3 Ohio State Match Ups For The Buckeyes’ Defense In The Fiesta Bowl

Jan 9, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; General view of the college football playoff trophy during media day at Phoenix Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports
Jan 9, 2016; Phoenix, AZ, USA; General view of the college football playoff trophy during media day at Phoenix Convention Center. Mandatory Credit: Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports /

Ohio State has their chance to redeem themselves against Clemson in another bowl game. However, to accomplish their goal, the Buckeyes must succeed in their key match ups.

The Ohio State Buckeyes’ defense will have its hands full with Heisman finalist Deshaun Watson and the Clemson Tigers. There are star players at each level of the Tigers’ offense where the Silver Bullets need to play at the top of their game. Three of those match ups will impact the 2016 College Football Playoff Semi-Finals:

1. Gareon Conley vs Mike Williams

Considered the best cover corner on the Buckeyes roster, Conley is also the only corner on the roster with almost enough size to compete with Williams. Williams is a unique player, standing 6’3 and weighing 225 pounds with athleticism to boot. He has a knack for going up and around defenders for big plays and has been the most reliable target for Watson all year.

Conley has been up and down. However, with the safety tandem behind him, especially Malik Hooker, Conley can take risks and be aggressive against Williams.

He will need to watch him tightly, as Conley’s mental lapses have at times cost the Buckeye defense big plays. If Conley can keep Williams under control, that will allow Hooker to be more opportunistic in the backfield.

2. Raekwon McMillan vs Wayne Gallman

Somehow Gallman’s 15 touchdowns have gone under the radar. He ran for over 1,000 yards behind a very talented offensive line by averaging just over five yards per carry on 196 rushes.

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While Ohio State relied on a three pronged rushing game with Mike Weber, Curtis Samuel, and J.T. Barrett, Gallman was the absolute lead back for the Tigers. Watson carried the ball 129 times, but the next leading rusher had only 45 carries. For reference, Gallman’s 196 carries are only two more than Barrett’s total.

Clemson will need Gallman to provide balance for the Tigers’ offense. That’s why McMillan is so important.

He is a tackling machine and as important as he will be to cover Jordan Leggett, his focus will be on preventing big plays on the ground from the like of Gallman. McMillan must control the box and quarterback the defense to keep Gallman out of the end zone for the 16th time.

3. Sam Hubbard vs Mitch Hyatt

Hyatt is an All ACC left tackle that helped keep Watson upright for most of the year. As just a 19 year old sophomore, Hyatt has started his entire career at Clemson. If McMillan is successful keeping the running game in check as stated above, Hyatt will have to be at the top of his game to let Watson attack through the air without getting harassed.

To counter, Sam Hubbard needs to pressure Watson and win one on one battles with Hyatt. Hubbard only totaled three sacks on the year, but he can cause havoc on the edge and is a strong compliment opposite of Tyquan Lewis.

While more of a speed than technique rusher, Hubbard has the athletic ability to get around Hyatt forcing Watson off of his spots. The Michigan game proved that the Buckeyes’ pass rush can not just keep the Buckeyes in games, but can win them.

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The pressure applied to Wilton Speight directly caused both of his interceptions and led to Hooker’s third pick six of the season. For Hubbard, it is key that he provide some heat to Watson’s blind side to create the same opportunities for the Buckeyes’ defense.