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Under-the-Radar Plays Spelled Fiesta Defeat for Ohio State

Forgotten plays have major significance in Buckeyes' Playoff exit

The post-game focus from Ohio State's 29-23 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal understandably fell on a touchdown overturned by replay, a game-winning drive, a game-ending interception and a series of other headline plays that led the two-minute highlight recap.

But in every game of that magnitude, awash in NFL talent on both sides, there are a collection of weighty plays made and not made that either did or could have factored just as heavily in the result;

Here are 19 under-the-radar plays (listed chronologically) that might have dramatically changed either the outcome or the margin of a game that will live prominently in college football history:

Higgins injured

On Clemson's fourth offensive play, OSU defensive end Chase Young jumps off-side so early he stops. Teammate Zach Harrison jumps off-side, too, from the other defensive end position.

Quarterback Trevor Lawrence, sensing a free play, throws deep to a well-covered Tee Higgins. Higgins, who caught 13 TD passes during the season, goes up for a ball that, even if he catches it, won't count because he is out of bounds.

OSU safety Jordan Fuller comes across and swipes at the pass, inadvertently 

He goes to the sideline and does not return the remainder of the first half, just two plays after he caught a 21-yard pass.

Without Higgins, Lawrence's favorite target, Clemson's passing offense never gets going in the first half.

Borland's dropped interception

Lawrence throws toward the right hash on second-and-7 at the OSU 32 on Clemson's first series. Linebacker Tuf Borland has the ball in his hands, with gaping open field ahead of him.

Borland likely lacks the speed to take the ball all the way to the opposite end zone, but given the position of players on the field at the time, if he catches the ball in stride he likely returns it to the 25-yard line or beyond.

Instead, he drops the ball and OSU is denied a major field-shifting turnover.

K'Von Wallace dropped Pick-6

Ohio State owns a 10-0 lead and regains possession at its 9-yard line. The Buckeyes convert a third-and-14 with a great run after catch by K.J. HIll, but on second-and-9 at the 21, quarterback Justin Fields makes a major mistake.

He looks for Hill again along the left hash and safety K'Von Wallace has the pattern in his sights. He breaks on the ball as Fields throws and it hits Wallace at the belt.

He is streaking toward the end zone and would score easily, but Wallace drops the ball, then drops to his knees, knowing he wasted a chance to offer a transformative blow.

Tanner Muse's touchdown-saving tackle

OSU tailback J.K. Dobbins has already scored on a 68-yard run and now he's in the open field again on the final play of the first quarter.

Dobbins cuts from outside right tackle back to the middle of the field and has a five-yard lead on every Clemson pursuer. Wallace looks to have the best chance at stopping him, but his dive from Dobbins' right comes up short.

It looks like Wallace will impede the only other teammate with a chance, safety Tanner Muse, from making a tackle attempt. But Wallace lands just short of Muse's running path and Muse makes a desperation dive from the 15-yard line.

He swings his arm at Dobbins' ankles and just clips the back of his foot, causing Dobbins to fall at the 8-yard line.

OSU settles for a field goal when Dobbins can't secure a second-down swing pass in the end zone after a look via replay.

The Buckeyes lead, 13-0, but Muse's hustle play saves the Tigers four points.

K.J. Hill touchdown drop

Ohio State is threatening to build its 13-0 lead on first-and-10 from the Clemson 23. Fields has just scrambled for 21 yards and the Buckeyes go quickly, before the Tigers can set their defense.

K.J. Hill sprints down the hash and is open in the end zone. Fields throws a tad late, but right on target.

Cornerback A.J. Kendrick comes off his receiver on the sideline and makes  desperation dive toward Hill. Kendrick arrives a blink before the ball and gets his right hand on Hill's shoulder, but that doesn't preclude Hill from making the catch.

Instead, the ball has already struck him in his helmet and ricochets incomplete, perhaps caught in the lights as Hill looked back for it.

Austin Mack false start

On the same possession, Ohio State has first-and-10 at the Clemson 11. The Tigers haven't stopped the Buckeyes yet, but a false start on Austin Mack puts OSU behind the chains.

It can't get the requisite yardage to continue the drive, or score, on the next three plays, and settles for a third field goal.

Austin Mack, 8 inches too far

Fields does what frequently happens when a teammate makes a mistake...he goes right back to the offending player. So, on the snap after Mack's penalty, Fields looks for him on the back line of the end zone.

Mack makes the catch over linebacker James Skalski, but comes down and touches his left foot to the turf perhaps eight inches into the white, out-of-bounds area.

By the slimmest of margins, the Buckeyes have been denied a 20-0 lead and instead settle for a 16-0 margin.

Fuller, Friday can't corral Etienne

Clemson gets a second life from Shaun Wade's targeting penalty to sustain a late first-half drive. Now the Tigers face third-and-2 from the 8-yard line, desperately needing a touchdown.

