Clemson returned to the College Football Playoff for the 5th consecutive year to take on the Ohio State Buckeyes after an undefeated season that saw the Tigers drop from 1st in the initial rankings to 3rd in the final poll. A weak season for the ACC understandably led many to question the Tigers’ ability to compete with the likes of the Buckeyes or LSU. Now the time for talking and pontificating came to an end and the Tigers took to the field to defend their national championship that came with their dismantling of an Alabama team that the same naysayers proclaimed Clemson wouldn’t compete with.
Clemson won the toss and deferred. B.T. Potter put the opening kickoff into the end zone for the touchback. OSU started fast and moved into Tiger territory running quick tempo at times. The Buckeyes moved to the Tiger 5 yard line but couldn’t get into the end zone and settle for a FG. OSU led 3-0 with just over 12 minutes left in the quarter. The Tigers started at the 25 and Travis Etienne picked up 8 yards on an option pitch. Tee Higgins put the Tigers in OSU territory with a nice catch and run. Trevor Lawrence was stopped on a run and Higgins couldn’t come down with a catch but a penalty gave the Tigers 5 yards. Higgins’ helmet came off on the play and he left the game rubbing his forehead after going to the ground with a Buckeye defender on top of him. On 3rd & 2, Lawrence picked up the first down running to the OSU 35. Justyn Ross picked up 3 yards on 1st down and on 2nd down, Lawrence was nearly picked off by a linebacker he didn’t see. On 3rd down, Lawrence couldn’t connect with Diondre Overton. Potter came in to kick a 49 yard FG, but it sailed wide right.
OSU scored on their first play as J.K. Dobbins ran through the middle of the Tiger defense untouched for the 68 yard TD. At the 8:44 mark, OSU led 10-0. Etienne took the kickoff out to the 22. He was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on 1st down. On 3rd & 10, Lawrence scrambled left and hit Overton on the sideline for the 1st down at the Tiger 49. Lawrence ran for 4 yards on 1st down and Lyn-J Dixon took a swing pass for a couple of yards, setting up 3rd & 4. Lawrence was looking for Amari Rodgers on a crossing route but it was knocked down at the line. The Will Spiers punt was fair caught at the OSU 9.
On 2nd down, the Buckeyes committed a false start and moved back to the 4. A.J. Terrell had a nice tackle on a wide screen to make it 3rd & 14, but they converted it. K’Von Wallace nearly had a pick-6 and set up another 3rd and long. This time, the Tigers got to OSU QB Justin Fields and forced the punt and it rolled to the Tiger 47. A false start set the Tigers back 5 yards. Ross caught a slant to pick up 9. Etienne picked up 4 to make it 3rd & 2. The OSU defense ran by the Tiger line on a slow-developing play and got to Lawrence. The punt rolled into the end zone.
OSU started slow but Dobbins took off again for 68 yards and got down to the Tiger 8. We were starting to see what the loss of the Power Rangers meant for the Tiger defense. OSU’s line was manhandling the Clemson defensive front. On 1st down, the Tigers got pressure on Fields and Wallace was able to knock the ball away in the end zone. Dobbins picked up 3 yards to set up 3rd & goal. Fields hit Dobbins on a swing route for the apparent score but a review showed that Dobbins didn’t maintain possession when he hit the ground. OSU cam in for the short FG attempt and converted it. It was 13-0 OSU with 14:11 left in the half. The touchback on the kickoff put the Tigers at their 25. Ross got 5 yards on a crossing route on 1st down. Lawrence kept it for a couple of yards to put the Tigers at 3rd & 2. Etienne only got 1 and the Tigers had to punt. It was fair caught at the 14 after covering 52 yards.
Terrell was called for pass interference on 1st down and OSU moved out to the 21. The Tiger defense stuffed Fields on 1st down and then an OSU made a nice catch over Terrell on the sideline. On 3rd & 3, at the Tiger 47 OSU caught the Tiger defense off guard and converted on a sneak by Fields. On the next play, Nolan Turner nearly sacked Fields but missed him and he scrambled out to the Tiger 23. The Tiger defense forced 3rd & 9 but they were called for 12 men on the field as the OSU tempo caught them off guard again. The Tiger defense stiffened (and got lucky on a dropped screen pass) and forced another FG attempt. It was good and at 7:31 in the half, it was OSU 16-0. Etienne picked up 8 on 2nd down and Lawrence scrambled for the 1st down on the next play. Etienne picked up a 1st down on a rollout pass from Lawrence. Lawrence used his strength to pick up 5 yards around the right side but the 2nd down pass was incomplete. On 3rd down the Tiger line missed a blitzing DB who sacked Lawrence but he was called for targeting (and they missed an earlier one in my opinion). Lawrence had to go out for a play but came back in after Etienne was stuffed. He nearly hit Ross in the end zone, but he couldn’t hang on to it. But OSU was called for pass interference and the Tigers had 1st down at the Buckeye 16. Etienne picked up a yard and Lawrence then scrambled to set up 3rd & 2. Etienne decided he just wasn’t going to be stopped as he appeared to be stopped for a loss on a wide run but cut back on an aggressively pursuing OSU defense and got into the end zone. With 2:45 left, the score was 16-7 Buckeyes.
