Clemson returned to University of Phoenix Stadium intent on making it back to the national title game for another shot at Alabama and wasted no time making that a reality by jumping out to an early 17-0 lead at halftime in the second College Football Playoff Semifinal on New Year’s Eve.
The Tigers first two scoring drives both came as the result of a pair of Ohio State missed field goals, putting an early damper on the Buckeyes few offensive efforts. The first points of the game came by way of a Mike Williams 37 yard reception that would have been a full six points had he not gotten tripped up after catching the ball. The Buckeyes defense bowed up after allowing the play to setup a Greg Huegel field goal from 45 yards out that split the uprights for the early lead.
The Tigers followed that up with a 10 play, 70 yard scoring drive before quarterback Deshaun Watson walked into the end zone on a keeper and then the team found the end zone again just before the end of the second quarter with a strike to C.J. Fuller on a perfectly executed wheel route.
Watson finished the half 16-of-24 for 197 yards and a score but did throw two interceptions, the latter of which came when star safety Malik Hooker came out of nowhere to snatch a deep shot out of the air in the end zone.
As happy as Clemson has to be with things, Urban Meyer is no doubt beside himself with the way the offense operated to start the game. Quarterback J.T. Barrett was one of the few bright spots for the Buckeyes with 80 yards passing but he didn’t get much time to throw behind an offensive line that was knocked back on nearly every snap.
The vaunted OSU defense wasn’t as bad as the numbers suggest at all given the scoreboard but were not helped out one bit by their offensive counterparts and were clearly tired by the time halftime rolled around.
Rematches in the national title game are fairly rare in college football history but based on the way things went in the first half at the Fiesta Bowl, we’re well on our way to seeing Clemson and Alabama go at it again unless Ohio State mounts a stunning comeback after the break.