By Tim Reynolds
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.: Ohio State’s Urban Meyer has never had any issue acclimating to the biggest stages in college football. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is sounding like someone who’s getting comfortable under the brightest lights as well.
Meyer has coached in four previous BCS games. He’s never lost.
Swinney has taken his team to the BCS one other time, and lost by 37 points.
Of course, come tonight, none of that will matter. The seventh-ranked Buckeyes (12-1) and the 12th-ranked Tigers (10-2) will square off in the Orange Bowl, where Meyer will aim to keep his BCS record perfect and Swinney will try to have his team, as he put it, “continue to climb the mountain.”
“When you have an opportunity to come to a BCS ballgame and lose it, you want to get back and have another opportunity,” Swinney said Thursday. “There’s only six teams, I think, in the country that have been in two BCS bowls the last three years, and we’re one of them. So it’s a great opportunity for us to have a chance to win one.”
Meyer would say the same thing. His team had visions of playing in Pasadena, Calif., for the BCS national championship Monday, but the loss in the Big Ten title game — the first under Meyer in 25 games since he took over in Columbus — knocked the Buckeyes out of the title picture.
So instead, Ohio State headed to South Florida, where Meyer will look to add the Orange Bowl to his BCS collection that already includes two title-game wins and a Sugar Bowl victory while at Florida, and a Fiesta Bowl triumph from when he coached Utah.
“It’s a chance to go compete,” Meyer said. “Whether it’s checkers or pingpong, we’re going to try to win the game. Our job every time we keep score is to win. It’s the mentality we try to create within our program. Whether it’s the Orange Bowl, whether it’s the eighth game of the season, we’re trying to win the game.”
Clemson lost the Orange Bowl two years ago to West Virginia, 70-33 — the game turning when the Tigers fumbled the ball away in the second quarter, on a play where they would have taken the lead. Instead, the floodgates opened.
The Tigers are 21-4 since.
“This team has more than responded,” Swinney said.
Here’s five things to watch in the Orange Bowl:
The QB battle
Tickets to the Orange Bowl aren’t inexpensive, but the shows that Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd and Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller can put on might make the admission price seem like a bargain. Boyd has accounted for 38 touchdowns this season; Miller has scored 32 with either his arm or his feet. It’s Boyd’s finale; it might be Miller’s as well if he elects to go pro, as some expect he will.
If there’s a weakness on a team that’s 24-1 in the past two seasons, it might be Ohio State’s pass defense. Each of the Buckeyes’ past four opponents have completed at least 60 percent of their passes, throwing for 1,363 yards in that stretch. And with that side of the ball dealing with some injury concerns for the Orange Bowl, it’s clearly to Clemson’s advantage.
Run (and) Hyde
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde has 1,408 yards in 10 games this season, and says he’d like to cap his college career by setting the Orange Bowl record for yards in a game. Hyde has averaged 7.7 yards per carry; Clemson’s defense has yielded 3.7 per attempt. Hyde is the first running back to top 1,000 yards under Meyer, and is 116 yards away from fifth on Ohio State’s all-time list.
The Buckeyes and Tigers both recruit the Sunshine State heavily. Together, the teams have 13 players from the state, including six starters. Among the notables: Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins (who might be playing his college finale), Clemson defensive back Jayron Kearse; Ohio State top tackler Ryan Shazier; Hyde, the Ohio State running back; and Ohio State defensive lineman Joey Bosa, who hails from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas program.
If the game comes down to a kick, odds are that either Clemson’s Chandler Catanzaro or Ohio State’s Drew Basil will deliver. Catanzaro has made all 56 of his extra-point tries and is 13-of-14 on field-goal attempts. Basil is 74-for-75 on extra-points and 9-for-10 on field goals.