Back Stage Set for Clemson, Ohio State

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Stage Set for Clemson, Ohio State

By Carlos Pineda
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With each program getting its start in the 1890s, it might be surprising to note that the Tigers and Buckeyes have only played four times, all in bowl games.

They’re not considered rivals, but that sentiment could change if these familiar foes continue to play under these circumstances.

Friday’s highly-anticipated Sugar Bowl rematch is set to add a new chapter to this budding, unique series.

It marks the third time second-ranked Clemson faces No. 3 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff Semifinal.

Having combined for 11 national titles and 1,698 wins, both programs have a proud history of pageantry and tradition.

It's "Script Ohio" vs "Howard’s Rock".

With each program getting its start in the 1890s, it might be surprising to note that the Tigers and Buckeyes have only played four times, all in bowl games.

Clemson is 4-0 against Ohio State which includes a win in last season’s Fiesta Bowl that saw them overcome a 16-0 deficit to win 29-23.

Despite having met four times, there’s plenty of history and bad blood between these two squads.

The first meeting in the 1978 Gator Bowl will be remembered for an incident involving legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, who punched a Clemson player after a play late in the fourth quarter. Hayes was fired the next morning.

Urban Meyer went 0-2 against Clemson and suffered his only shutout loss (31-0) in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.

Ryan Day’s lone loss as coach of the Bucks too came at the hands of Dabo Swinney and Clemson in a game that incensed the second-year coach. Ohio State had a defensive fumble returned for a touchdown overturned and had a player ejected for targeting after tackling Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.

Both controversial plays drastically changed momentum in the game.

At stake Friday is a trip to Miami Gardens for the 2021 National Championship game.

Clemson is seeking to return to the title game for the fifth time in the seven-year history of the playoff, and attempting to win its third national title in five seasons.

The Tigers had their dreams of winning back-to-back championships dashed by LSU.

In 2020, Clemson went 10-1 and capped off the season with a 34-10 trashing of Notre Dame in the ACC title game, avenging their only loss of the regular season.

They are led by Heisman Trophy finalist Lawrence, who makes his fifth career playoff start. He is 34-1 as a starter with his only defeat coming against LSU.

He needs 302 passing yards to become the third Tiger player to throw for 10,000 career passing yards. He leads a high-octane offense ranked in the top 10 in scoring (44.9), passing (343.8) and total offense (507.6). His favorite target is Amari Rodgers who is second in the ACC with 966 receiving yards.

The ACC’s all-time rushing yardage leader Travis Etienne, needs 80 more rushing yards to be one of only two players in FBS history with 5,000 career rushing yards and 1,000 career receiving yards.

Unfortunately, the team will be without offensive coordinator Tony Elliott, who tested positive for Covid-19, Swinney announced Wednesday. 

On defense, the Tigers must stop talented Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields. He threw for 320 yards against Clemson last year and leads a Buckeyes offense that ranks eight in scoring (42.5), fifth in rushing (275.7) and sixth in total offense (529.2). Clemson's defense continues to rank among the top in college football. Led by defensive coordinator Brent Venables, they are ranked second nationally in both tackles for loss (103.0) and sacks

The Buckeyes made the playoff for the fourth time despite receiving criticism for only playing six games this season. Ohio State (6-0) is looking to win its first playoff game since 2014. As the fourth-seeded team, the Buckeyes upset No. 1 Alabama and knocked off No. 2 Oregon to win the first playoff-era title in 2014.

One critic was Swinney, who made headlines after ranking Ohio State 11th in his final Coaches Poll ballot.

"There's no question Ohio State is good enough to beat us, to beat any of these four [playoff teams] and be the national champion," Swinney said. "That's not a question at all. I didn't rank anybody who didn't play nine games or more in the top 10. That's why they were 11. I have all the respect in the world for Ohio State."

Friday night will showcase two of the best teams in college football going head-to-head eyeing a spot in the national title game.

Carlos Pineda - Carlos Pineda is a featured writer for Southern Pigskin. He covered the UCF Knights football team for Florida Today in 2010. Carlos' work has been published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Miami Herald, Orlando Sentinel and Orlando Business Journal. He attended the University of Central Florida. Follow Carlos on Twitter @CarlosFPineda.