Prediction column: Fields could be key for Ohio State vs. Clemson

By James Naveau — The Lima News

In case you’ve forgotten since Ohio State’s 2016 College Football Playoff semifinal game against Clemson, the Tigers’ coach’s real name is William Swinney, not Dabo Swinney.

Dabo was a childhood name that came from a younger brother’s mispronunciation of his name that stuck with him into adulthood.

Like their coach, Clemson has had a dual identity this season leading up to tonight’s Ohio State-Clemson match-up in another College Football Playoff semifinal in the Fiesta Bowl.

Some people, not all of them Clemson fans, see the Tigers as the best team in the country. After all, they are the defending national champion and on a 28-game winning streak and have some serious talent on both sides of the ball.

But other people say they’re overrated because they haven’t played anyone yet.

The Atlantic Coast Conference was indisputably weak this season and Clemson had only one win over a ranked team, which came in a 62-17 thumping of No. 23 Virginia in the ACC championship game.

Its schedule and a one-point win over North Carolina created some questions about the Tigers.

But No. 2-ranked Clemson’s reply to the doubters has been that it’s about who they are, not who they’ve played. Regardless of who the Tigers have played, they can point to winning their last eight games by an average of 42 points a game.

And they can point to averaging 46.5 points a game on offense, leading the nation in fewest points allowed, (10.6 a game) fewest total yards allowed (244.7 a game) and fewest passing yards allowed (138.5 a game).

No. 3 Ohio State also brings impressive numbers to this match-up of 13-0 teams.

The Buckeyes are No. 1 in points scored (48.7 a game), No. 2 in points allowed (12.5 a game), No. 2 in total yards allowed (247.6 a game) and fewest passing yards allowed (148.1 a game).

The talent appears to be as equal on the two teams as the statistics.

Defensively, Ohio State has the Nagurski Award winner, defensive end Chase Young, who leads the nation in sacks, and Clemson has the Butkus Award winner, linebacker Isaiah Simmons.

Urban Meyer has said all four of OSU’s starting defensive backs will be in the NFL in the future. Clemson’s back seven, its defensive backs and linebackers, are regarded as the strength of its defense.

Offensively, neither quarterback has lost a game they’ve started in college. Ohio State’s Justin Fields has passed for 2,953 yards and 40 touchdowns this season. Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence has thrown for 3,172 yards and 34 touchdowns.

Both teams have deep receiver groups and both have talented running backs. OSU’s J.K. Dobbins has rushed for 1,829 yards and Clemson’s Travis Etienne has gained 1,500 yards. Both teams have stellar offensive lines.

It appears to be a classic match-up. The two biggest questions for Ohio State are how healthy is Fields and how well can it protect him.

Ohio State probably needs Fields to be a dual threat to win. He was limited in the run game in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin after suffering a strained medial collateral ligament in his knee against Penn State, then aggravating it against Michigan.

Ohio State is 94th nationally in sacks allowed with 31 and Clemson has sacked opposing quarterbacks 37 times and has allowed only eight rushing touchdowns.

Fields said his knee was around 85 percent of normal earlier this week before Ohio State’s coaches told him to stop talking about it. If he can get that up to 90 percent, OSU might be playing for a championship in 16 days in New Orleans.

The prediction: Ohio State 35, Clemson 31.