ACC: Vonn Bell

Discover Orange Bowl preview

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
11:00
AM ET


FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- The last and only time Clemson and Ohio State played, this happened. We don't expect any sideline high jinks this time, just a potential thrilling shootout between the No. 7 Buckeyes (12-1) and the No. 12 Tigers (10-2) in the Discover Orange Bowl (8:30 p.m., ESPN).

Who to watch: The two quarterbacks. Clemson's Tajh Boyd, a senior, is one of the most accomplished players in school and ACC history, with more than 10,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in his career. Ohio State junior Braxton Miller has more than 5,000 yards passing and 3,000 yards rushing in his career and has finished in the top 10 of the Heisman Trophy voting the past two years. Although they have similar body types, Boyd is the far better passer, having thrown for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. Miller remains most dangerous as an open-field runner. Each has a wingman who is a superstar in his own right -- for Miller, it's running back Carlos Hyde, and Boyd loves throwing to Sammy Watkins because who wouldn't? But the quarterbacks remain the main attraction here, even for the coaches. "That's awesome," Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman said. "I get to sit up there with my hot dogs and popcorn and Diet Coke and get to watch this thing go down, man. These are two of the top five or 10 quarterbacks in college football today and have been for the last couple of years." About the only thing missing on the résumés for Boyd and Miller is a BCS win. That will change for one of them tonight.

What to watch: Can Ohio State's pass defense do anything to slow down Boyd, Watkins and Martavis Bryant? Clemson had the 11th-best passing attack in the country this season, and, in Watkins and Bryant, it boasts arguably the best pair of receivers the Buckeyes have faced all season. Ohio State's pass defense was in tatters by the end of the season, giving up 451 yards through the air to Michigan and allowing Michigan State's Connor Cook to throw for 300 yards in the Big Ten title game loss. Add to that the uncertain status of top cornerback Bradley Roby (bone bruise on his knee) and top pass-rusher Noah Spence (personal reasons) and there could be issues. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell is putting true freshman Vonn Bell into the lineup at nickelback and moving Tyvis Powell to starting safety in an attempt to shore up the pass defense. But if Ohio State doesn't show major improvement in the secondary and make up for the possible loss of Roby and Spence, it could mean a huge night for the Clemson stars.

Why to watch: Both teams averaged more than 40 points per game in the regular season and are blessed with an abundance of fast future NFL stars (we haven't even mentioned defensive standouts such as Clemson's Vic Beasley and Ohio State's Ryan Shazier, coming to a pro stadium near you soon). This has a chance to be one of the most entertaining games of the bowl season. Urban Meyer is 4-0 in BCS games and has a 24-1 record at Ohio State. Clemson is seeking its first BCS win and wants to redeem itself from its last Orange Bowl appearance, a 70-33 humiliation at the hands of West Virginia in the 2012 game. It's the final non-championship BCS bowl ever. There's no better way to spend your Friday night.

Prediction: Clemson 38, Ohio State 35. The potential loss of Roby and Spence is devastating for a Buckeyes defense that was already going to be under the gun in this game. The Big Ten just can't prepare you for the type of speed and playmaking ability Clemson has at receiver. Ohio State will find lots of success running the ball with Miller and Hyde, but ultimately the Buckeyes will need to match the Tigers score for score because of their spotty defense. And that's a tough way to win a BCS game.
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Ohio State announced Wednesday morning that it wouldn't have defensive end Noah Spence for the Discover Orange Bowl (or the first two games next season). This afternoon, head coach Urban Meyer said the defense would likely be without another star: cornerback Bradley Roby.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesBradley Roby's career at Ohio State is likely over. The redshirt junior cornerback has already declared for the NFL draft.
Roby has been dealing with a bone bruise on his knee that he suffered in the Big Ten championship game, and he has practiced on a limited basis this week. Meyer said Wednesday that he didn't think Roby would be able to play vs. Clemson on Friday night.

Roby's loss is even bigger than Spence's, because he was the one player in the secondary who was playing at an extremely high level. Now Ohio State could have new starters in three spots when they go to the nickel package against the Tigers' high-scoring passing attack. And Roby would have been the guy to try and stop Clemson star receiver Sammy Watkins.

Instead, Ohio State finds itself playing shorthanded on defense.

