Whether it was motivation from last year's Fiesta Bowl, Dabo Swinney's Coaches Poll ranking or any other "bulletin-board material," Ohio State owned Clemson on Friday in the College Football Playoff's Sugar Bowl semifinal in a way the Tigers haven't seen very often the last six years.
The No. 3 Buckeyes exquisitely executed on both sides of the ball and dominated the No. 2 Tigers in a 49-28 victory at the New Orleans Superdome. Ohio State advances to face No. 1 Alabama in the CFP national championship game in Miami on Jan. 11.
Swinney opined the last few weeks that the Buckeyes didn't deserve a spot in the playoff because they only played six games in 2020, but OSU quarterback Justin Fields and his offensive weapons looked refreshed and on the same page as they racked up 639 total yards, the third most Clemson's allowed in school history.
For the Tigers (10-2), it was another poor showing in a building they've not lost in three times since 2017. The last time in New Orleans, a loss in the national title game to LSU, was similar to Friday, and now the careers of Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne end without another shot at a ring.
Clemson got off to a fast start with a 7-0 lead, but after the Tigers went up 14-7, Ohio State (7-0) ran off 28 unanswered points and led 35-14 at the half. Fields threw for 385 yards and six touchdowns while running back Trey Sermon destroyed Clemson's defense with 193 rushing yards and one touchdown on 31 carries.
The Tigers lost veteran linebacker James Skalski to a targeting penalty in the first half and struggled mightily covering Ohio State's receivers and tight ends. Offensively, Clemson, which had 444 yards, closed to within two touchdowns in the third quarter after Lawrence, who was 33-of-48 passing for 400 yards, found Cornell Powell for on a 10-yard TD pass, but the Tigers would get no closer.
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Key play: Right after that Powell score that cut OSU's lead to 14, Fields, in pain from Skalski's big first-half hit, threw an absolute dart on a 56-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave that was just out of the reach of Derion Kendrick. It put the Buckeyes back up by 21.
Player of the game: With leading receiver Amari Rodgers relatively neutralized by an OSU secondary that had struggled all season, Powell took advantage with 139 yards and two touchdowns on eight catches in his final game as a Tiger.
Freshman impact: Defensive lineman Bryan Bresee was one of the few bright spots for that side of the ball. The freshman had X tackles and a third-down sack in the second half.
Coach's decision: Twice in the first half Clemson had fourth-and-3 at its own 43-yard line, and neither time did Swinney opt to go for it. On the second occasion, the Tigers were down 14 points and the deficit turned into 21 right before halftime.
Stat of the game: Ohio State averaged 8.9 yards per play, the most ever allowed in the Swinney era.
Up next: The season ended in a CFP semifinal for just the second time in six years for the Tigers, and the long offseason begins. Clemson will open the 2021 season against Georgia in Charlotte on Sept. 4.