The missed red zone opportunities. The controversial targeting call. The fumble call that was overturned. The interception in the end zone on the final offensive drive. And, most importantly, the outcome.
Ohio State sat on all those painful memories for 370 days and turned them into redemption as the Buckeyes convincingly defeated Clemson 49-28 in the College Football Playoff Semifinal, the first win over the Tigers in program history.
Sights now turn to Alabama in a rematch of the 2015 CFP Semifinal. It will be the Buckeyes’ first shot at a national championship since that storied 2015 run when Ohio State steamrolled through the Crimson Tide followed by Oregon.
The first quarter passed in a frenzy as both offenses were clicking on all cylinders for two touchdowns apiece. Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers gashed the Buckeyes’ pass defense for 134 yards in the period while Ohio State used chunk plays, particularly from Trey Sermon and Garrett Wilson, to fuel its own scoring drives.
Justin Fields proved early that his injured thumb wasn’t a concern, completing his first six attempts for a total of 116 yards before his first miss on a deep ball to Chris Olave. The Buckeyes’ passing attack also involved the tight ends as Fields connected with Luke Farrell once and Jeremy Ruckert twice for touchdowns in the first half.
Ohio State owned the second quarter as the defense started to settle in after a rough start, forcing three consecutive 3-and-outs and holding the Tigers to just 34 total yards in the period.
Flipping the script from last year’s semifinal, Fields took a crushing blow in the second quarter which sent Clemson’s James Skalski to the sidelines for the rest of the game after a booth review confirmed targeting. Funnily enough, Shaun Wade’s targeting call happened at approximately the same timestamp and swung the momentum over to the Tigers. This year’s call planted the momentum firmly in the Buckeyes’ possession as Fields returned after sitting out one play and found Olave in the end zone to put the Buckeyes up 28-14.
The balanced Ohio State offense saw Sermon building on his record-setting B1G Championship performance, reaching the 100-yard rushing mark before halftime. He shined as the feature back in Master Teague III’s absence and also caused Clemson headaches in the passing game.
Coming out of the locker room with a 35-14 lead thanks to four picture-perfect trips to the red zone (yet another turnaround from last year), the Buckeyes continued to move the ball with ease and appeared ready to increase their lead when Fields misfired in the end zone for his sixth interception of the year. Clemson then marched down the field for its first score since late in the first quarter - marking the first time all season that Ohio State had given up points following a turnover.
Ohio State’s defense forced its own second-half turnover - a fumble recovery that was reviewed and not overturned (unlike last year) - but was not able to turn the takeaway into points.
Fields then turned to the deep ball with 45-plus yard scores to Olave and to Jameson Williams as the Buckeyes continued to impose their will all over the Tigers. There wasn’t much that Clemson could do in the final quarter to surmount the Ohio State lead, especially when Lawrence threw a pick in the end zone on what would be the Tigers’ final offensive drive with the game well out-of-hand.
Finally, tears of pain shed one year ago have turned into tears of joy.
Much more coverage to come from New Orleans .....
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