New Orleans, LA —When the college bowl rankings came out and Ohio State knew they would play the Clemson Tigers, you knew the outcome would be different from their 29-23 loss in last year’s Playstation Fiesta Bowl.
Ohio State defeated Clemson 49-28 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, setting up a national championship game between two undefeated teams in No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Ohio State on Monday, Jan. 11. Buckeyes dime thrower Justin Fields led the his team, despite taking a shot to his ribs, as he stayed in the game. He completed 22-of-28 passes for 385 yards and six touchdowns. Running back Trey Sermon was too much to contend with for the Tigers rushing for 193 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries.
Nothing could deter Field’s psyche, even with his right thumb being bandaged, he put together a performance of a lifetime against a defense that had allowed only two quarterbacks in the past four seasons to throw for more than 300 yards.
The play of the game was Fields being briefly sidelined by a hard hit from Tigers linebacker James Skalski, who was ejected out the game for targeting the blow. Fields returned one play later to throw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Olave.
After being down 14-0 early in the game, the Buckeyes defense stiffened to force three punts in a row in the second half. The amped-up pressure from the defense forced a fumble, interception, and a turnover on downs.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney, whose team had played 11 coming into the contest, fed into chatter about the postseason credentials of a team that faced a shorter schedule than other playoff contenders and stroked the flames by ranking the Buckeyes No. 11 in his Amway Coaches Poll.
“No, I don’t regret any of that,” Swinney said. The polls have nothing to do with motivating. That had nothing to do with Ohio State. I said they were good enough to beat us. The only thing I regret is obviously I didn’t do a good enough job getting my team ready. But I don’t regret anything about that at all.”
The Buckeyes just hit overdrive and moved the ball down the turf repeatedly and at will. OSU silenced all of the critics on this night and erased the sour taste of last year’s painful loss to the Tigers on the same stage.
“When you get this far in the season, this many games, anything motivates you,” said Ohio State tight end Jeremy Ruckert. We heard everything he was saying. We definitely used that as motivation. But now we’ve got a chance to move on, and that’s motivation enough.”
After Trevor Lawrence scored on the game’s opening drive, the Tigers struggled against an Ohio State blitzing defense and had an issue with their athleticism at the point of attack. Lawrence finished the contest with 400 passing yards and two touchdowns but was rattled the entire game. He fumbled multiple times, lost one of them and was held to -8 yards rushing despite Clemson purposely using him as their primary runner. It was his second loss of his college career, both in the Crescent City.
With the score tied at 14 on the opening drive of the second quarter, Swinney chose to punt on 4th-and-2 from Clemson’s 43-yard line. With just over three minutes remaining in the half and the Buckeyes up 28-14, The Tigers opted to punt again in similar circumstances: facing 4th-and-3 from the same spot on the field. OSU would again score a touchdown with 16 seconds left.
Ohio State led 35-14 at halftime — the first time that the Tigers were down by a 21-point halftime deficit since the 2012 Orange Bowl against West Virginia — and finished with 639 yards of offense on 8.9 yards per play.
Clemson finished with 444 total yards and couldn’t get anything going on the ground as running back Travis Etienne had 32 yards and a touchdown on 10 rushes.
The Buckeyes dominated the line of scrimmage averaged 6.3 yards per carry and ran for 265 yards overall, the most Clemson had allowed in a game since 2016. OSU would punt on its first possession and not again until its final drive of the third quarter.
The win gives the Buckeyes its first victory over the Tiger’s all-time record after OSU lost each of the first four meetings, including two previous College Football Playoff games. Ohio State now moves on to the CFP National Championship for the first time since 2014 when it won the national title . That 2014 season was also the last time Ohio State faced Alabama, whom they will meet in this year’s title game on January 11, 2021.
“Defensively, we were just out of rhythm,” said Swinney. “Again, five straight touchdowns and we weren’t able to respond like we wanted to offensively. We just got in a hole. And games like this, that’s not the position we want to be in.”