Lawrence takes the snap and heads toward his right tackle, reading the defense to determine if he'll run or pitch to Travis Etienne.

OSU's Robert Landers crashes into the backfield and forces the Clemson QB to pitch the ball before he prefers. Etienne heads toward the right sideline, but safety Jordan Fuller has him tracked, and defensive end Tyler Friday is sprinting over in support. Cornerback Jeffrey Okudah is struggling to get off a block at the 2-yard line, but it looks as if that won't matter.

As Etienne crosses the right hash, he sees that Fuller will beat him to the first-down spot along the right sideline and extends his left arm to stiff-arm Fuller. Fuller extends his arm and the two touch hands at the 10-yard line, as if they are high-fiving.

Etienne cuts back to avoid the tackle. Many players have slipped on the turf to this point, but Etienne doesn't. He cuts inside Fuller and avoids linebacker Malik Harrison and Friday, coming from his left.

It looks like Etienne might run into his own player, center Sean Pollard, but he avoids him, too, and powers between Okudah and linebacker Pete Werner to get in the end zone.

Clemson is on the board with its first touchdown when it appeared seconds earlier Etienne wouldn't even get the two yards he needed for a first down.

OSU's first three-and-out, Dobbins injured

The Buckeyes appear in good shape to run out the half when they gain nine yards on second down following Etienne's touchdown.

Receiver Garrett Wilson is near the sideline when he goes down, but the officials deem him in bounds and keep the clock running. If they had stopped it, maybe OSU takes more time with its third-down play.

Instead, the Buckeyes hurry to the line and snap the ball with 23 seconds on the play clock at 2:11. Dobbins weaves toward the right side, where he's found freedom for 68- and 64-yard runs so far.

This time, though, Clemson is blitzing Skalski from the gap between center Josh Myers and right guard Wyatt Davis. Myers is concerned about defensive tackle Tyler Davis, who is lined up over him.

At the snap, Myers tries to chip Tyler Davis and then turn quickly to his right to block Skalski. The divided duty allows the Clemson defensive tackle to get up-field and Myers isn't quick enough to stop Skalski, who also gets a push up-field and blocks Dobbins' preferred path.

Dobbins cuts back, but Tyler Davis has him by the left ankle and Skalski closes and finishes the tackle. The play loses two yards and forces OSU to punt, but even worse, Dobbins ankle is injured on the play and he will gain only 32 yards on nine carries after that.

He had 144 on nine carries before the injury.

Ohio State takes only 50 seconds off the clock on the possession and allowed Clemson to use only one of its two remaining timeouts. The Buckeyes punt and things are about to get worse.

Lawrence converts third-and-10

Clemson, despite scoring only one touchdown so far, is confident it can get points again. The Tigers go no where on first- or second-down, but facing third-and-10 and perhaps the risk of OSU scoring in the 1:35 that remains, Lawrence is undeterred.

He drops back and, with the Buckeyes' linebackers having rushed in close at the snap, finds Justin Ross on a relatively-easy completion for 16 yards over the middle.

The first down keeps the chains moving, and lightning is about to strike.

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Browning comes close, but not close enough

Two plays after hitting Ross for the first down, Lawrence catches the Buckeyes by surprise with a quarterback draw.

The play doesn't work if Clemson All-American guard John Simpson doesn't take advantage of defensive tackle Robert Landers rush and turn him and move him to the left, out of Lawrence's path.

As Lawrence runs into the secondary, safety Josh Proctor runs forward and can't make the tackle, either because he slips or because Lawrence jukes him and cuts outside toward the left sideline.

Fuller is closing from that side, but the 6-6, 220-pound Clemson QB shows uncommon agility and jump-cuts outside him.

Now the Buckeyes' best chance is linebacker Baron Browning, who is closing from the right side.

Browning isn't going to get there, but it is the critical moment where his pursuit and Lawrence's path are as close to intersecting as they will be before Lawrence is in the end zone.

If Browning dives at the OSU 40, he might get Lawrence to the ground at about the 35-yard line.

But Browning tries to get closer and Lawrence re-routes slightly to the outside, which delays Browning's closure of the distance between them. By the time he dives inside the 5, it's too late.

Lawrence scores and Clemson is within 16-14.

Slow down, Cameron Brown

It's midway through the third quarter and Clemson is punting from its 15-yard line on fourth-and-six. It's unlikely Dabo Swinney will risk a fake here, but while the Clemson coach plays it conservatively, OSU takes a big risk.

The Buckeyes, despite the relative assurance of getting the ball near midfield, rush for an attempted block.

Chris Olave is inside Cameron Brown on the far right side of the Buckeyes' rush. Olave has a history of blocking punts, so when he sprints inside, Clemson's outside blocker goes for Olave and leaves Brown untouched.

Olave can't quite get to punter Will Spiers, diving at the proper time to, if he doesn't deflect the football, avoid Spiers.

