SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Malik Hooker wouldn’t be distracted. He kept his eye on the ball.
A day after Clemson safety Jadar Johnson stirred a little controversy with some comments about Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett, Hooker had nothing but good things to say about Clemson QB Deshaun Watson.
He said Heisman Trophy runner-up Watson was “probably” the best quarterback Ohio State has faced this season during Fiesta Bowl interviews on Wednesday.
“He’s capable of throwing the ball 65 yards with ease and he’s capable of running the ball as well. So I don’t think we’ve seen too many quarterbacks this year that have the fundamentals and techniques he has,” Hooker said.
Johnson said Clemson had “definitely” faced quarterbacks better than Barrett.
“I’m not taking anything away from J.T. Barrett. He’s definitely a good quarterback. I’m not that strong on his arm. Not saying that he can’t throw the ball because he definitely can. But he’s a run-first quarterback. I feel if we can limit his run we’ll be good.”
Even when it was pointed out Watson has thrown 15 interceptions this season and Ohio State defends the pass well, Hooker downplayed it.
Ohio State has 19 interceptions and Hooker, a safety, has led the way with six of them, three of which he took to the end zone.
“We haven’t really paid attention to how many turnovers he’s had this year because we know he’s still a Heisman candidate quarterback and one of the better players in college football,” Hooker said. “So really that doesn’t mean too many things because at any given moment he can go out and make a play.”
BRINGING THE FIRE: OSU coach Urban Meyer is 9-2 in bowl games, including going three for three in national championship games.
Meyer’s only losses were 40-35 in the Orange Bowl three years ago and 41-35 to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl in Lloyd Carr’s final season as Michigan’s coach in 2007.
OSU linebacker Chris Worley used three forces of nature to describe his coach during bowl season on Wednesday.
“Coach Meyer, he’s a fiery guy. And once it gets closer and closer to game time, his message goes from a little storm to an earthquake,” Worley said.
OSU co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano, a former head coach in college and the NFL, says Meyer has developed a plan. And with success comes belief.
“He certainly has a strong set of beliefs on how to approach the postseason,” Schiano said. “It’s very similar to the way that I had done it as a head coach. So it’s very comfortable for me. There’s no guesswork involved.
“You get to the point in your career where you’ve done it; it’s been successful. And I think everybody in the organization gains confidence from that knowing that the leader knows exactly what he wants to do in these next 26, 30 days, whatever it is,” he said.
LONG BEARD, LONG TIME: Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware has been growing a beard since the Tigers lost to Alabama in last year’s national championship game on January 11.
Boulware said, “I had the mustache but I shaved it the day after the national championship. I had a clean slate. It’s been growing every since.”
WATSON LIKED OSU: Watson said Ohio State was his second choice when he was being recruited as a high school quarterback in Gainesville, Ga.
“I grew up an Urban Meyer fan. I loved the way he coached, loved the way he did things. I was a big Tim Tebow fan. Growing up, Florida was the school I was going to go to,” Watson said.
“Then he left Florida and became the coach at Ohio State and he came down to visit. But I was already committed to Clemson and I was going to stay true to my word. It was nothing against Ohio State. They were my second choice if I hadn’t gone to Clemson,” he said.
Reach Jim Naveau at The Lima News at 567-242-0414 or on Twitter at @Lima_Naveau.