Ohio State: 4 reasons Trey Sermon will run effectively on Clemson's defense
Looks familiar, doesn’t it?
Last season, Ohio State outplayed Clemson in one of the most exciting games of the college football season.
The Buckeyes didn’t win, but I think they were the better team. This season, Clemson looks like the better squad, and while the better team doesn’t always win (see: last year’s matchup), I think there’s one thing Ohio State has do to hang with the Tigers in their CFP semifinal rematch on Friday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).
They have to run the ball.
And while I think we’ll see Justin Fields run the ball a bit more that we saw over the course of the season, it looks like the main running weapon will be Trey Sermon. Coming off of his record-setting performance in the B1G title game, he will be the focus of the Clemson defense.
“I think if you’re Clemson, you first have to understand how are we gonna deal with this rushing game,” ESPN analyst Booger McFarland said last week. “We know (Clemson defensive coordinator) Brent Venables wants to blitz, wants to bring a lot of pressure. But if you’re Ohio State and Justin Fields — the thumb might not be healthy — you’re gonna turn around and run the football. And how are they gonna handle that?”
Clemson agrees — Clemson linebacker Baylon Spector said as much to the media this week.
“They have a great offensive line, they have great skill obviously,” Spector said. “They bring a ton to the table. They run the ball really well. They’re a great team.”
Sermon and Master Teague III have combined to do the bulk of the work as Ohio State has earned a No. 5 national ranking with 275.7 rushing yards per game.
I think Sermon can have another good rushing game against Clemson — and here’s why:
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1. Sermon has gotten better each week.
Again, I will point out that Sermon has played just 6 games as a Buckeye, which would only put him in the middle of a normal season.
The senior transfer from Oklahoma’s program seems to be hitting his stride at the right time. He entered the B1G Championship Game with 55 carries for 351 yards (a 6.4 average) and 1 touchdown through the first 5 games of the season. Each game was better than the last, and he capped it off with a 112-yard rushing performance against Michigan State (on only 10 carries).
Then came the breakout against Northwestern, and suddenly, Sermon has become the focus of the Tigers defense.
He even got a favorable comparison from Reese’s Senior Bowl executive director and former NFL scout Jim Nagy, who compared Sermon to Las Vegas Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, the 2019 NFL Draft’s No. 24 overall pick.
“Josh Jacobs was a backup in college and is a stud in the NFL,” Nagy tweeted on Dec. 19. “Trey Sermon has been a backup in college and he WILL be a stud in the NFL. Evaluate the player, not the depth chart. (A) huge part of scouting is evaluating the circumstance of each player.”
Now, does this mean I think Sermon will rush for 350 yards against Clemson? Of course not. But I think he could do well — and there are a few others reasons for that belief.
Josh Jacobs was a backup in college and is a stud in the NFL.
Trey Sermon has been a backup in college and he WILL be a stud in the NFL.
Evaluate the player, not the depth chart.
Huge part of scouting is evaluating the circumstance of each player.
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) December 19, 2020
2. His offensive line is healthy — and rolling.
This offensive line is probably a little better than last year’s, but then again, Clemson’s defensive line is also better.
Still, this line — with tackles Thayer Munford on the left side and Nicholas Petit-Frere on the right, plus big-time NFL prospects in right guard Wyatt Davis and center Josh Myers — is elite. Sophomore left guard Harry Miller has had some struggles, but now that everyone is healthy, the linemen seem to be clicking. Their performance against Northwestern will go down in history, as they destroyed the Wildcats’ line in the second half.
Phil Steele feels the same way, and said as much on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland.
“(Trey Sermon’s) not going to get 331 yards against Clemson,” Steele said. “But I do think Ohio State will be able to run the football. I don’t see him getting 331, but topping 100? Certainly. I think Trey Sermon is beginning to round into form, as is the offensive line. I think the offensive line had one of its better performances opening up holes for the run game last week.”
Another interesting side note: Clemson’s linebackers aren’t as good as last season with All-American Isaiah Simmons gone. It makes me think that if Ohio State’s runners (be it Sermon, Teague or Fields) can get to the second level, they may be able to run for big plays.
3. Ohio State has run on Clemson before.
In last year’s 29-23 win, Clemson allowed 196 rushing yards — but 174 of those came from J.K. Dobbins, who is now making a name for himself running on Sundays for the Baltimore Ravens. Can Sermon do his best Dobbins impression?
I think so. It’s really the most important factor in how Ohio State can beat Clemson in the Sugar Bowl matchup in New Orleans.
Last year, Ryan Day came out throwing the ball. It surprised the Tigers a bit and staked the Buckeyes to a 16-0 lead.
Watch and see if Day does something completely different this time around. In order for Ohio State to win, the Buckeyes have to control the clock, keep the ball out of Trevor Lawrence’s hands and run the ball effectively to set up their passing game. Think the 1991 Super Bowl, when the New York Giants defeated the high-powered Buffalo Bills offense (or, if you’re younger, think the 2002 Super Bowl when the New England Patriots upset the St. Louis Rams in the exact same way).
Regardless, Sermon plays the role of Dobbins here if the Buckeyes are to have a shot at winning.
4. Then there’s the motivation factor.
I don’t want to blow this out of proportion, but how odd would it be if the player who makes the biggest difference in this rematch is someone who wasn’t even there for the game last season? That seems very 2020, don’t you think?
But this game will be played in 2021, so maybe we need to throw all the weird and ironic scenarios out the window. Still, Dabo Swinney has provided more than enough ammunition in the past few weeks for any of the new Ohio State faces like Sermon to get motivated.
The Buckeyes badly want to beat these Tigers, and if they do, it will be the first time an Ohio State team has done so in five tries. That’s enough motivation right there.
So will it work? Who knows?
But I’m certain Sermon will have a chance to make a difference.