After a regular season ravaged by Covid and weeks of shade thrown at the Ohio State for their Top 4 ranking by college fans, media and coaches alike, the Buckeyes unleashed an avalanche of wrath on the Clemson Tigers last night at the Superdome in New Orleans. As time ran out in the fourth quarter it felt both like vindication and redemption for the Buckeyes and their fanbase.
Exorcising Ghosts of Semi-Finals Past
Vindication because with a beatdown of number two Clemson, whose ticket to the title game in Miami had already been punched by the sports media before the game even kicked off, Ohio State proved beyond a doubt that they belonged in this season’s College Football Playoff. Furthermore, despite only playing six games prior to the semi-final, the Buckeyes showed they have the best chance to pull off the upset and derail Alabama’s stroll to another CFP national title.
And it felt like redemption because of the hurt that has been visiting on Ohio State by Coach Swinney and Clemson during the previous meetings between the two teams. The most soul-crushing example coming last season during the Fiesta Bowl when the Tigers overcame a 16-point deficit, thanks to two abysmal calls by the refs, to book their place in the title game. That match-up was also ingrained in Buckeyes players’ and fans’ minds after a miscommunication between wide receiver Chris Olave and QB Justin Fields cut short a potential game-winning drive in the endzone.
All of this, along with Dabo Swinney’s very vocal disrespect and disregard for Ohio State and their 2020 season, provided plenty of fuel to inspire coach Ryan Day and his men to eviscerate Clemson with an outstanding and complete team performance.
The formula for success in this game all stemmed from the battles on lines of scrimmage. Simply put, the Buckeyes dominated the trenches.
The DLine, missing an integral player in Zach Harrison, didn’t take a single play off as they hounded Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence, who was scrambling around like a wounded gazelle being pursued by a pride of hungry lions, all game. The defense may have only recorded two sacks in the game, but they were pressuring Lawrence all game forcing three fumbles, one of which was recovered by the Buckeyes for a turnover, an interception in the endzone and deflecting multiple passes.
Just as important, the front seven completely neutered the run game for Clemson. Travis Etienne managed just 32 yards, while Lawrence, who rushed for over 100 yards in last year’s semi-final, recorded negative eight yards on the ground. It cannot be overstated how important taking the running game away from Clemson was in Ohio State’s victory.
On the other side of the ball, the OLine, playing without starting left guard Harry Miller, had its way with Clemson’s defensive front all night setting the offense up for 254 yards rushing in the game. RB Trey Sermon picked up where he left off in the Big Ten title game, going off for 193 yards on the ground and a touchdown. The stout offensive line also gave Fields plenty of time to air out some big-time throws downfield and in the endzone. That protection became all the more important after Clemson linebacker James Skalski tried to snap Fields’ spine with his helmet in the second quarter. Skalski was rightfully ejected from the game for blatant targeting.
The Greatest and Gutsiest QB Performance in Program History
Speaking of Justin Fields, the junior from Georgia was throwing haymakers all game even after taking that battering ram to the ribs. Fields was visibly shaken and in pain for the remainder of the contest. But, heroically, managed to turn in a performance where he finished the game with as many incompletions as touchdown passes (six).
Fields broke a hatful of program and Sugar Bowl records with his scintillating performance after his draft stock had taken a hit following a terrible showing against Northwestern. Fields finished the game 22-28 for a season-high 385 yards, six TDs, one INT (which was tipped at the line of scrimmage) and an obscene 99 QBR. His favorite target was, of course, the ever-reliable and spectacular WR Chris Olave who hauled in six passes for 132 yards, including a 56-yard bomb and two scores. Fields also made great use of his tight ends, Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell, who combined for 66 yards receiving and three touchdowns.
All in all, Justin Fields was breathtaking last night and probably very stiff and sore this morning, but he won’t care and, naturally, took home Sugar Bowl MVP honors.
Both Ohio State’s QB and head coach, who was beaming from ear-to-ear, displayed class and humility when interviewed on the field following the team’s 49-28 stomping. The Buckeyes are enviable not only because of the prowess of the program on the field, year in and year out, but because of the immaculate character of the players and coaching staff. It was a character that was exemplified in the team’s complete and selfless performance. Getting dirty and going hard for your brother lined up next to you. It’s what makes the players proud to wear the scarlet and grey and what sets the program apart from any other in the nation. And, of course, it’s why we love our Buckeyes.
The Elephant In The Room
The team won’t have much time to reflect on the big win and get healthy. The Buckeyes were without 16 players due to injury/Covid restrictions. In nine days they face off against Nick Saban and another Alabama juggernaut in Miami to play for their second title in the CFP era. It will be a much stiffer test, but the Buckeyes proved they can outgun any team in the nation. And when you’re up against Mac Jones, Najee Harris and Devonta Smith, it will take another flurry of haymakers to take home the Nattie.