The #2 Ohio State Buckeyes and #3 Clemson Tigers put their identical 13-0 records to the test in the 2019 Playstation Fiesta Bowl, with the winner advancing to the National Championship against LSU.

The two teams met under nearly the exact same circumstances in the 2016 Playstation Fiesta Bowl: with then #2 Clemson taking on #3 Ohio State with a National Championship berth on the line. It was a day to forget for the Buckeyes, as head coach Urban Meyer was shut out for the first time in his career. The Tigers won 31-0 en route to a National Championship that would see them defeat #1 Alabama.

Just three years later, this was more than a college football playoff semifinal for the Buckeyes: it was a shot at redemption against the team that dashed their title hopes in 2016.

Justin Fields led a methodical drive for Ohio State to start the game, though the drive stalled in the red-zone and the Buckeyes settled for a 21-yard field goal to open the scoring.

Clemson’s first drive yielded the Tigers a 49-yard field goal attempt that was missed by kicker B.T Potter. Ohio State wasted no time on their next drive, as running back JK Dobbins took a handoff 68 yards to the house for the first touchdown of the game.

 

After exchanging punts on a handful of shot drives, the Buckeyes struck again with 22 and 33-yard field goals by Blake Haubeil to increase their lead to a somewhat comfortable 16-0. But with three drives successfully stalled by Clemson’s defense in the redzone, the Buckeyes left as many as 12 potential points on the field in the first half.

While Ohio State had been dominating the game midway through the second quarter, momentum officially shifted after a controversial targeting penalty that left Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade ejected from the game. The penalty prolonged Clemson’s drive, eventually allowing Travis Etienne to score on an 8-yard touchdown run.

The Buckeyes went three and out, then Trevor Lawrence exploded for an electrifying 67-yard scramble for a touchdown. Lawrence can run the ball when called upon: but his previous high for a game was 66 yards, and he broke that total in one game-changing run to put the Tigers right back in the game.

The Buckeyes took a 16-14 lead into halftime, but couldn’t be too happy with how the last seven minutes of the first half played out.

To start the second half, both teams brought their A-game defensively. Clemson pinned Ohio State on their own three-yard line, but the Buckeyes were able to flip the field and force the Tigers to their own 1-yard line. What should have been a short drive and prime opportunity for Ohio State was quickly derailed by another penalty: roughing the kicker on Clemson’s punt attempt, which would again keep the ball in the Tigers hands longer than necessary.

And again the Tigers capitalized, scoring the games third 50+ yard touchdown of the game. This time, Clemson wide receiver Travis Etienne took a pass five yards behind the line of scrimmage and turned on the burners for a 53-yard touchdown.

With Etienne’s score, Clemson had scored 21 straight points. Two of the touchdowns came directly after third down penalties, and two of the touchdowns could have been avoided if the defense didn’t collapse and along long runs. Combine this with Ohio State’s redzone struggles, and the Buckeyes were certainly not feeling good down 21-16 with the third quarter winding down.

Ohio State appeared to catch a break with a play that was originally ruled a fumble that was recovered by the Buckeyes for a touchdown. However after further review, the pass was ruled incomplete. Once again, the ruling was controversial, as the catch did appear pretty clean.

The Buckeyes bad luck continued on their next drive, another short one. On third down, Fields threw an interception, picked off by Isaiah Simmons in Clemson territory. It was only Fields second interception of the entire season, in game number fourteen.

The Buckeyes would force the Tigers to go three and out on the ensuing drive, putting pressure on Lawrence and sacking him on third down.

Fields bounced back with a strong drive, marching down the field and finishing the series 8/8 passing. On 4th down, on Clemson’s 23-yard line, Fields delivered an endzone strike to Chris Olave. It was Ohio State’s first score since the 7:20 mark in the second quarter. The touchdown broke Clemson’s 21-0 scoring run and gave the Buckeyes the lead back with 11:46 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Midway through the fourth quarter, Fields aired out a pass that was easily picked off deep down field. But the Clemson cornerback was alone down field for a reason: he was guilty of holding earlier in the play. The penalty would keep the Buckeyes drive alive as they looked to take command of the game.

The Buckeyes would later be stopped on third down, failing to tack on to their narrow two-point lead. The drive wasn’t fruitless however, as Ohio State’s offense took 6 minutes and 52 seconds off the clock. Clemson received the ball at their own 6-yard line, with 3:07 remaining. The Tigers would only need a field goal to win the game and advance to the National Championship. You couldn’t ask for a better ending scenario for a football game.

Clemson came out hot, picking up two first downs on their first two plays. Their third play would also go for a first down, as Lawrence found Amari Rodgers for 38 yards, putting the Tigers already in make-able field goal range. But why stop there, Lawrence needed just one more play to get to the endzone, connecting with Etienne for a 34-yard score. The Buckeyes defenders let up on Etienne near the endzone, allowing him to score, as being tackled in-bounds would have allowed Clemson to milk the clock.

The Tigers took a 29-23 lead with ease after a two-point conversion, driving the ball 94 yards down the field on just four plays. It was the opposite of Ohio State’s nearly seven minute drive, as Clemson took only 1 minute and 18 seconds off the clock. This would allow Ohio State one last chance to keep their perfect season alive, though they would need a touchdown to keep those hopes afloat.

The drive started off with a screen to Dobbins that was good for a first down, followed by an 9-yard run by Dobbins. Fields would connect on his next two passes, and the Buckeyes were officially cooking, already on Clemson’s 31-yard line.

Fields would keep the drive alive with his legs, on an option and an improvised scramble.

After a timeout, with all the momentum seemingly on the side of Fields and the Ohio State Buckeyes, the quarterback floated a pass to the endzone that was easily intercepted by Nolan Turner as the result of a mis-ran route.

For a quarterback that threw only one interception in his teams first thirteen games, it was the second of the game for Fields. Fields watched his pass get picked off in disbelief, as the Buckeyes perfect season and title hopes both came to a close.

The Clemson Tigers completed a 16-point comeback, led an exciting fourth quarter comeback, and improved to 14-0 on the season. Next, they will take on Heisman trophy winner Joe Burrow and the similarly undefeated LSU Tigers.

Ohio State will look back at the targeting call and kick themselves for the roughing the kicker penalty, but the Buckeyes finished the game 0 for 4 scoring touchdowns in the redzone. If they were able to score touchdowns instead of field goals on their first three redzone visits, they may not have needed a heroic fourth quarter game-winning drive.

Trevor Lawrence finished 18 of 33 passing for 259 yards and 2 passing touchdowns, with 107 yard and a score on the ground. Travis Etienne led the Tigers in receiving, with 98 yards and 2 touchdowns on just three catches, with a rushing touchdown to boot.

Justin Fields finished 30 of 46 passing for 320 yards, 1 touchdown, and 2 interceptions. J.K. Dobbins had a monster 174 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. Days like this from your offense often wins games, but not when you can’t finish drives in the redzone.

LSU and Clemson will meet in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 13, 2020. Clemson will be appearing in the Championship Game for the 3rd time since 2017, looking for the third victory in the same span after a pair of victories over the Alabama Crimson Tide.

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Header Photo: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

 

 

 

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