(Photo courtesy Yahoo images)
Well – this took some time for me to sit down and write. I’ve been in mourning. Literally, this game threw me for a loop. The Buckeyes won in all categories, except where it counts – the final score. And so, the saga of The Ohio State University Football against the Clemson Tigers continues as they are now 0-4 in their head to head meetings.
In this one, the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday December 28th after 23 minutes of play, the Buckeyes led the Clemson Tigers 16-0 and controlled the game’s rhythm and ruled physically.
Clemson noted, after a full sixty minutes of play from their victorious locker room, that defensive stops in that first quarter-and-a-half set the stage for their eventual 29-23 victory. Clemson held one of the nation’s most potent red zone offenses in football to field goals on all three of their first-half red zone opportunities.
Had the Buckeyes converted on any one of those red zone chances, it plausibly changed everything that comes thereafter — especially the closing minutes, when the Buckeyes had to reach the end zone. To win.
“If on the opposite side you keep settling for field goals, it can come back and bite you as we all know when you’re playing against good people,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “Tonight, it ended up being a huge difference.
“For us to go down 16-0 as bad as we played in the first half as a team, going in 16-14, that says a lot. That’s how we end up coming back and winning the game. Red zone stops were a big deal.”
The Ohio State University came in ranked third in all FBS in red zone touchdown percentage at 81.94 percent. Only Oregon State (84.62) and Navy (82.61) ranked higher.
The Buckeyes’ overall red zone percentage went up to 89.33 percent thanks to Blake Haubeil’s 3-for-3 performance. All three, however, came after Clemson turned back potential touchdown drives. OSU now ranks fifth in red zone touchdown percentage.
Looking back at those three possessions, Ohio State failed to reach the end zone via a combination of bad luck, near-misses, Clemson defensive execution and a couple of gaffes the Buckeyes would like to have back.
“That was tough,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “You score touchdowns there, then it’s huge.”
OHIO STATE 0, CLEMSON 0, Beginning of first quarter:
Ohio State opened the game by using the pass to set up the run. Justin Fields distributed the ball throughout his entire receiving corps. K.J. Hill, Binjimen Victor, Luke Farrell, Chris Olave, Garrett Wilson and J.K. Dobbins caught passes as Fields opened the game 6-for-6.
This sequence included one of the highlight catches of the night — Wilson elevating high above Clemson’s Derion Kendrick to make the grab, crashing down over the defensive back and getting a hand down in bounds. Officials needed a second look to correctly identify it as a catch.
That catch set up first-and-goal at the Clemson 5. However, Dobbins lost two yards on a reception in the flats — the first negative play of the drive. Dobbins then carried around the right end and gained 3 yards but lost his footing making the turn.
Field conditions were an issue for both teams. Hill dragged from the slot across the front of the end zone and seemed to be open for a quick dart from Fields. However, he slipped, and his defender fell on top of him.
Fields then had to escape the pocket and threw short of Olave under pressure.
Haubeil kicked a 21-yard field goal and Ohio State led 3-0.
OHIO STATE 10, CLEMSON 0, 0:53 left in first quarter:
Dobbins’ 68-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second series gave Ohio State a 10-0 lead. Through seven carries the star junior was having a monster night — 144 yards and a touchdown while surpassing Eddie George as the Buckeyes’ all-time leading rusher.
On the final play of the first quarter, Ohio State’s Wyatt Davis and Branden Bowen dislodged their defenders, creating a massive cavity on the right side of the line. Dobbins bolted through it for a 64-yard run down to the Clemson 8.
On first-and-goal, Clemson covered OSU well, and Justin Foster brought pressure off the edge. That may have blocked Fields from seeing a potentially open Farrell dragging across the middle. With Foster on his back, Fields instead threw incomplete to a well-guarded Hill in the end zone.
Clemson’s Chad Smith recorded a game-high 12 tackles, and his one-on-one stop of Dobbins on second down set up third-and-goal at the 5. On third down, Dobbins was open on a wheel route look on the right side. However, he and Fields seemed to adjust mid-play when Foster came up to engage, and the floating pass may have been a “little” overthrown.
Dobbins appeared to come down in the end zone with the ball, and officials initially credited him with a touchdown. It was correctly reversed to incomplete upon review, and Haubeil’s 22-yard field goal made it 13-0.
That’s not an easy catch, but one Dobbins nearly secured anyway.
OHIO STATE 13, CLEMSON 0, 12:15 left in second quarter:
Perhaps due to his heavy workload to that point, Dobbins took a break on Ohio State’s next series. Master Teague did not gain much in his place, but Fields and the passing game kept moving the ball. Austin Mack’s full extension grab along the sideline for a 24-yard gain was especially key.
Fields also proved on this series that his left knee was probably good enough. He stepped out of a potential sack at his ankles on second-and-11 and turned it into a 21-yard gain down to the Clemson 23.
Things began to go wrong, however, when the Buckeyes reached first-and-10 at the Tigers 11. Mack drew a false start penalty. Fields then tried to go over the top in the back of the end zone to Mack, but he could not make the catch — and if he had likely would not have come down in-bounds.
Dobbins re-entered the game, and from that point on, much of the rest of his night would be marked by frustration. Ohio State set up a beautiful screen in which Dobbins hesitated to slip out through the back door of the collapsing pocket. The Buckeyes had a numbers advantage in blockers ahead of him and his path to the end zone appeared clear.
Instead, Dobbins turned up-field a moment too soon, took his eye off the ball, and dropped it. That one looked like a definite score.
“Oh my goodness — yeah, the screen,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said when, while discussing some of those red-zone misses, someone reminded him of the drop. “It was that kind of game. Again, when you’re playing against great teams, things like that happen.”
Fields had no open receivers on third down and safely overthrew Victor in the end zone. Haubeil’s 33-yard field goal made it 16-0.
Soon after, the Shaun Wade targeting call opened the door to Clemson’s first touchdown and the whole vibe of the game changed.
Prior to the third Haubeil field goal, the Tigers averaged 4.3 yards per play and achieved three first downs on 20 plays. Beginning with the drive leading to the Wade call, they averaged 8.0 yards per play with 18 first downs on 42 plays.
Ohio State obviously did not need red zone opportunities to score touchdowns. A go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter from Fields to Olave covered 23 yards for a 23-21 lead with 11:46 to play.
The Buckeyes, however, clearly felt they left points on the board. That thought may linger for a while.
“I definitely think it would have made a difference” Davis said. “We got it down in the red zone a bunch, we just couldn’t convert it a ton. We’ve just got to take this loss and use it as motivation for next year.”
This one hurt. The Buckeyes were dominant but managed to squander that vibe. This will certainly sit with Buckeye Nation as perhaps the hardest defeat in a long, long time. And now, dare I say, Clemson has seemingly edged out even TTUN as the most hated team in existence!
GO Joe Burrow and LSU…win it all!!