Sun Life Stadium
This year's Discover Orange Bowl (ESPN, TV channel 1301 Time Warner Columbus/Delaware) is about two things: validation and vindication. For the Ohio State Buckeyes, after a disappointing Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State (though less so after Sparty's win on New Year's Day), a win would bring closure to the first two years of the Urban Meyer reign and end things on a happier note. A BCS bowl win would help validate the question marks hanging over Ohio State's suspect schedule and overall national strength, and would stand as a great sign-off going into the long, football-less winter.
For Clemson, vindication is on the menu. Clemson began the year as a dark horse national champion contender, and an opening weekend win over Georgia seemed to concur with that opinion. But a blowout loss to Florida State, and a rivalry loss to South Carolina, sidelined that thought fairly quickly.
Along with vindication and validation is a great football game on tap in Miami Gardens tonight, and it is the last chance to see the Buckeyes play for far too many months. The game has the potential to be a shootout of the highest order, with two strong offenses tangoing with suspect, injury-filled defenses (and that's just Ohio State's). Whereas a typical Big Ten game is all about running the ball and stopping the other team, this one will likely be about who scores last.
For the Buckeyes, it is a sendoff for senior running back Carlos Hyde, who had a monster season despite missing three games early due to suspension. Hyde rushed for 1,408 yards and 14 TDs on the year, and is on an eight-game streak of 100+ yard performances. Hyde's battery mate is Braxton Miller, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, who has accounted for 22 passing TDs and 10 rushing TDs. Miller's last two games, against Michigan and Michigan State, were far from his best outings, so Miller, along with Hyde, look to kick the rust off those two games and springboard forward, into the NFL for Hyde, and into a senior campaign for Miller*.
* = unless Miller goes pro, which he's kinda, sorta, maybe alluded to.
Those two, along with the rest of the offense, will have to score and score plenty, as the Buckeye defense is in the worst shape it has been in all season. Top cornerback Bradley Roby is not expected to play due to a bruised knee. Noah Spence, the top Buckeye pass rusher, will sit because of a violation of conference rules. The Buckeyes aren't too deep on defense, and the potential replacements (Doran Grant and Armani Reeves will move up on the depth chart accordingly for Roby, and Joey Bosa will feature on the D-line without Spence) are a bit green, but there are plenty of questions for Luke Fickell to try to answer during the game.
Unfortunately, the Buckeye defense isn't going up against Florida A&M, but against a Clemson offense that is 9th in the country in points scored per game (40.2) and 11th in the country in passing yards per game (329.3). Tajh Boyd, who was almost a Buckeye, runs around and throws the passes in offensive coordinator Chad Morris's offense, and is among the best in the country when he does it, with 3,473 yards and 29 scores on the year. 10 of those touchdowns (along with 1,237 total yards) go into the hands of Sammy Watkins, one of the best wideouts in the country. A fast, accurate, mobile quarterback against a dilapidated Buckeye defense? Pound the over, as Money, Cash, & Joe's might say.
Numbers to Know
Carlos Hyde's YPG this year is good enough for tops in the Big Ten. The Clemson defense is giving up 152.6 yards per game, almost the same as Hyde is getting. If the Buckeyes want to control the pace of the game, the capable Hyde is going to be the one to do it. In his last game in scarlet and gray, Hyde is more than happy to have the spotlight on him. Or, when necessary, to share the spotlight with Miller; the two have combined for over 1,300 rushing yards and 15 scores in the past four games alone.
Losses in the last 25 games to top-13 teams by Clemson, including twice this year to then-No. 5 Florida State and then-No. 10 South Carolina. In the last 25 games, however, the Tigers have won 21 times, including wins over then-No. 5 Georgia to open the year, and a bowl win over then-No. 8 LSU in 2012. Clemson is a lot like Ohio State, in that it can beat the tar out of the bad teams on its schedule, but can struggle against better competition. Clemson has shown it can beat (or be beaten by) either over the last two seasons.
Ohio State's bowl record in the state of Florida. It helps that the Buckeyes have played a few games in Tempe, Pasadena and New Orleans, because the Sunshine State has not been kind to the Buckeyes. Other than wins in the 1977 Orange Bowl (27-10 over Colorado) and 1986 Citrus Bowl (10-7 over BYU), Ohio State is 0-for-Florida, with losses to Georgia (1993), Alabama (1995), Tennessee (1996), South Carolina (2001, 2002), Florida (2012) and, of course, to Clemson in the 1978 Gator Bowl.
Cast of Characters
The success of Clemson will fall on Boyd's shoulders. When he's on, Boyd can be an amazing game-changer. But when he's off (36/64, 1 TD, 4 INT combined in Clemson's two losses), Clemson has struggled mightily. Which Tajh Boyd shows up will go a long way in determining how the game goes.
Clemson does, despite rumors to the contrary, have a defense, and Beasley is the key cog. The stout defensive end accounted for 19 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, good enough for All-American honors. Clemson's defense has come a long way since losing to West Virginia, 70-33, in the 2012 Orange Bowl, and Beasley is a big reason why.
We're looking at you, Doran Grant, Armani Reeves, and Cam Burrows, who all move up on the depth chart with Bradley Roby sitting out with an injured knee. One of them is going to have to take on Watkins but he's not the only receiver in orange. Youth needs to grow up fast on a big stage to have a good impact.
It feels weird saying it, but Braxton Miller has a lot to prove in this game. His last two games were two of his worst throwing the ball (though he was more than fine on the ground), and included a loss on the biggest stage of his career thus far. If this is Miller's last real shot at launching a Heisman campaign, and it will be if he comes back next year, a big game on the ground and through the air will speak volumes.
Ahhh, Miami, the city where the heat is on, all night at the beach 'til the break of dawn, and so forth. If you're journeying down to Florida for the game, good call: the high in Columbus today is in the 20s, whereas in Miami it will be 70. Sounds about right.
Most people will discover that the Discover Orange Bowl isn't played in the Orange Bowl, but in Sun Life Stadium. Home of the NFL's Dolphins, and parking that has been described as WACK (love you, Yelp), Sun Life Stadium has hosted this game throughout the BCS era, including two championship games. The stadium is only a short 20-minute drive away from American Airlines Arena, where the Miami Heat call home, so it should be an easy commute for LeBron James to watch his "favorite" team, likely from the sideline. That is unless he's already in Pasadena to watch his actual favorite team, Florida State, in Monday's BCS Championship Game.