Battered Justin Fields Leads Ohio State Over Clemson to Advance to National Title Game

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In the days leading up to the Sugar Bowl, much was made about Clemson coach Dabo Swinney ranking Ohio State No. 11 in his final Coaches Poll ballot.

It appears the Buckeyes were paying attention.

Quarterback Justin Fields threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns as No. 3 Ohio State defeated No. 2 Clemson, 49-28, in Friday night's Sugar Bowl. The Buckeyes will advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game to face No. 1 Alabama on Monday, Jan. 11.

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The two sides each put up 14 points in a back-and-forth first quarter before Ohio State took control in the second. The Buckeyes scored touchdowns on all three of their possessions in the quarter, with each drive ending on a Fields touchdown pass.

A key moment came with just over six minutes left in the first half when Fields was hit hard in the back by Clemson linebacker James Skalski. Skalski was ejected for targeting, as Fields lay on the ground in pain. He left the game but returned one play later to throw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave.

Fields added another touchdown pass on a 12-yard strike to tight end Jeremy Ruckert with 11 seconds left before halftime to extend the lead to 35-14. It was Ruckert's second touchdown of the half after having just nine catches all season coming into the game.

The 21-point margin was Clemson's largest halftime deficit since the 2012 Orange Bowl, when the Tigers trailed West Virginia, 49-20. West Virginia went on to win, 70-33.

Clemson cut the Buckeyes' lead to 35-21 midway through the third quarter when Trevor Lawrence found Cornell Powell on a 10-yard touchdown pass. But Ohio State responded on its ensuing 91-yard scoring drive, capped by a 56-yard bomb from Fields to Olave.

Fields' fifth touchdown pass of the night set a new Sugar Bowl record, as well as an Ohio State school record for the most touchdown passes in any bowl game.

Clemson fumbled on its next drive, then went three-and-out on its subsequent possession to allow Ohio State to deliver the knockout blow. Fields connected on another deep throw, this time a 45-yard touchdown to Jameson Williams for his career-best sixth touchdown pass.

Fields ended the night going 22-for-28 with 385 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Running back Trey Sermon had 193 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries.

As Ohio State could not stop scoring, its defense rose to the occasion against a vaunted Clemson offense. After the first quarter, the Ohio State defense held Clemson scoreless on five of its next six possessions (excluding the Tigers' end-of-half kneel down). The Buckeyes' defensive front pressured Lawrence all night—particularly in the second half—and limited star running back Travis Etienne to just 32 yards on 10 carries.

The loss likely caps a remarkable college career for Lawrence, who went 34-2 during his career as Clemson's starter. Both losses took place in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, with the first being last year's defeat to LSU in the national title game. Lawrence is widely expected to be taken with the No. 1 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

Lawrence finished the game completing 33 of 48 pass attempts for 400 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.

The win sets up Ohio State to face Alabama for the national championship, as the Crimson Tide attempt to go wire-to-wire as the No. 1 team in the country. The last meeting between the two teams was the 2015 Sugar Bowl in the first season under the current playoff format. Then-No. 4 Ohio State upset No. 1 Alabama, 42-35, behind third-string quarterback Cardale Jones.

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