To get to the College Football Playoff, Ohio State had to pull off a double overtime win against arch rival Michigan after losing to Penn State weeks before the game. After some tough goings against lesser opponents the Buckeyes bounced back just in time and found themselves face to face with Deshaun Watson and the second-ranked Clemson Tigers. Alabama awaited the winner between Ohio State and the Tigers, after taking care of business against Washington in the Peach Bowl semifinal. In somewhat of a “rebuilding” year, the Buckeyes proved they continued to reload despite losing so many starters to the NFL, but ran into a talented Tigers team to which they fell 31-0.
Ohio State and J.T. Barrett would start the game with the ball, after Clemson deferred on the coin toss. Curtis Samuel would be involved right from the start, with two quick receptions. A dropped pass by a wide open Mike Weber would lead to the Buckeyes going three and out on the first drive. Deshaun Watson and the Tigers would start deep in their own territory but on the second play of the drive, Watson would throw in Gareon Conley’s direction, who would step up and make a big interception.
The Buckeyes started the next drive on Clemson’s 33-yard line thanks to Conley’s pick. On second down Barrett would find Terry McLaurin for a short gain but the next play, the Tigers got to Barrett behind the line of scrimmage setting up fourth and long. Tyler Durbin would come in for a 47-yard field goal attempt, which sailed right, keeping the game scoreless. On Clemson’s next drive, Deshaun Watson would find Mike Williams for a big play over the middle on third down to push the Tigers into Ohio State territory. After an Ohio State stop, Clemson would knock in a 45-yard field goal to take an early 3-0 lead over the Buckeyes.
A long kick return by Parris Campbell would again set up Ohio State in Clemson territory. A nice Barrett run would set up third down and would then find Curtis Samuel for a first down. Three plays later, the Buckeyes would have to set up a field goal. Durbin would again miss, this time missing on the left side of the uprights. The Tigers would take advantage on the following drive, throwing all over Ohio State’s secondary into the redzone with plenty of passes thrown Mike Williams way. On third and short, Hunter Renfrow would come close to the goal line, setting up a Deshaun Watson run for a touchdown, upping the Tigers lead to 10-0.
Looking for some momentum offensively, J.T. Barrett would find Binjimin Victor over the middle for a 21-yard reception. A couple of plays later, the Buckeyes would punt and Clemson would start its own drive deep in its territory. The Tigers would find it tough to run the ball against Ohio State and Raekwon McMillan would meet Watson head on for a third down stop. A booming Clemson punt would give Barrett and the offense tough field position on their next drive.
After a handful of plays and an unfortunate drop from Curtis Samuel, Ohio State would once again have to punt. Artavis Scott would field the punt and Clemson took over on offense. A designed quarterback run from Watson moved the chains on second and short. Wayne Gallman would add another first down with a tough reception and run dragging defenders with him. Malik Hooker would come up with some heroics once again as Watson fired a bomb to the right side of the field, while Hooker got his hands on the football for the interception.
Mike Weber would get his first carry in the middle of the second quarter, followed by a Curtis Samuel reception, who was able to convert the first down. Noah Brown would get a catch of his own on the next play. A couple plays later, Cameron Johnston once again would punt the ball away, pinning Clemson inside its own 20-yard line. Deshaun Watson would come out running right away with a 33-yard burst, dodging defenders every which way. A couple plays later, C.J. Fuller would stretch out for an excellent diving catch for a Clemson touchdown, putting the Tigers up to a comfortable 17-0 lead near the end of the first half.
Clemson, holding a nice lead to start the second half, would start with the ball. Facing an early third down, the Tigers would be held off on a deep throw and forced to punt. A nice pass to Noah Brown from J.T. Barrett would be followed up by a carry from Weber who would proceed to fumble the ball after a solid run, setting up Clemson with great field position. A few plays later and the Tigers were knocking on the door of the endzone. Jerome Baker would come up with a big tackle on the goal line to set up third and goal. On fourth and goal, Clemson’s field goal would shank to the left and the score stayed at 17-0.
