Clemson kicked off 2016 at University of Phoenix Stadium by losing a heartbreaker in a thrilling national title game to Alabama.
The Tigers closed out the year with a bit of sweet revenge at the same site however, shutting out Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl to book their tickets to the national title game in Tampa and a rematch with the Crimson Tide.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw two interceptions but was otherwise his terrific self behind center with 259 yards and a touchdown pass. The Heisman finalist also rushed for two more scores on a pair of keepers and led the team in rushing with 85 yards. It certainly wasn’t a perfect performance but it was an efficient one as he picked apart the vaunted OSU secondary aside from two ill-advised throws that wound up in their hands.
As good as Watson was though, his favorite target Mike Williams might have been the best player on the field Saturday evening. The likely first-rounder caught a team high six passes for 96 yards and came close to one remarkable long touchdown in the second quarter until he got tripped up. While he was the headliner, the deep receiving corps also showed up all game long with seven others catching a pass and tailback Wayne Gallman put the cherry on top of the outing with a seven yard rushing touchdown following a turnover.
Not to be out done, the Clemson defense truly paved the way for their return trip to the national title game with 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. Freshman Clelin Ferrell had the game of his young career with near constant pressure on every snap, recording three tackles for loss and a sack. Linebacker Kendall Joseph led the team in tackles and basically shutdown the middle of the field in holding the Buckeyes to just 81 yards rushing.
Not being able to run the ball was a big reason for Ohio State’s struggles, which were chiefly the result of the team’s offensive line not having an answer for the speed of the Tigers front four. Quarterback J.T. Barrett didn’t have a terrible game as one of the few offensive threats for the team but only managed to throw for only 127 yards with two interceptions. All-purpose threat Curtis Samuel did receive plenty of touches as the offense tried to get something going but managed only 110 total yards, most of which came on a handful of plays when the game was already decided.
The end result of yet another blowout semifinal was the worst loss Urban Meyer has suffered during his time in Columbus and, given the stakes, probably the biggest ‘L’ of his career. The team began the game with several nice kick returns to setup some early series but a pair of missed field goals in the opening quarter set the tone for a disastrous outing for the scarlet and grey.
Given how everything played out, it’s safe to say it just wasn’t the Buckeyes’ night as everything that could go wrong typically did. While a lot of those issues were self-inflicted, most had to do with a dominating performance by the Tigers that they controlled from wire-to-wire.
And with that, Clemson has punched their ticket for a return trip to the national title game and a never before seen rematch for the sport’s ultimate prize. It may not have been pretty for Ohio State, but on the other sideline there was nothing like that little bit of sweet revenge out in the desert for how this year began — and no better way to cap off the season than by ringing in 2017 with what should be a thriller in Tampa next week.