Sugar Bowl notes: Tigers ready to renew Playoff rivalry with Ohio State


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Spector tallied two sacks in last year's matchup with Ohio State.
Spector tallied two sacks in last year's matchup with Ohio State.

The No. 2-ranked Clemson Tigers (10-1) are a little over a week away from a Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal with the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes (6-0) on Jan. 1 (8:45 p.m. ET/ESPN).

It is a second-straight Playoff featuring the two college football powers vying for a National Championship spot. Last season, Clemson rallied from down 16-0 to a 29-23 win over Ryan Day’s Buckeyes in the Fiesta Bowl.

Clemson’s Tigers met with the media on Wednesday for the first time since the pairing was announced to talk the matchup and more:

LB Baylon Spector

* Spector says there is a sense of urgency that is unmatched when James Skalski is on the field. He loves to play the game. He brings it every week. It was fun to see him back. Spector and Skalski help each other out on the field. There is a passion for the game from Skalski that you just don’t see that often.

* Spector agreed that the 34-10 win over Notre Dame was the best defensive performance this season. Says they were prepared and excited and it showed.

* Freshman DB Malcolm Greene is a “special talent.” Spector says he is not afraid and flies around out there. Spector said Greene was picking up things in preseason that you don’t typically understand early as a freshman.

* Spector says the season had a bunch of different challenges. He says the team handled time off well to refresh themselves mentally and physically this season and they’ve gotten used to the situation with fans in the stands and they’re thankful to be playing.

* Spector says he was excited to see Ohio State as the opponent and it's exciting just to be in the Playoff again.

* He says Ohio State has a great offensive line, run the ball really well, Justin Fields is a very unique player and you have to contain him as a runner, very talented receiver corps -- they’ve been on this stage too and know what it’s like.

* Spector says you could say that the Clemson defense is better this year than last year playing Ohio State. Depth is a key for the group.

* Spector says Nolan Turner is like Skalski for the DBs. Brings another coach element out there. That will be a lot to replace in the first half. They’re going to miss him but guys will step up like they have all year. Spector agreed with a suggestion that the targeting rule should be revised.

* Spector called Ohio State RB Trey Sermon “a great talent” and the O-line helps him there. They will prepare the same as always for the top players from an opponent.

C Cade Stewart

* Stewart said running effectively as they did against Notre Dame felt great. Was something special to see the group execute like they did. He says they were challenged by the coaches and they took it personal to do better against the Irish in round two.

* He says it’s been different having a higher snap count per game but they’ve adapted as the season has gone on.

* Ohio State is a physical group that’s not trying to trick you, Stewart says. They play sound and good football. Stewart feels like they will have a good plan for the Buckeyes.

* Stewart says Trevor Lawrence and Dabo Swinney work well together because they’re great leaders. They both love football. They’re able to handle the national spotlight and microscope and that ability is a testimony to the character within the program.

* He says you have to honor Lawrence’s running ability. “He may be 6-6 but the dude can fly.” He says he wouldn’t want to be a defensive coordinator handling Lawrence and Travis Etienne in the backfield.

* Stewart says Swinney trusts the team with decisions around Christmas and travel plans. He says they will do what they can to stay healthy because they want to play football.

* He says he isn’t 100 percent sure on his plans for playing next season or not. He is a senior but could return due to the waiver this season for all of college football.

DT Bryan Bresee

* Bresee says he’s improved the most with knowledge and that’s slowed the game down for him.

* Bresee says there’s a time-crunch in this prep for the Sugar Bowl. They have to do some extra things on their own in prep for the game to get the work in. They started practice back on Tuesday. They will get a break for Christmas and he said his family is coming to Clemson so he can see them.

* Bresee says all of the testing has made them aware of being more cautious during a pandemic. They are aware of having to mitigate risks and be conscious who they are around.

* He said being named ACC defensive rookie of the year was “super-exciting.” He said he didn’t set it as a goal for the preseason. It was a surprise to him.

* Bresee says Ohio State is a great team, but as long as they put the work in, they will be alright. Ohio State’s O-line is veteran and it will be a good matchup.

* He says Skalski is like another coach on the field. Skalski can fill in for any mistakes he sees on the field at times.

WR EJ Williams

* He says his social media was filled with mentions after the one-handed catch and had plenty of comparisons to Justyn Ross and Odell Beckham Jr. catches over the seasons. He said he learned a lot from Ross coming out of the same high school.

* Williams says after the Miami game that he felt more confident in his ability and the way he could contribute to the team.

* He says Clemson’s ability to develop receivers and depth chart were reasons for signing with the school and also the environment around Clemson.

* Williams says Ohio State’s DBs are talented, strong and lengthy players. He points out Shaun Wade as a great player and one to watch in matchups.

* Williams compares himself more to Justin Jefferson (former LSU receiver) as a guy who will always get the job done. He always has high expectations for his play and he knows he has to keep putting the work in to perform on this stage.

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