Clemson Came From Behind To Knock Off Ohio State And Earn A Spot In The National Title Game

In a game that you will see on ESPN Classic every year for the rest of your life, Clemson knocked off Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, 29-23. The third-seeded Tigers rallied back twice to give the second-ranked Buckeyes their first loss of the year thanks to heroics from Trevor Lawrence and big plays by the squad’s swarming defense.

For the first quarter and a half of action, Ohio State looked primed to blow this game wide open. In something that never happens to a Brent Venables-coached defense, the Buckeye offense made the Tigers look slow, gashing them on the ground and through the air. While Clemson had a few nice moments on offense in that stretch, they were few and far between, in part because star receiver Tee Higgins suffered an injury early on, although he was able to return later in the game.

Ohio State, meanwhile, was dominant … for the most part. While J.K. Dobbins found paydirt on this lengthy touchdown run, the Buckeyes largely had to settle for three, kicking a trio of field goals after getting into Clemson territory.

Anyone who has ever seen college football could tell you that settling for field goals against a team as good as the Tigers is leaving the door just wide open enough to let them burst through. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. First, Clemson was able to get the ball into the end zone (following a controversial targeting penalty against the Buckeyes that extended a drive and led to star defensive back Shaun Wade getting tossed) thanks to the relentless running of Travis Etienne.

After a three-and-out, Clemson got the ball back and turned to Lawrence, who produced a moment of magic. While he’s known for his golden arm, Lawrence tucked the ball and took off, scampering 67 yards through the heart of the Ohio State defense for a score that put the Tigers within two points as they entered the break.

The start of the second half was just as tense as the first, as the two teams traded punts before Clemson took over at its one-yard line. The Tigers got to midfield, at which point they called a screen pass to Etienne that worked to perfection. Fifty-three yards later, the Tigers had their first lead of the night.

Clemson appeared to be in control of the action for the remainder of the third quarter. While the Tigers didn’t score again, they managed to get a major call in their favor that took points off the board for the Buckeyes, then on the following OSU possession, picked off Fields.

Ohio State desperately needed something to go its way, and thanks to a clinical drive by Fields, they got just that. Facing a fourth-and-2 in Clemson territory, the Buckeyes opted to throw, and Fields found Chris Olave in the end zone for the score to put them ahead early on in the final frame.

The teams traded punts on the next two possessions, including a curious decision by the Buckeyes to boot it on fourth-and-4 from the Clemson 39 with 3:07 left in the game. On the ensuing possession, Lawrence was masterful, marching the Tigers down the field in four plays and connecting on a pass with Etienne for a 34-yard touchdown to put them ahead.

A two-point conversion put Clemson up six, and the Buckeyes faced a situation that they had not seen in 2019. They needed to go 75 yards in 1:49 and get a touchdown to come from behind, win, and punch their ticket to the national title game. Fields and Dobbins responded by taking what Clemson gave them, meticulously making their way down the field and into the Tiger red zone in just over a minute.

Games like this oftentimes come down to which team can avoid making the big mistake. On what ended up being Fields’ final pass of the evening, a miscommunication between himself and Olave meant he threw a ball right to Clemson defensive back Nolan Turner. A few knees later and the Tigers made their second national championship game in a row and fourth in five years.

In what will hopefully become a head-to-head matchup we see for the next 15+ years, Lawrence was able to out-duel Fields. The Clemson signal caller went 18-for-33 for 259 yards and two touchdowns through the air while chipping in 107 yards and a score on the ground. The stellar Buckeye threw it a whole lot more, going 30-for-46 for 320 yards, a touchdown, and two picks. Both running backs were magnificent, too — Dobbins had 221 total yards and a touchdown, Etienne had 134 total yards and three scores.

Ultimately, though, Clemson was able to eek out their hardest-fought win of the year, and as a result, they have a date with LSU in New Orleans on Jan. 13 with a national title on the line. If that game is half as good as this one, we’re in for something special.