Clemson’s 21-20 win at North Carolina is the only game either Fiesta Bowl participant played that was decided by less than 11 points.
That level of dominance is obviously impressive but it also leaves a certain amount of mystery.
The question Just how good are these guys? can be asked on each side.
“I think that these guys are excited to play in this game and it is time to go play and find out where we’re at,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “You don’t know it until you’re in those games and it goes back to fundamentals and understanding how you take care of the ball and tackling and those types of things. Our veteran players have to play veteran. Good players have to play good. That’s how it goes in games like this.”
2. Both teams have played the disrespect card leading into the game.
Clemson dropped to No. 3 in the polls and the CFP standings despite going undefeated, a slight the defending national champions have not taken lightly.
Ohio State lost its grip on the No. 1 spot to LSU despite the Buckeyes winning the Big Ten Championship game 34-21, but Day and his players might have been more bothered by Michigan being a more popular preseason pick to win the Big Ten despite Ohio State’s recent dominance of the league.
None of that will matter after 8 o’clock Saturday night though.
“We know going in it doesn’t really matter what people think of it. What matters is what we put on the field,” Day said. “It’s the same thing now. We’re not getting into that too much. If you want respect, go beat the defending national champs who have won 28 straight games. Whatever people think, they think. At the end of the game, what matters is what they think on Saturday night.
“So we have an opportunity to go win the game. And you want respect, then you gotta go beat these guys. What better people to do it against than the defending national champs who are very, very good and they’ve been good for a long time now.”
3. A fast start could be important.
Ohio State barely trailed in its first 11 games, but the Buckeyes fell into a 7-0 hole at Michigan on No. 30 and trailed Wisconsin 14-0 early in the Big Ten Championship game a week later.
The Buckeyes recovered to win both games going away, but that task figures to be much tougher against an undefeated Clemson squad that has made a habit of delivering early knockout blows this season.
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“When you look at the last two games, the second half, our defense played lights out, but certainly, we want to always start fast,” Day said. “We’ve had great games where we’ve started fast this year. That will be important. At the same time, it is four quarters and in a game like this, you have to be willing to play four quarters. You’re not just going to won’t blow a team out in the first quarter, first half in a game like this. It’s going to go four quarters. You get it into the fourth quarter and you go from there. But a fast start certainly helps.”
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4. Clemson blew out Ohio State 31-0 the last time these teams played in 2016, but Day said that would have no impact on preparations for Saturday night.
“I’m not ready for this team to be done more than anything,” he said Thursday. “I love this team. I love these kids. I love this coaching staff, what they’ve done together as a group, but just personally what they’ve done for me in my first time as a head coach. They’ll always have a place in my heart. Like we said, we’re not ready for this thing to be over. We’re fighting for that, too. We want to continue to play after this and keep this team together.”
5. Both teams are stocked with highly recruited prospects who expect to be seen playing on Sundays in the near future, but unheralded players have a tendency to do memorable things in games like this.
Could Robert “BB” Landers be a candidate?
In a group of four- and five-star studs, the 6-2, 285-pounder from Wayne High School still managed to catch the eye of Clemson’s coach.
“Their DL is special,” Dabo Swinney said Thursday. “They look like our guys last year, and not just that they have some superstar-type guys, but they have depth. They’ve got a lot of guys. Listen, they take that number 2 out, 11 comes in, he’s pretty good. There’s not a lot of drop-off. That guy is really good, twitchy. And same thing in their nose tackle when they bring 67 (Landers) in there.”
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Landers is hoping to have one more game in Scarlet and Gray beyond Saturday night.
“I feel like we need to play a good game all the way across the board just because this is gonna be one of those games where it’s not so much talent level, it’s going to come down to who executes their game plan the best and more often,” Landers said. “To me because there are gonna be times in the game where they’re going to make mistakes. We’re gonna make mistakes. Games like this when talent is equated it’s all going to come down to execution. And there’s going to be adverse moments in the game and it’s going to be about who can bounce back the best, the fastest and the most efficiently.”
Ohio State vs. Clemson, 8 p.m., ESPN, 1410