I can never get tired of saying this: “Welcome back to the College Football Playoff Tiger fans.” Dabo Swinney has always said that his goal is to build a program that will compete for a national championship every year, and he has certainly done that. In tonight’s semifinal, the Tigers faced Ohio State once again, with the Tigers holding a 4-0 lead in the series going back to the 1978 Gator Bowl where legendary Buckeyes coach Woody Hayes coached his last game. He was fired after punching Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman at the end of the game. Clemson has proved to be nothing but frustration for Ohio State, and Tiger fans would be quite happy to continue that tradition.
Ohio State won the toss and deferred. Travis Etienne returned the kickoff to the 18. Amari Rodgers took a jet sweep out to the 26. Etienne picked up the 1st down on a pass to the 37. He then took a swing pass to the Buckeye 37. Lyn-J Dixon picked up 5 yards on a pitch as the Tigers continued to attack the edge. Trevor Lawrence was hit as he threw on 2nd down and on 3rd down he launched a beautiful pass to Cornell Powell to the OSU 5. Etienne pushed it to the 2 and then Lawrence won the race to the pylon for the score. With 12:10 left in the 1st quarter, Clemson led 7-0. The Buckeyes had a nice gain on 2nd down to set up 3rd & 2. The Tiger defense stuffed the run by OSU QB Justin Fields. The punt went into the end zone and the Tigers took over at the 20.
Etienne was stopped up the middle after a 2-yard gain and Lawrence missed a short throw to Powell. On 3rd down, TE Davis Allen got open up the middle but Lawrence couldn’t make the connection. After the punt, and an OSU block in the back penalty, the Buckeyes took over at their 23. The Buckeyes started throwing and moved the ball into Tiger territory. Going fast and catching the Tigers out of position, OSU punched it in from 32 yards out. At the 7:59 mark, the score was tied 7-7.
Starting from the 25, Lawrence hit Braden Galloway out to the 40 and then connected with Amari Rodgers to the Buckeye 44. A couple of plays later, Etienne got loose on a screen play for 16 yards. Frank Ladson hauled in a 9-yard pass and then Dixon had a nice run to the 3. Etienne bulled his way up the middle to put the Tigers back on top 14-7 with 5:01 left in the 1st quarter. The Buckeyes took over at the 25 after the touchback. A couple of plays with nice runs were followed by a 47-yard completion to the Tiger 8. A 2-yard loss and a false start put OSU at the 15. On 2nd & goal, Fields scrambled to the 8. On 3rd down, Derion Kendrick very nearly knocked down the pass, but the Buckeye TE was able to make the catch for the score. With 1:36 left in the 1st quarter, the score was tied again, 14-14.
After the kickoff went out of bounds, the Tigers started at the 35. Etienne was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on 1st down and Lawrence picked up 2 on a designed run. Powell had to fall backwards to make the 3rd down catch and he didn’t pick up the 1st down at the end of the quarter. Starting at the 16 after the punt, OSU moved out near midfield with a balance of runs and passes. Continuing to move down the field, the OSU exploited Clemson’s common defensive weakness against tight ends and scored again on a 17-yard pass. With 10:35, the Buckeyes went up 21-14. The Tiger defense was all out of sorts at this point.
Etienne took the kickoff out to the Tiger 31. Lawrence went deep to E.J. Williams but the pass fell incomplete. Rodgers picked up 6 on 2nd down and on 3rd down, Lawrence threw a poor pass to Etienne and the Tigers had to punt. OSU picked up where they left off, catching the Tiger defense off guard waiting for Brent Venables to call in defensive plays. They moved into Tiger territory and the Tigers forced a 3rd & long. Fields took off running but James Skalski put a hard hit on Fields, and he was called for targeting. Review upheld the call and the Tigers lost their defensive quarterback. With Jake Venables out, Kane Patterson would have to fill Skalski’s spot. A couple of plays later, Fields found a receiver in the end zone. With 5:12 left in the half, OSU led 28-14.
Lawrence ran for 11 yards on 1st down but the Tigers weren’t able to get another 1st down and punted. Benefitting from poor Clemson tackling, OSU moved into the red zone on, you guessed it, the TE getting loose in the Tiger secondary. The Buckeyes then scored on another throw to the TE with 11 seconds left in the half. The score was 35-14. Clemson then ran the clock out. Thins were looking pretty dire for the Tigers, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
The Buckeyes started at the 25 after the 2nd half kickoff and picked up where they left off, gashing the middle of the Tiger defense. Leaving an OSU
wide open down the middle, the Tigers gave OSU a free pass to the red zone. Fortunately Miles Murphy got a hand on a Fields pass and Mike Jones made an interception in the end zone. Lawrence started the drive with a 1st down completion to Williams. Rodgers then took a short pass out to the 43. Brannon Spector caught a pass over the middle to midfield. Etienne picked up 8 up the middle and Lawrence almost picked up the 1st down on a designed run. Etienne moved the chains with a run to the OSU 39. Lawrence found Powell wide open on the right sideline down to the 10. On 1st down, Lawrence couldn’t connect with Williams but he found Powell at the 6 and then Powell made his way to the pylon for the score. At the 7:56 point of the 3rd quarter, OSU led 35-21.
The Tiger defense came out swinging and got some good stops. But the Buckeye running game started picking up. Then Fields found a receiver open down the middle of the field for a 56-yard score. With 4:55 left in the 3rd quarter, OSU led 42-21. Lawrence scrambled right and found Allen for 11 yards and on the next play he hit Allen again down the down to move the ball to the OSU 40. Lawrence was then sacked and fumbled. The Buckeyes recovered.
The Tiger defense held up pretty well, getting a 3rd down sack. Taking over at the 13, the Tigers couldn’t make a 1st down though, and the writing was on the wall. On the next possession, on OSU receiver again got behind the Tiger secondary and scored. It was beginning to feel like the 2012 Orange Bowl.
The Tigers moved down the field as OSU softened their coverage a bit. A few plays in, Powell make a nice catch and run to score. With 10:42 left, OSU led 49-28. The Buckeyes couldn’t do much with their possession and Clemson got the ball at the OSU 46. But, they couldn’t do anything and turned the ball over on downs. After a couple of possessions, it looked like the Tigers were going to score on a 4th down play, but in a play that encapsulated the night for Clemson, the ball was knocked out of Rodgers’ hands and intercepted. The Buckeyes were then able to run out the clock.
With all the talk about whether OSU belonged in the playoff, the Buckeyes played pretty well. They were clearly motivated and prepared. I’m sure there will be many debates about the perceived advantage (in terms of things like injuries) of playing half as many games as your opponent, and the absence of Tony Elliot as the play caller, but it’s all moot. OSU came out and whipped Clemson. Period.
This was a weird season unlike any other. Hopefully we can get back to a normal football season next year. Let’s hear your thoughts on Clemson’s season, and expectations for next year in the comments section below. As always, we’ll have reviews of tonight’s game in the coming days. Thanks for stopping by!