Ohio State got the redemption it has been seeking for a year, dismantling Clemson, 49-28, in the Sugar Bowl on Friday night.
1. I continue to be terrible at picking Ohio State CFP semifinal games. I believe I’m now 0-4. So you’re welcome, Ohio State fans, for my pick of Clemson this week.
2. There is work left to do, but this has to feel incredible for this team. They were the better team in last season’s semifinal loss to Clemson and stewing on that for 12 months had to be incredibly difficult. Big-time redemption tonight. They were better team again and this time left no doubt.
3. Last week I said Ryan Day called his worst game as head coach at Ohio State. Tonight was his best game. Like an ace pitcher mixing speeds and changing pitches, Day kept Clemson’s defense off-balance all night and seemed to always dial up the right call at the right time. Ohio State has a lot of great skill players, but when those great players are also schemed open it is unstoppable. What a masterful game plan by Day and Kevin Wilson.
4. There should be no complaints about the Skalski ejection or comparisons to the Wade situation last year. That hit by Skalski has been illegal for decades. It was a blatant spear.
5. Whether it’s his laid back demeanor or the seemingly effortless way he plays the game, Justin Fields hasn’t often been lauded for his toughness but he will be now. That was an absolute gritty performance by Fields and one that will go down among the best in Ohio State history. Amazing toughness to bounce back in there and lead that touchdown drive at the end of the first half. 14-point leads can be erased pretty quickly, 21 is a different monster. Was an absolute critical point in the game and Fields delivered. That touchdown pass to Ruckert would have been a great throw against air, let alone over a couple of defenders and doing it while injured.
6. The Trey Sermon Game Part II. Only the Godfather Part II is in this stratosphere of sequels. Sermon’s numbers weren’t quite as gaudy, but he may have played even better tonight. The yards after contact were so impressive. Once again, the line played well, but Sermon squeezed every yard out of every run. Just an unbelievable job by Sermon when this team needed a difference maker at running back to emerge.
7. Clemson’s defensive line has multiple future first round picks on it. But it got mauled by a stronger, older, and more experienced Ohio State offensive line tonight. Not only that, but this was probably the best game the O-Line has had this season in pass protection. This was the battle that Ohio State absolutely had to hold an edge in to win this game. They didn’t just win the battle, they dominated it.
8. So many candidates for play of the game, but I have to go with the bomb from Fields to Olave to put Ohio State up 42-21. That was a dicey part of the game. The Buckeyes were looking to go up four scores, Fields’ pass gets tipped and picked off and Clemson moves right down the field to make it a 14-point game. This could have went sideways quickly, but a huge drive for the Buckeyes to respond, especially after the McCall gaffe on the kickoff.
9. There are many sexier storylines to talk about in this one but I think the film review will be very kind to Pete Werner and Justin Hilliard. Those guys made some very critical an unheralded plays in this game. Some timely third down tackles in space here, a key pressure on Lawrence to force a missed throw there, those two played at such a high level in the Big Ten championship game and carried that over to tonight’s game. Both will be missed after this season, but Werner will go down as one of the more underrated players in program history.
10. On to Alabama and what a matchup this will be. Can the Buckeyes keep Devonta Smith under control and can they not let this win over Clemson be their Super Bowl and stay focused on finishing the job? Those are the two immediate questions I have. See you in a few days, Miami.