On the next Ohio State possession, a quick three and out would result in another punt. The Tigers wouldn’t take long to reach Buckeyes territory but after a stop, J.T. Barrett would have another chance to get things going. Facing a third and 13, Barrett would get sacked back near his own endzone and another punt would ensue. On Clemson’s next drive, Deshaun Watson would add to the lead, sprinting through the defense into the endzone for a 24-0 lead late in the third quarter.
Two pass interference calls would help move the chains several times on Ohio State’s next possession, but a poorly thrown ball from J.T. Barrett would be intercepted at the goal line by Clemson’s defense. To start the fourth quarter, Wayne Gallman would gash the Buckeyes defense for a first down on third and 19. Eventually the Buckeyes would get the ball back and Curtis Samuel would make an electrifying 64-yard run, finally breaking free. But a couple of plays later the Buckeyes would face fourth down and forever and essentially toss a Hail Mary that was intercepted and returned nearly all the way.
After the interception return, Wayne Gallman would add to his terrific night with a touchdown of his own to put Clemson up 31-0 with about nine minutes left in the fourth quarter. Ohio State would have another possession and a chance to push for a score, but a fourth and short run by Mike Weber would be stopped short of the first down for a turnover on downs. The Buckeyes would not get another chance to have the ball.
Here are three things we learned from Ohio State's 31-0 loss.
3 things we learned:
1. The offense goes as the offensive line goes. With all of the ups and downs that Ohio State’s offensive line has faced all season and the true lack of depth, the last thing the Buckeyes needed early in the game was for an injury to occur. That’s exactly what happened as left guard Michael Jordan suffered an injury forcing Demetrius Knox into starting action. And the struggles across the line showed as the Buckeyes offense only managed 88 yards of total offense in the first half. J.T. Barrett was 12-of-19 passing with 80 of those yards, but it was a quiet showing for the run game, with no rusher with more than five yards. Mike Weber only carried the ball once while Samuel was a near non-factor for much of the first half. It didn’t get better in the second half, either as the pressure got to Barrett more times than not.
Going against a defensive line and especially a pass rush as lethal as Clemson’s was no doubt one of the toughest challenges the offensive line has faced up to this point, and much like the in the Michigan game, it showed in the play. Though the Buckeyes finished strong against the Wolverines, they had their struggles for three of the four quarters (and overtimes) in that game.
2. Ohio State’s defense came up clutch, but wasn’t enough. There really wasn’t much else the Ohio State defense could do in the first half. The secondary, especially, came up in a big way forcing two interceptions. One, early on from Gareon Conley, only resulted in a missed field goal. Malik Hooker’s interception later in the second quarter didn’t result in any points either. The Tigers had plenty of issues when trying to run the ball and though Clemson scored 17 points in the first half, it’s hard to blame the defense, facing such a potent offensive attack. Deshaun Watson had his moments, including a first half touchdown coming late in the second quarter, and a 33-yard rush before that.
Raekwon McMillan and the rest of the defense did what was mostly asked of them, and though it’s likely they weren’t happy with the end result, it’s not as if they didn’t provide Ohio State’s offense chances to score, especially in great field position. The second half was another strong showing for the defense but Clemson was just too much to shut down completely.
3. Clemson will face Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship, and that’s okay. At the end of the day, it’s easy to look at Ohio State and understand why they struggled so much against a really good Clemson team. After all, this is essentially the same team that went to the national championship and narrowly lost to Alabama. Deshaun Watson is a true Heisman Trophy finalist (and could have won the award had it not been for the brilliance of Lamar Jackson) and showed his skills throughout much of the evening. When Tyler Durbin missed two early field goals, it sort of showed the writing on the wall for the Buckeyes, and after not scoring the rest of the first half, they built themselves quite the hole.
Ohio State’s offensive line didn’t play well and the play calling wasn’t going to be able to do much to change that. In a supposed rebuilding year, this was still quite the impressive run for the Buckeyes and it should be thought of as much despite the loss. J.T. Barrett will no likely be disappointed with the loss, but should he come back next season, he should have a more experienced team built around him that should be ready to make another run to the College Football Playoff.
The Buckeyes still had a very good season, finishing 11-2, and though they didn’t finish as the Big Ten champions, they did beat Michigan (because the spot was good).