Seven keys for Ohio State Buckeyes in Fiesta Bowl

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney speak at a Fiesta Bowl press conference on Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz. David Jablonski/Staff
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Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney speak at a Fiesta Bowl press conference on Friday, Dec. 30, 2016, at the Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Ariz. David Jablonski/Staff

Forcing turnovers from Clemson quarterback could lead to victory

Fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers learned a lot about their teams in the last month. Thousands of stories and millions of words from dozens of reporters painted a portrait of two teams trying to reach the mountaintop of college football.

On Friday, one day before the Fiesta Bowl, fans learned Ohio State’s Urban Meyer and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney have a sense of humor. They showed they can laugh and smile at the final press conference before the 7 p.m. game Saturday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale.

“The reason we practice so hard is because when your number’s called you’ve got to make that play,” Meyer said, “and it’s not because of the lucky T-shirt or good fortune. It’s because of practice. So that’s it in a nutshell.”

“You mean the game day underwear, that’s not the key ingredient?” Swinney said.

“I’m not saying I don’t wear them,” Meyer said.

“I thought it was the lucky underwear,” Swinney said. “I read that in your book, by the way.”

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Meyer wrote a book, “Above the Line,” after the Buckeyes claimed the national championship two years ago. He may need to write another if the No. 3 Buckeyes (11-1) beat No. 2 Clemson (12-1) and then either No. 1 Alabama (13-0) or No. 4 Washington (12-1) in the national championship game Jan. 9 in Tampa, Fla.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Ohio State Buckeye fans gathered in Scottsdale on Friday, Dec. 30, 2016.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Here are seven keys to the Buckeyes beating Clemson:

1. Find new stars: The Buckeyes beat Alabama and Oregon two seasons ago in the playoffs because relatively-unknown players stepped into the spotlight and thrived. Meyer continues to use the example of defensive lineman Steve Miller, whose interception return for a touchdown in the second half helped the Buckeyes rally to beat the Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl.

“Every team that wins a championship there’s going to be a handful of players that are maybe not well known that are going to become very well known,” Meyer said.

2. Get Curtis Samuel the ball: Ohio State's top playmaker was the last Buckeye to touch the ball in a game. His 15-yard touchdown run in overtime Nov. 26 against Michigan put the Buckeyes in the playoffs. It was Samuel's 15th touchdown.

“That guy can score a touchdown whenever he touches the ball,” center Pat Elflein said.

3. Force turnovers: As good as Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is, he is also prone to throwing interceptions. He has thrown 37 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

Ohio State safety Malik Hooker didn’t know much about Watson and Clemson in November. He now knows them intimately after a month of watching film.

“I know they’re a very athletic team,” Hooker said. “They played with each other for a few years. They’ve got a lot of guys that can make a lot of plays and a lot of big-time names. I feel like we have to stick to what we’re used to and go out there and play as one.”

4. Play with a purpose: Ohio State heard the same phrase all week in practice at Notre Dame Prep High School: "Practice with a purpose." Now they get to put the same intensity to use in a game that matters. They were here a year ago for the Fiesta Bowl and beat Notre Dame, but the magnitude of the playoff game changes everything.

“It’s different because you know that at the end of this tunnel there’s another one,” linebacker Raekwon McMillan said. “When they raise the white ropes Saturday after the game, either you’re in or you’re out. Either you’re going home and your season is over, or you’re going home with a chance to play in the national championship.”

5. Learn from the past: Meyer is tough to beat when he has more than one week to prepare for a game. He is 45-3 in those games. That includes season openers. He's 10-2 in bowl games. His last loss came to Clemson in the Orange Bowl in 2014.

Meyer knows what to do with the long gap between games.

“He’s been great,” Samuel said. “We have some fun times. We have some laughs, but when it’s time to lock in we lock in. He just helps us understand the moment.”

6. Run the ball: Much attention has been paid to Ohio State's struggles in the passing game, but they believe they can lean on Barrett, Samuel and Mike Weber in the running game.

“When defenses key on different guys, they open up different ways for other guys,” Weber said. “I feel like J.T. being a threat and Curtis being a threat to our offense, it opens up things for me, and I open up things for Curtis, and I open up things for J.T., and J.T. open up things for Curtis. We all work together. The three of us together is really hard to stop.”

7. Play for the fans: There's little doubt Ohio State fans will flood the stadium Saturday. They started pouring into town Thursday and celebrated at a Buckeye Bash at Westworld in Scottsdale on Friday afternoon.

“Oh, I know Buckeye Nation is going to be here,” Elflein said. “They’re going to be here supporting us. They always do. Wherever we go. California. Wisconsin. Texas. New Orleans. Wherever we go, Buckeye Nation is there full force.”

NEXT GAME

Ohio State vs. Clemson, 7 p.m., Dec. 31, ESPN, 1410