the Buckeyes. And really, it’s hard to identify areas in which Clemson doesn’t have the advantage in the Sugar Bowl.
Lawrence should have his way, the defense should play opportunistic football and the Tigers have the weapons to exploit OSU’s most troublesome weakness. When you take all of this into account, the fact that Clemson is favored by just 7.5 points seems too generous to the Buckeyes. After 60 minutes, the Tigers will advance to the National Championship Game on the heels of a blowout victory.