Scott Keepfer, The Greenville News
FORT LAUDERDALE, FL - When handicapping tonight's Orange Bowl matchup between Ohio State and Clemson, perhaps former Clemson coach Danny Ford put it most succinctly.
"What Ohio State does well, Clemson has a tough time with, and what Clemson does well, Ohio State has a tough time with," Ford said.
The result could be a high-scoring affair.
"This game has 45-42 written all over it," said Kirk Herbstreit, an analyst and color commentator for ESPN.
Indeed, with two of the nation's premier quarterbacks pulling the trigger, a shootout could be in the offing. Ohio State's Braxton Miller is a dual threat who has accounted for nearly 3,000 yards and 32 touchdowns while Clemson's Tajh Boyd has passed for 3,473 yards and 29 touchdowns this season.
The majority of the evidence points toward an offensive outburst, but don't mention the term "shootout" within earshot of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
"You take offense to that," Venables said. "We know we have a great challenge on Friday night, but we're not playing it on defense like, 'Let's just get one more stop than them.' "
Herbstreit expects the winning team to be the one whose quarterback has the best night.
Miller makes the Buckeyes go. He keyed the nation's third-best rushing offense by accumulating 1,033 yards by gashing defenses for big gains with his 4.4 speed.
Miller, a junior, proved the perfect complement for burly back Carlos Hyde, who rambled for 1,408 yards.
"I don't know whether he's a quarterback playing running back or a running back playing quarterback," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said of Miller.
Boyd, meanwhile, could take advantage of an Ohio State defense that's missing its top pass rusher and its top cover cornerback. Boyd also has an arsenal of athletic wide receivers at his disposal, including All-American Sammy Watkins.
"A mobile quarterback will be a handful for Clemson to deal with," Herbstreit said. "And obviously that Ohio State secondary and pass defense have been the Buckeyes' Achilles heel.
"I'd be shocked if Tajh Boyd doesn't have one of his better games throwing the ball. I just don't see the defenses playing well at all in this game."
Ohio State maintained BCS championship aspirations until a 34-24 loss to Michigan State in the Big Ten title game that snapped a two-year, 24-game winning streak, so the Buckeyes' Orange Bowl focus has been in question.
But coach Urban Meyer dispelled those notions Thursday.
"I don't believe it'll be a problem," said Meyer, whose team is ranked No. 6 in the USA TODAY Sports coaches poll. "If it was against an opponent that maybe didn't have the flash and talent that Clemson has, it might be. But this is big-time football."
Clemson, whose title hopes were dashed in a midseason loss to national championship finalist Florida State and a regular-season ending loss to South Carolina, enters the game 10-2 and ranked No. 11 in the coaches poll.
Swinney has taken a big-picture view of the Orange Bowl, reminding his players of the accomplishments that could be theirs with a win - namely, a first-ever BCS victory and consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in school history.
"This is still a great experience for our guys," Swinney said. "Things don't always go according to plan, but you grow and learn from everything."
A victory also would help Clemson purge the lingering memory of a 70-33 defeat against West Virginia in their last Orange Bowl appearance two years ago.
"We were the worst team in America (after that game)," Swinney said. "But we're 21-4 since that game and those four losses have been to Top 10 teams. Our team has more than responded since then.
"When we were here last time we had 42 freshmen or redshirt freshmen - a lot of puppies in the trenches. Those guys have grown up. We're a much more veteran group. Obviously this time we want a different result."