The Tiger defense had a great series and stopped the Buckeyes with just over 2 minutes left. Rodgers returned the punt to the Tiger 17. Two incompletions led to 3rd & 10 and Ross caught a bullet over the middle out to the 33. After another incompletion, Lawrence took off on a designed run up the middle for 67 yards for the TD. Braden Galloway made a nice downfield block on the play that enabled the score. With 1:10 left it was 16-14 Buckeyes. The Tiger defense forced another 3-and-out and OSU punted with 10 seconds left. Lawrence took a knee with 4 seconds left to go into halftime.
Higgins came back into the game and Lawrence targeted him but didn’t connect because of pass interference. Etienne had a good first down run of 7 yards and Lawrence went to Higgins again but he couldn’t hang onto it. On 3rd & 2, Lawrence went to Higgins again but he couldn’t make the catch. Spiers made a great punt and the coverage team downed it at the OSU 3. Some nice throws by Fields moved the Buckeyes out to the 31 but the Tiger defense eventually shut them down. The punt was covered at the Tiger 1 yard line.
Lawrence tried to hit Ross on a long sideline pass but it was overthrown. He then connected with Higgins for the 1st down. They connected again for 3 yards on the next play. Lawrence kept it on an option and picked up a yard. On 3rd & 6, he tried to hit Rodgers but the coverage was good. Spiers was roughed on the punt and the Tiger drive had new life breathed into it. Dixon picked up 17 yards out to the Tiger 47. Lawrence threw a swing pass to Etienne and he took it all the way. Clemson had its first lead 21-16 at 7:54 left in the 3rd quarter. Derion Kendrick nearly had a pick on 1st down, but the OSU receiver made a nice play to knock it out of his hands. The Tigers forced a 3rd down and the Tigers unleashed a blitz that got to fields. Rodgers took the punt out to the Tiger 29.
Etienne ran wide right but could only pick up a yard. On 2nd down, coverage was good and Lawrence was sacked to set up 3rd & 19. Lawrence hit Ross but lost control of the ball and it was called a catch and fumble on the field and OSU picked it up and scored. Review showed that it was an incomplete pass and Spiers came in to punt. It was fielded at the Buckeye 45. The Tigers got the Buckeyes to 3rd & 8 and Fields threw it to Isaiah Simmons on the right sideline for the pick.
Lawrence hit Joe Ngata for a 1st down and scrambled for 6 into Buckeye territory. Lawrence then hit Higgins on a bubble screen but he lost a couple of yards on good coverage by OSU. On 3rd & 6, OSU blitzed hard and got to Lawrence. Spiers punted and it was fielded at the Buckeye 16. OSU moved out to the 37 but a false start pushed them back to the 32 for 3rd & 9 as the 3rd quarter ended. Fields hit Dobbins for the 1st down. On the next play the Tigers blitzed and got to Fields. On 2nd & 15, Fields connected with a receiver for the 1st down after avoiding pressure. OSU moved down the field to the Tiger 23. On 3rd & 4, Dobbins couldn’t get the 1st down but they went for it on 4th down and scored as Nolan Turner was beaten by an OSU receiver on a post route. With 11:46 left, the Buckeyes were back on top 23-21.
Lawrence took off up the middle out to the 41. Another Lawrence run got a yard and and incomplete pass made it 3rd & 9. Ross only got 4 yards on a short pass so the Tigers had to punt. It rolled down to the Buckeye 11 yard line. Wallce was called for holding and OSU moved out to the 21. After a good Dobbins run, Fields was sacked by Wallace and it was 2nd & long. Kendrick appeared to have an interception but was called for holding. OSU moved into Tiger territory and the Tiger defense forced 3rd & 5. OSU couldn’t convert it and punted down to the Tiger 6 with 3:23 left.
Lawrence hit Ross on a slant for a 1st down to the 22. Lawrence took off running again for another 1st down. Rodgers took a pass over the middle and got into Buckeye territory. Lawrence hit Etienne over the middle and he took it in from 34 yards out. Clemson went for the 2-point conversion and Higgins caught it in the back of the end zone to make the score 29-23 with 1:49 left. The Buckeyes started at the 25 and moved down the field effectively. On a 2nd & 7, Nolan Turner intercepted Fields and the game was over. Clemson was headed back to the National Championship game.
As expected, the game was competitive with two of the most balanced teams in the country going at it. It was nerve wracking to watch for sure, but it eventually came down to the Tiger defense making a stop, and they did. What did you think of the game? Tell us in the comments section below. Check back with us over the next few days as your Tigers prepare for another run at the national championship! Thanks for stopping by.