Ohio State football: ‘Kicking butt’ could decide Sugar Bowl; other storylines to watch in Friday’s game

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Kevin Wilson says Sugar Bowl could be all about kicking butt

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Buckeyes set to face Clemson in College Football Playoff semifinal

No. 3 Ohio State and No. 2 Clemson are set to play Friday night in the Sugar Bowl, a matchup that has a lot of similarities to the one between the teams a year ago.

The quarterbacks are back for both teams, as are the schemes and some of the top play-makers on offense.

ExploreWorking players back into lineup no easy task

The stakes are the same as they were when Clemson beat Ohio State 29-23 in the Fiesta Bowl to advance to the National Championship Game, too, but perhaps the most familiar theme is much older.

That is one of five things to know about the College Football Playoff semifinal matchup:

1. There could be some gamesmanship.

Among the subplots to emerge this week is Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ alleged practice of “stealing” signs from the opposing offense and making adjustments right before a play.

“He’s one of the best defensive coordinators in college football, and he does a great job calling the game,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “Seems to always know exactly what the other team is doing in terms of the plays that they’re running each play and seems to call the right defense into that play a lot. And why that is, I don’t really know, but I can tell you that he’s been doing it for a long time, and it’s a good challenge.”

After Day’s comments, Yahoo!Sports published a story quoting multiple anonymous coaches who faced the Tigers and took issue with Venables and his staff.

Although the practice is not against the rules, some expressed concern they are so effective at it there could be more than meets the eye.

ExploreDifferent paths bring Buckeyes and Tigers back to same place

2. Health is something of an unknown.

Thursday morning before his team was set to depart for New Orleans — and before the final round of COVID-19 test results were in — Day was unable to offer much concrete in regards to how many of his starters will be available Friday night.

“Full strength is a floating target right now because there are guys who come off of the isolation and then they have a protocol to get back on the field,” Day said in reference to the aftermath of a positive COVID-19 test. “You don’t just play football after being off for 10 days.”

Ohio State listed more than 20 players as unavailable for its last game, a 22-10 win over Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game on Dec. 19.

“We are getting a lot of guys back, but to say (the team is) 100 percent is different this year,” Day said.

3. Chris Olave is expected to be in the lineup.

The junior receiver who led the Big Ten in receiving yards per game was among those missing against the Wildcats. Though Ohio State did not identify the reason he or anyone else was out, multiple reports indicated he had tested positive for COVID-19.

The team’s Twitter account shared a picture of him back at practice this week, and offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson confirmed his return would be a big boost to a passing game that struggled in his absence.

“He tracks deep balls unbelievably well and has great spatial awareness,” Wilson said, noting he also has a great rapport with quarterback Justin Fields.

“He’s a tremendous player. It’s good to have him back practicing. He’s looking well. We’ll see how the week keeps going.”

4. Clemson will be down a coach because he tested positive for COVID-19.

The Tigers made the trip to New Orleans without Tony Elliott, a valuable assistant who was elevated to sole offensive coordinator this season after sharing the role for the previous five.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said the coach’s absence will be felt, but he had a contingency plan in place all along knowing just such a circumstance could arise.

“Tony and I have always collaborated and kind of done it together,” Swinney said. “He’s awesome to work with.”

Passing game coordinator Brandon Streeter will take Elliott’s place in the booth, which will also alter how he communicates with quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

“Streeter has been our passing game coordinator this year and has been a part of that on the field, so we’ll miss Tony, but Streeter will do a great job up top and we’ll be prepared as a staff to go play the game. Just the way it is. We will definitely miss Tony for sure.”

5. The game could come down to which team is more physical.

Wilson, who was on the same staff at Oklahoma as Venables for several years, acknowledged there can be cat-and-mouse games when it comes to presnap audibles, but he looked beyond the mental aspect to something more basic about football.

“It’s going to come down to blocking. It’s going to come down to tackling. It’s going to come down to ball security. It’s going to come down to short yardage and scoring situations,” Wilson said.

“Like I said for the last year, every day somebody is kicking somebody’s butt. Whether it be in the media world (if) you guys are writing great articles or not. Whether it be coaches recruiting great guys or not. Practicing well or not, winning games. Every day you’re going to go out and kick some tail. And we can get cute with signals and scheme, but at the end of the day, somebody’s got to play well. They do a tremendous job of scheme. They do a tremendous job of playing hard, playing physical, and kicking butt. That’s why they’re a great defense every year. That’s Coach Venables.”

TODAY’S GAME

Clemson vs. Ohio State, 8 p.m., ESPN, 1410

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