Brown, though, runs one or two steps too far at full speed and can't pull off when he sees he won't get there in time. Brown may be worried about running into Olave, but he's not worried enough about running into Spiers.

The contact is excessive enough to be deemed a personal foul, which hands Clemson a first down and a second chance.

If Ohio State hasn't learned by now the peril of doing that, the Tigers are about to ingrain the lesson again.

Browning reaches for Etienne

Clemson gains 17 yards on a rush by its backup tailback on the first play after Browns' penalty, but now Etienne is back in the game. He shifts from the slot into the backfield, then circles back to where he was, outside left tackle, at the snap.

Harrison sees him and sprints from his linebacker spot to cut off the screen pass, but Simpson makes slight contact and moves Harrison ever so slightly off his preferred pursuit path.

Etienne has just enough room to make the catch and speed up field.

Browning is closing fast from the right as Etienne crosses the OSU 45. Browning reaches for him, and briefly puts his hand on the back of Etienne's jersey.

Unlike earlier, on the Lawrence TD run, Browning is definitely close enough to dive and make contact from behind, but he keeps running instead. Maybe Etienne breaks that tackle, but his speed is such that he runs away from Browning and splits the Buckeyes remaining pursuit for a touchdown that puts Clemson in front, 21-16, and completes a 99-yard scoring drive.

Kendrick drops a Pick-6

Ohio State is behind for the first time all night and sets up at its 25.

Fields drops and rolls slightly to his left, then comes back across the field with a throw for Mack along the right sideline.

Cornerback Derion Kendrick has it measured and steps in front. The ball hits him in the mid-section and he drops it as Mack slips and falls.

Mack made slight contact and may have bothered the play slightly, but it's an interception Kendrick should have made for not just a turnover, but a touchdown return that would have increased Clemson's lead to 28-16.

Chase Young almost gets home

It's the play everyone talks about, but not for the reason they might have been talking about it had Chase Young been a tick faster.

Before Lawrence released his pass to Justyn Ross on third-and-19 from the Clemson 20, the one replay ruled incomplete after Okudah knocked it free and Fuller scooped it up and returned it for a touchdown, Young is rushing hard off the right edge.

He is closing in on Lawrence and stretches for the ball as the Clemson quarterback reaches back to throw.

Young has knocked the ball free on similar plays multiple times this season. If he gets home here, the ball is on the ground and OSU either recovers or there is no what-if about the ensuing replay overturn.

Instead, what happened, happened, and will be debated forever.

Fields keeps the chains moving

Early in the fourth quarter, Ohio State is driving to erase Clemson's 21-16 lead and takes a blow when Olave releases early on third-and-four. That puts the Buckeyes in a long-yardage predicament at a time when they have failed to convert six straight third-down plays.

This time, Fields looks off Muse to the middle of the field and finds Dobbins free for a first-down pass of 11 yards that extends a drive which will reclaim the lead on Fields' 23-yard pass to Olave.

Ryan Day bypasses two-point try

Maybe the emotion of scoring on that pass on a fourth-and-two play distracated Day. He said afterward he just felt it was too soon in the game to chase points.

But after Olave's TD, going for two points really bore no risk. If unsuccessful, the Buckeyes would have still led, 22-21. If successful, a 24-21 lead would have gotten OSU to overtime if Clemson scored a field goal in the time that remained.

It was, indeed, early. Maybe Day felt a TD and point-after would have built only an eight-point margin if he went for two and failed, leaving Clemson room to tie with a touchdown and two-pointer.

But had he gone for two and led, 24-21, does it change how Day eventually played the fourth-and-four with just over three minutes left?

Does he go for it in that situation, already up three, going for the knockout?

We'll never know.

Simmons dives just in time

After a three-and-out for Clemson, Ohio State is driving, in possession of a 23-21 lead and trying to ice the game.

The Buckeyes have moved from their 11-yard line to the Clemson 45 and taken three minutes off the clock, when Dobbins gets the ball for OSU's best play all night.

He runs right and finds daylight, weaving outside.  Simmons is running toward the line from a safety position when the Butkus Award winner veers to his left and dives for Dobbins' ankles.

If Simmons comes up empty, Dobbins has clear space from the hash to the sideline with room to operate. Only Muse is there, and his angle won't allow him to get to Dobbins for at least 15 yards or more.

But Simmons does get to Dobbins' ankles from behind and causes him to fall for a six-yard gain.

The Buckeyes face fourth-and-four from the Clemson 39 three plays later and punt, setting up the Tigers for their four-play, 94-yard, game-winning drive.

Kendrick's lucky bounce

Drue Chrisman's punt falls inside the 10, with receiver Amari Rodgers backing away to avoid touching the football. But Kendrick, who is down field as a blocker, doesn't see the ball bounce toward him.

It hits him and is now free for anyone to recover, but the ball stops and Kendrick gets on it to maintain possession.

Two minutes and 11 seconds later, the Tigers are in the end zone with the points they need to win the game.

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