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Key players to watch in Clemson vs. Ohio State

Future first-round quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Justin Fields headline the Sugar Bowl semifinal between Clemson and Ohio State.

ACC Championship - Clemson v Notre Dame Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In the second of the College Football Playoff semifinals, the Clemson Tigers will face off against the Ohio State Buckeyes. The Tigers enter the game favored by 7.5 points, a sizable figure but far less than the massive spread for the Rose Bowl semifinal between the Alabama Crimson Tide and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

Clemson Tigers

Offense

Any discussion of Clemson’s offense has to start with quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The Heisman Finalist and presumptive No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Lawrence has garnered comparisons as grandiose as Andrew Luck and John Elway. The talented signal-caller shares the backfield with Travis Etienne, a touchdown machine who led the Tigers with 15 touchdowns from scrimmage in 2020.

Defense

Senior linebacker Baylon Specter has emerged as the leader of defense while posting career highs in tackles (61) and tackles for loss (9.5). Though only a freshman, Myles Murphy established himself as the best player on the defensive line. He ranks second on the team in tackles for loss (nine) and first in sacks and forced fumbles (four and three, respectively).

Ohio State Buckeyes

Offense

While Lawrence understandably garners most of the acclaim for his quarterbacking prowess, Justin Fields has demonstrated a comparably high peak level of performance during his two years as Ohio State’s starting signal-caller. Field proved exception again this season, setting a career mark in completion percentage (72.6) despite playing with an offensive line and receiving corps in flux due to the pandemic. Running back Trey Sermon, a transfer from Oklahoma, filled in admirably for the departing J.K. Dobbins this season. Sermon averaged over 8 yards per carry while leading the Buckeyes with 709 scrimmage yards.

Defense

After Chase Young left for the NFL during the offseason, cornerback Shaun Wade grew into Ohio State’s most impactful defender. Wade led the team with two interceptions this year, including a pick-six against Indiana. For his efforts, he earned All-American honors as well as the Big Ten’s Woodson-Tatum award for Defensive Back of the Year.