Ohio State is headed to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game to face the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide thanks to the Buckeyes’ semifinal win over budding rival Clemson Friday night.
The Buckeyes had this game circled on their calendar for the past year and each day since the last time these two teams met was marked by a thick red ‘X’ until finally that heavy-handed red ‘X’ was put right through the Clemson Tigers in the form of a 49-28 drubbing at the hands of the Scarlet and Gray.
Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields completed 22-of-28 passes for a career-high 385 yards and six touchdowns with one interception. He also rushed for 42 yards on eight carries. Running back Trey Sermon was outstanding once again, rushing for 193 yards on 31 carries, scoring once. He also caught four passes for 61 yards.
One year after breaking off a route that he shouldn’t have, Chris Olave caught six passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in an emphatic display of redemption.
Ohio State amassed 639 yards of total offense and dominated this game from the second quarter on.
Clemson began the game by marching down the field for an 8-play 82-yard touchdown drive that featured passes of 11 and 26 yards to running back Travis Etienne. The key play came on a third-and-5 pass down the sideline to receiver Cornell Powell, who came down with the ball at the OSU 5-yard line. Quarterback Trevor Lawrence eventually scored the touchdown via a 2-yard rush to make it 7-0 after just three minutes of action.
The Buckeyes responded with a three-and-out, but the OSU defense answered with a three-and-out of their own while everyone on the Scarlet and Gray sideline regrouped.
Ohio State then scored on a 3-play, 77-yard drive that was mostly Trey Sermon. Sermon caught a quick strike from Fields and took it 34 yards for a first down. On the very next play the Buckeyes snapped the ball before the Clemson defensive line was set and Sermon skated right on through for a 32-yard touchdown to tie the game.
The Tigers answered right back as Lawrence completed all four of his pass attempts for 56 yards on a 75-yard drive that was capped by a 3-yard touchdown run by Etienne.
By this point, the tape had been cut and the gloves were off. On second-and-2, Fields dropped back and found Garrett Wilson deep down the left hash for a 47-yard gain. After a loss of two on a Sermon carry and then a false start by left guard Matt Jones, the Buckeyes looked like they were back to the very red zone struggles that cost them this game last year. Faced with a third-and-goal from the 8-yard line, however, Fields dropped back and found tight end Luke Farrell open by the tiniest of windows for the touchdown. The extra point tied the game at 14-14 near the end of the first quarter.
Clemson finished the first quarter by going three and out and giving the ball back to an Ohio State offense that was just catching fire. The Buckeyes marched down the field with gains of 11, 14, 12, and 17 before Fields found his other tight end, Jeremy Ruckert, for a 17-yard touchdown to give Ohio State a 21-14 lead.
With all of the momentum, the Buckeyes forced another three-and-out, this time featuring a pair of Lawrence incompletions. Ohio State got the ball back and soon after Sermon went 30 yards up the gut of the Clemson defense. Three plays later, Fields ran the ball up the middle for a first down and took a helmet shot from Clemson linebacker James Skalski right in the back/rib area. Fields was down and had to leave the game. Skalski — who is the Tigers’ middle linebacker and defensive leader — was flagged for targeting and ejected. Fields missed one play and then returned to find receiver Chris Olave on a comeback route in the end zone to make it 28-14 5:12 remaining in the half.
Clemson’s next drive went just 18 yards before they had to punt again. With 3:20 on the clock, the ensuing Ohio State drive featured eight touches by Sermon and finished with a second touchdown pass to Ruckert, this time from 12 yards out.
Leading 35-14 at the half, the Buckeyes received the ball out of the half and they once again drove right down the field, but the possession ended with a Clemson interception as Fields’ hand was hit on a throw to Chris Olave that fell short and was picked off by linebacker Mike Jones.
Still wanting to make this competitive, Clemson went 80 yards in nine plays as Lawrence completed five of six passes which totaled 69 yards. The final completion was a quick out to Powell, who then beat cornerback Shaun Wade into the end zone to make it 35-21 with 7:56 left in the third quarter.
Ohio State’s ensuring possession began at their own 9-yard line because returner Demario McCall let the ball bounce in front of him and then Sermon had to cover it to keep Clemson from doing the same. But it didn’t matter none. On third-and-10, Fields stepped into the pocket and dumped off a pass in the flats to Sermon, who made one man missed and then went to the ground but was never ruled down and eventually scored from 91 yards out. Replay correctly overturned the call, but following three Miyan Williams runs for 21 yards of offense, Fields dropped back and shirt-cannoned a beauty downfield to Chris Olave for a 56-yard touchdown to make it 42-21 with 4:55 to play in the third quarter.
Right guard Wyatt Davis was injured on the play, however, and had to leave the game.
Clemson took over their next possession at their own 25-yard line. With a first-and-10 from the 40-yard line, Lawrence ran the ball but was stripped by Tommy Togiai and the fumble was recovered by linebacker Justin Hilliard. The play was reviewed but the call stood and OSU took over at their own 43-yar line with under four minutes to play in the third quarter.
Ohio State wasn’t able to do anything with the turnover but Drue Chrisman’s punt did pin them at the 13-yard line with 1:07 left in the third. Faced with a fourth-and-1 from their own 22-yard line, Clemson lined up to go for it, but was flagged for a false start, forcing the Tigers to punt to start the third quarter.
On second down of the OSU drive, Fields slung a dagger down the middle of the field to a streaking Jameson Williams who got by two defenders and brought the ball in for a 45-yard touchdown, making it 49-21 Buckeyes.
Facing insurmountable odds, Clemson mounted a drive against the Ohio State defense that should have ended at the Buckeye 35-yard line, but safety Josh Proctor dropped an overthrown pass from Lawrence. Four plays later, Lawrence found Cornell Powell over the middle of the field and he raced his way into the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown, cutting the OSU lead to 49-28 with 10:42 left in the game.
Ohio State then went three-and-out and Chrisman’s punt was a short one and made shorted by a 15-yard blindside block penalty on Pete Werner. Clemson started the drive on the Ohio State 46-yard line. On the second play of the drive, Lawrence was sacked by Tyreke Smith for a loss of 13 yards. Lawrence’s third-down pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage by Haskell Garrett, leaving the Tigers with a fourth-and-eight from the OSU33-yard line. Lawrence’s fourth-down pass fell incomplete as the OSU defensive line swarmed him and took him down while he was throwing.
On third-and-14, Sermon got the ball and picked up the first down with an 18-yard rush, but he was flagged for a facemask which negated the first down. The Buckeyes punted again following an unsuccessful third down rush. Clemson took over at their own 28-yard line with 4:39 remaining in the game, down 49-28.
The Tigers’ hopes were finally extinguished when cornerback Sevyn Banks intercepted Lawrence’s desperation fourth-down pass in the end zone and returned it out to the OSU 38-yard line.
Ohio State’s next game will be against Alabama on Monday January 11th for the national title.