In a College Football Playoff Semifinal matchup that will feature plenty of NFL-ready players, speed, athleticism, and playmakers on both sides of the ball, the difference in who wins the game between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Clemson Tigers could potentially come down a single matchup. Heading into the game, there are plenty of matchups to look forward to on all sides of the ball, but Ohio State’s secondary against Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams and their ability to contain the wideout could prove to be the difference maker.
Williams has by far been Tigers quarterback Deshaun Watson’s favorite receiver all season. In 13 games so far, the senior has totaled 84 catches for 1,171 yards and 10 touchdowns. Of those yards, 316 are after contact. Clemson’s next best receivers, Jordan Leggett (38 catches, 637 yards, seven touchdowns) and Deon Cain (32 catches, 621 yards, nine touchdowns), have combined for fewer catches but more yards than Williams. For what it’s worth, Artavis Scott is second on the team with 71 receptions, but has just 592 yards and five touchdowns. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, Williams has arguably the most NFL-ready body among wide receivers in college football.
So, who will be in charge of trying to shut down Williams in Ohio State’s secondary? That will most likely be either Gareon Conley or Marshon Lattimore, who have by far been the Buckeyes two best cornerbacks all season. During the regular season, Conley racked up 20 tackles, eight pass-breakups, and three interceptions, while having a QB rating against of just 19.8 (second-best in the country), according to Pro Football Focus. He has allowed just one touchdown this season, which came against Penn State, in Ohio State’s lone loss of the regular season. Meanwhile, Lattimore has 38 tackles, nine pass-breakups, four interceptions, and one pick-six, while quarterbacks have a 29.0 rating when throwing the ball his way (fourth in the country). Lattimore is reportedly the better NFL Draft talent, but Conley has arguably been better so far this season.
At 6-foot-3, Williams has a height advantage over anyone in the scarlet and gray’s secondary. Conley and Lattimore are both 6-feet tall, while speedster Denzel Ward, who could potentially be on Williams duty at times, is 5-foot-10. Due to the fact that Williams is a physical wide receiver with speed and size, the height of the Buckeyes’ secondary could prove to be a difference maker at times. Then again, Lattimore, Conley, and Ward’s athleticism, among others, could potentially make the height difference a non-factor.
Not only does Williams has the height advantage, but he uses his 225-pound frame to his advantage as well. He’s physical and uses his weight, height, and strength to not only get open, but also when the ball is in the air, to give himself the best chance to catch the pass. According to cfbfilmroom.com, of his 123 targets, just 31 are contested, and of those 31 contested targets, he has caught 14.
One of the most dangerous deep ball threats in the country, Watson loves throwing the ball to Williams deep downfield, especially when the opposing defense is in man coverage. Well, the Buckeyes love playing man coverage because of how good their secondary is, so they will be tested a lot Saturday night. The senior’s targets (and receptions) are almost all outside the hashes, as you can see in the Watson-Williams “spray chart” below:
Even if one of Ohio State’s cornerbacks get beat by Williams, the Buckeyes will also have safety Malik Hooker helping out as well, who has arguably been the best safety in the country all season.
For what it’s worth, the Buckeyes held Oklahoma wide receiver and Heisman candidate Dede Westbrook to just five catches for 51 yards in Week 3 against the Sooners. Williams may not have been a Heisman candidate, but he will by far be the best receiver Ohio State has gone up against all season.
With a premier matchup against Williams on New Year’s Eve looming, all eyes will be on this game. Lattimore, Conley, and Williams, who will all most likely be in the 2017 NFL Draft, can prove why they are one of the best in college football at their respective positions. In short, you can say that a lot of money could positively be on the line in the matchup between Williams and Ohio State’s secondary.