Clemson bullied Ohio State from start to finish on Saturday night, building a 17-0 halftime lead then doing much of the same in the second half. By the time the clock showed all zeroes, the No. 2 Tigers ended the No. 3 Buckeyes’ season with a 31-0 victory in the Fiesta Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., the second of two College Football Playoffs played Saturday.
Earlier in the day, No. 1 Alabama beat No. 4 Washington 24-7 in the Peach Bowl, the other semifinal.
Ohio State (11-2) came into the game averaging 42.7 points and 479.5 yards per game but Clemson (13-1) out-gained the Buckeyes 470-215 as it improved to 3-0 all-time against them. Ohio State managed just nine first downs in the game, the first game win which an Urban Meyer-coached team was shut out.
With the win, the Tigers earn a rematch with the Crimson Tide (14-0) in the CFP National Championship Game in Tampa, Fla., on Jan. 9. Alabama beat Clemson in the title game last season, 45-40.
On Saturday, Clemson QB Deshaun Watson accounted for 316 yards of offense and 3 total touchdowns as he clearly outplayed Ohio State counterpart J.T. Barrett. Watson threw for 259 yards and one score, and added 57 yards and two more scores on 15 carries.
The margin of defeat was the largest for Ohio State since a 35-3 loss at home against Southern California on Sept. 13, 2008. It was the first time Ohio State was shut out in any game since losing 28-0 at Michigan on Nov. 20, 1993.
Five things we learned
1. Clemson wasn’t afraid to question Barrett’s passing abilities before the game and the Tigers backed up their talk by holding Barrett to 127 yards on 19-of-33 passing, with no scores and a pair of interceptions. Nine of those completions went to RB Curtis Samuel, who managed just 43 yards. Many of his “catches” were on jet sweeps that are considered passes because he takes a forward pitch from the quarterback. Barrett’s longest completion was for 21 yards to freshman Binjimen Victor in the first half. It was a disappointing showing by Barrett, who was injured and missed Ohio State’s national-championship run in 2014. Clemson took away the Ohio State running game, as well, allowing just 88 yards on the 23 carries. The Tigers forced Barrett to beat them, and he couldn’t.
2. The Ohio State defense did all it could to keep the Buckeyes in the game but simply got no help from the offense. The Buckeyes intercepted Watson twice, sacked him twice more and had 7 tackles for loss in the game. Clemson had just two drives produce more than 42 yards, both of which came in the first half. Junior LB Raekwon McMillan finished with 15 tackles in what could be his final college game, depending on whether he declares for the NFL draft.
3. K Tyler Durbin had a chance to at least give the Buckeyes a little life in the first half but he missed a pair of 47-yard field goals. Durbin made 16 of his first 17 attempts this season, with the only miss coming on a blocked attempt at Penn State. But he ended the season missing four of his final five attempts.
4. Freshman LG Michael Jordan left the game in the first quarter with a medial sprain of his right ankle and didn’t return until the third quarter. Jordan started all 13 games this season and became the first true freshman to start a season opener as an offensive lineman since Orlando Pace in 1994.
5. Ohio State is losing a top assistant coach for the third straight year. Defensive coordinator Luke Fickell coached his final game with the Buckeyes as he now takes over as head coach at Cincinnati. Fickell spent 15 seasons as an Ohio State assistant, one as a graduate assistant and five years as a player. He becomes the 15th former Urban Meyer assistant to become a Division I/FBS head coach.
As badly as Ohio State was being outplayed early, it wasn’t until Watson and C.J. Fuller connected on a 30-yard touchdown pass with 2 minutes, 21 seconds left in the first half that Clemson really put a stranglehold on the game. The Buckeyes defense had produced a pair of interceptions in the first half but Fuller’s score put the Tigers ahead, 17-0. That was the largest deficit for Ohio State since trailing Michigan State by the same score in the 2013 Big Ten championship game.
Could Barrett’s arm get the Buckeyes into their second national championship game appearance in three seasons? No, it couldn’t.
How does a loss of this magnitude affect a core group that is so young? There is all kinds of talent coming back but, as Michigan State showed after it lost 38-0 to Alabama in last season’s semifinal, these kinds of losses can linger.
The Buckeyes never trailed by more than 10 points this season before the Fiesta Bowl. They rallied from 10-0 and 16-6 deficits to beat Wisconsin in overtime on Oct. 15, and then then overcame a 17-7 deficit against Michigan on Nov. 26 before winning in double overtime.
What it means
There will be plenty of Penn State folks asking — again — how it was the Big Ten champions were left out of the College Football Playoff? Yes, the Nittany Lions had two losses but they have won nine in a row, including a 24-21 victory against Ohio State on Oct. 22. Penn State can continue to question the committee if it beats Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.