Fiesta Bowl Preview: Ohio State gears up for Notre Dame

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Fiesta Bowl Preview: Ohio State gears up for Notre Dame

Two schools that came oh-so-close to making the playoffs square off in what should be one of the best bowls of the season. In fact, the Buckeyes may have a better case to be in the Rose Bowl than Iowa.

[ MORE: Full bowl schedule | Polls: Pick bowl winners | Best of the Bowls | Ranking the bowls | Big Ten bowl bags | Bowl storylines | Get all of our bowl coverage ]

Regardless, this is a good destination for the Scarlet and Gray, and it will be a good measuring stick playing a very talented ND squad. And this game will feature a clash between two of the game’s top coaches in Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer. Lots to enjoy.

Player on the spot
: RB Ezekiel Elliott. While the fuss about the quarterbacks in Columbus drew national headlines, Elliott is the story about the Buckeye attack. If he isn’t rolling, this offense trudges. Go back and watch the loss to Michigan State. The junior arguably is the nation’s top back (sorry, Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey), and Elliott may be stoked to go out with a bang in what will be his final collegiate game in a fascinating clash with Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl. The Irish front seven is pretty salty. Keep an eye on ND defense lineman Sheldon Day, who is a force who will be keyed in on dropping Elliott. The return of NG Jarron Jones from injury also will help the Irish try to contain Elliott.

Best individual matchup: There will be a lot of good ones. But let’s go with Ohio State OT Taylor Decker vs. Notre Dame LB Jaylon Smith. Decker was the lone unanimous All-American for the Buckeyes. Smith won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker. These are two future pros who should matchup on occasion. Decker is a mauler who has size and underrated athletic ability. Smith is a freak whose combination of athletic ability and strength is unmatched. The guy is special.

Best unit matchup: Ohio State secondary vs. Notre Dame wideouts. The Irish can stretch defenses with Will Fuller, one of the best targets in the nation. He has a nice chemistry with Irish QB DeShone Kizer, who has done well filling in for injured Malik Zaire. This is a good Ohio State defense. Corners Gareon Conley and Eli Apple will be tested. No doubt, coverage will be helped by a good pass rush. That is where end Joey Bosa comes into play. He will need a big game in what may be his last effort in a Buckeye uni. OSU will be without star tackle Adolphus Washington, who has been suspended following an off-field incident. ND needs to hit some passes down field to open room for the ground and keep the Buckeye defense off balance.

Key number: 241.9. That’s Ohio State’s average rushing yards, which ranks No. 1 in the Big Ten. Notre Dame is No. 65 in the nation in rush defense (166.5 ypg). If the Buckeyes are able to get Ezekiel Elliott established, the Irish may be doomed. With the running game humming, OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett should be able to take some successful shots down field to weapons like Jalin Marshall, Michael Thomas and Braxton Miller.

***

Email Tom Dienhart using the form below.

And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

Advertisement