"That''s tough," Meyer said. "What's my confidence level? We recruited a lot of them and we coached a lot of them. I have a lot of respect for our players. I'm anxious to see Tyvis Powell and Vonn Bell at the safety positions. Josh Perry is one of the most improved players on our team. We've got [Ryan] Shazier. So we've got some very good players."

They just won't have two very important starters on defense.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins is not afraid to make his feelings known. To some, this comes off as trash talk. To others, he is just being honest.

Simply put, Watkins does not hold back. So it should come as no surprise, then, that he told reporters after arriving for the Discover Orange Bowl, “I think I’m the best receiver in the nation. ... Overall I think I can’t be guarded. That’s just my mindset.”

[+] EnlargeWatkins
AP Photo/Richard ShiroClemson's Sammy Watkins, who has 10 touchdown receptions and averaged 14.6 yards per catch, is one of the top receivers in college football.
How Ohio State covers Watkins is one of the biggest keys to watch heading into the Discover Orange Bowl. Many believe Clemson has the unquestioned advantage with Watkins and his fellow receivers, specifically because the Buckeyes secondary has not played up to standards over the last two games.

That advantage seems to have grown even larger with news on Monday that Ohio State could be without starting cornerback Bradley Roby, rehabbing a knee injury. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell also confirmed the Buckeyes will start freshman Vonn Bell at nickel cornerback.

Three new starters could be in the Buckeyes secondary against the best receiver group they have faced to date, leaving observers to believe Watkins and Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd are in line for a big day.

“I think our wide receiver group is top 5 in the country,” Watkins said Monday. “We've been playing good all year, not just catching the ball but blocking, taking care of the little things. We definitely have to come out and put on a show. Their defense is pretty good, but for our offense and wide receivers, we've got a better wide receiver corps than they've ever faced in their conference and we've definitely got to show it when we play them.”

Watkins has shown it all season long, rebounding from a down year in 2012 to have one of the best seasons in the country with 85 receptions for 1,237 yards and 10 touchdowns, leading the team in receiving yards, receptions, touchdowns, kickoff return yards and all-purpose yards.

Martavis Bryant ranks second on the team with 800 yards receiving and has shown flashes of brilliance. Their size alone -- Watkins is 6-1, Bryant is 6-5 – gives Clemson a huge edge. Fickell said of the receiver group, “The combination of size and speed is something that's really intriguing.”

Add in what has happened the last two weeks to the Buckeyes’ secondary. Ohio State gave up 451 yards in the air to Michigan -- the Wolverines’ second-highest total on the season -- and then 304 yards passing to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game. That ranks as the highest passing total for the Spartans since their quarterbacks threw for 322 yards Sept. 8, 2012, in a blowout win over Central Michigan.

Ohio State ranks No. 103 in the nation in average passing yards allowed (259.5 ypg).

It’s easy to see why Clemson is penciled in to have the edge in the matchup.

“I don't think there's a lack of confidence from our DBs. We believe in ourselves,” Ohio State safety C.J. Barnett said. “But this is a chance to prove to the doubters -- a lot of doubters -- that we can play well and I think we have to go out there and prove it.”

Despite what seems to be an edge on paper, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is not one of those doubters. After practice Monday, he downplayed the potential matchup advantage, saying, “People look at things like that statistically and say they're 100th or whatever in pass defense and you immediately say, hey, that's a great advantage. Well, we look at things a little bit differently. We take the curtain back and we see they've had some inconsistency at times, some mistakes and busts which have led to some things but also one of the things is people having to throw the ball because they can't run it.”

Ohio State ranks No. 6 in the nation in rush defense, but if the Tigers can have success passing the ball the way Michigan and Michigan State did, the run element might not matter. Plus, Watkins has vowed to have the best game of his season, in what most likely is his final game for the Tigers.

Though he says he will not make any announcements until after the bowl game, the junior is the highest-rated receiver on the board for the 2014 draft. Still, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has done his best to pitch Watkins on the benefits of staying. Namely: seniors get to travel first class on team flights.

“I reminded him of that this week as we got on the plane,” Morris said. “I said, ‘Just think, next year, when you get on a plane, you'll be able to sit in first class.’ Like he always does, he grins ear to ear. He's had a great career, and whatever his decision is, we're going to support him.”

Perhaps one final career game in an outstanding career awaits.

SPONSORED HEADLINES