For the first time since the 2018 “Chase Brice Game” against Syracuse, Clemson fans actually had reason to think they were going to lose. Instead, the Tigers completed a 16-point comeback and hung on in the waning moments when Nolan Turner intercepted Justin Fields to seal the victory.
Meanwhile, the other semifinal was a blowout with not much drama after the first quarter. Joe Burrow was fantastic and looks unstoppable. LSU’s defense looks a lot less porous than it did early in the year. They are early 5-point favorites vs. Clemson in New Orleans.
Below are some of the big takeaways I got from watching the two games on Saturday. Let us know what you think in the comments section below.
JK Dobbins is a superstar. Both myself and fellow STS writer Tom Dianora said JK Dobbins running the ball effectively offered Ohio State the clearest path to a victory over Clemson. After the first drive when Justin Fields was flinging it all over the field and moving the offense down the field, we looked dead wrong... and Clemson looked dead in the water. We weren’t really scared of Fields. It was Dobbins that our analysis highlighted as the real force to be reckoned with. Eventually, it shifted and our analysis proved to be spot on.
JK Dobbins ran for 174 yards on 18 carries (9.7 YPC) with a TD and had 6 catches for 47 yards. He did most of the damage while playing on a rolled ankle and was the one making most of the plays on the final drive that brought them into the red zone with a chance to win. Fields threw the game-ending INT as soon as they went away from him.
It is amazing that both major concerns we had coming in - JK Dobbins establishing a strong run game and the Buckeyes pass rush significantly disrupting Clemson’s offense - came to fruition and yet the Tigers still found a way to win. Eye of the Tiger, Heart of a champion!
Travis Etienne was not to be outdone though. The Buckeyes dominant defensive line didn’t leave much in terms of running lanes. Etienne only had 36 yards on 10 carries, but he came up with several huge plays that kept Clemson in the game. His effort on the option play below to stiff arm and fight his way into the end zone shouldn’t be overlooked. Clemson’s ability to get into the end zone rather than settle for field goals was the difference in the game.
CLEMSON ON THE BOARD!— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 29, 2019
Travis Etienne would not be denied pic.twitter.com/qeqGiLeOJf
With the traditional RB game mostly bottled up, Etienne did much of his damage as a receiver, hauling in 3 receptions for 98 yards.
Trevor Lawrence is tough as nails. Ohio State’s pass rush lived up to the hype. It’s the best we’ve seen since 2017 Alabama and it may be even better than that. Jackson Carman did well to neutralize Chase Young, but he was hardly their only threat. OSU had 3 sacks and 5 TFLs, but it seemed Lawrence was getting knocked down on every play. Much like Tajh Boyd in the 2012 Peach Bowl win over LSU, he just kept getting up and making plays.
The worst hit came in the second quarter with a brutal sack with forceable helmet-to-helmet contact. It looked like a possible concussion, though it fortunately wasn’t (it was a stinger). He stayed down for a bit and then the obvious targeting call came. I’m genuinely surprised to see Ohio State fans and writers so bent out of shape about the call. In my view, it is a textbook targeting. It’s a dangerous hit that has no business in modern football.
Thank God Lawrence is ok. I really thought his night was going to be over at that point. He is incredibly tough though. After sitting a play, he came back and was a man-on-fire, leading the Tigers to 21-straight points and out of a 16-0 hole.
Ryan Day is a brilliant playcaller. When we were all expecting a classic Big 10 ground-and-pound, he came out with a tempo aerial attack. Brent Venables’ defense was totally on their heels for a quarter and a half. Fortunately, Clemson came up with big plays in the red zone to keep it close (and Dobbins dropped a screen pass that might have gone for a TD as well as a diving catch in the end zone). Ryan Day and staff had an excellent game plan and could have run away with the game if not for a couple failures to execute. Ohio State appears to be in good hands and will be one of the five or so programs (along with Clemson, LSU, OU, Alabama, and UGA) in the mix for playoff spots and national titles for years to come.
Chase Young was overhyped. Jeffrey Okudah was not. Young was disruptive to be sure, but he didn’t stand out beyond other great DEs Clemson has faced over the years. Zach Allen from Boston College last year and the bookends from the 2012 LSU Peach Bowl matchup (Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo) stood out more.
Jeffrey Okudah may have been the best CB I’ve seen Clemson face. Of course, CB is tough to evaluate because a QB can just avoid throwing there if the receiver is totally blanketed. Nevertheless, Okudah was excellent. There were several times where Lawrence simply had nowhere to go with the ball because all his 5-star receivers were totally covered up. The Tigers elite WR corps lost quite a few battles. No Clemson WR had over 50 yards. Etienne led the way with 98 receiving yards. Okudah nearly swung the game for the Buckeyes when he slapped the ball out of Ross’s hands while tackling him. In real time, it looked like a good pass broken up, but they called it a live ball and fumble and Ohio State returned it for a TD.
It was a vexing call, but upon replay it appeared he took a few steps and wasn’t bobbling it so it didn’t seem likely they’d overturn the call. Surprisingly, they did. I didn’t think it was the right call on the field, however I didn’t see evidence to overturn it. I’m thankful they did.
Joe Burrow is the only QB playing at the same level as Trevor Lawrence. Superior QB play has been Clemson’s trump card in big games. We can’t expect it in the National Championship. That’s not because Lawrence isn’t great, it’s just that Burrow is nearly perfect. He had 493 passing yards and 7 passing TDs along with a rushing TD. Sure, OU’s defense is mediocre, but it’s not 8 touchdown mediocre. That would be impressive against Charlotte, let alone a playoff team. Justin Fields and Jalen Hurts are great, but Burrow and Lawrence are in another tier.
LSU’s Defense is pretty good now. They had their early season struggles, most notably in a shootout against Texas and a letdown game (post-Alabama) against Ole Miss, but they’ve been locked in lately. They held Heisman runner-up, Jalen Hurts to 15-31 passing with no TDs and an INT. Their defense isn’t as good as Ohio States (thank goodness), but it is solid and their passing game is far more explosive.