On Saturday, Dec. 29, the Clemson Tigers defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes by a score of 29-23 in the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, AZ. With the win, the Tigers advanced to the National Championship game where they will face the LSU Tigers in New Orleans, LA.
The first quarter of the game was dominated by the Buckeyes. After taking a 3-0 lead on the opening possession, the Buckeyes stopped the Tiger offense after a missed 49-yard field goal by B.T. Potter. Upon getting possession of the ball once more, running back J.K. Dobbins tore through the Clemson defense for a 68-yard score. The run gave Ohio State a 10-0 lead, along with all of the early-on momentum.
Later, the Buckeyes drove down the field once again, behind a big Dobbins run. With the ball inside the Clemson 10-yard line on third down, Fields floated a pass into the flat for Dobbins. Dobbins dove and appeared to catch the ball as he stumbled into the endzone, but upon review, he failed to maintain control of the ball as he came to the ground. After settling for a field goal, the Buckeyes added three points in the middle of the second quarter to make the score 16-0.
While the Buckeye offense added to the lead, the Clemson offense stalled throughout much of the first half. Running back Travis Etienne failed to get anything going on the ground, and a first quarter injury to Tee Higgins slowed the passing game significantly. It wasn’t until the final minutes of the second quarter, when a targeting call on Shaun Wade during a sack gave the Tigers a first down, that the offense found some rhythm. After taking a massive hit on the targeting play, Trevor Lawrence was able to return to the game and lead the Tigers to their first score of the game. Inside the ten yard line, Lawrence pitched the ball to Etienne, whom made several defenders miss before galloping into the endzone. Finally, with just over three minutes remaining in the half, the Tigers had life.
On the ensuing drive, the Tigers stopped the Ohio State offense and gave Lawrence a chance to cut into the lead before halftime. Lawrence did just that. Lawrence took the ball on a designed run and gashed the Buckeye defense straight through the middle of the field. Lawrence made two defenders miss and proceeded to outrun everyone as he sprinted down the sideline. The 67-yard touchdown rush that will go down in Clemson history brought the Tigers within two points of the Buckeyes heading into halftime.
For most of the third quarter, the Tigers used the momentum they gained at the end of the second half to take control of the game. The Tigers took the lead on a screen pass to Etienne that he broke off for a 53-yard score. Though Etienne was bottled up in the run game all night long, he continually made big plays for the Tigers in the passing game.
On the following Clemson drive, the Tigers faced a third and 19 from deep inside their own territory. Lawrence checked down to Ross underneath where he immediately had the ball swatted out of his hands by the All-American cornerback Jeff Okudah. The Buckeyes scooped up the ball and returned it for what was initially ruled a touchdown. After review, the pass was ruled incomplete, much to the dismay of Buckeye players, coaches and fans. Instead, the Tigers punted the ball away, holding on to a 21-16 lead.
The Tiger defense started the second half well, holding the Buckeyes scoreless in the third quarter. It wasn’t until the 13-play, 84 yard drive that went into the fourth quarter that the Buckeyes found the endzone again. On a fourth and one from the Clemson 23-yard line, Fields connected with Chris Olave for a go-ahead touchdown.
After both teams traded scoreless possessions, the Tigers received the ball with three minutes remaining, down 23-21. Needing just a field goal to take the lead, the Tigers put together the most impressive drive of the night. On the first play of the drive, Lawrence connected with Ross for an eleven-yard gain. Lawrence then added eleven more yards on the ground. On the third play of the drive, Lawrence connected with Amari Rodgers for the first time all night for a 38-yard gain. Finally, Lawrence faked a run, forcing the Buckeye linebackers to rush the line of scrimmage. Once they committed forward, Lawrence connected with Etienne on a jump pass, and Etienne scrambled into the endzone from 34 yards out giving the Tigers a 27-23 lead. Lawrence was then able to connect with Higgins in the Tigers' first two-point conversion since 2018, extending the lead to 29-23.
Though the electric drive had Tiger fans rocking State Farm Stadium, it left a whole lot of time left for Fields and the Buckeyes to regain the lead. With 1:49 on the clock and two timeouts, Fields and the Buckeyes took the field. The Buckeyes started the drive on fire, picking up first down after first down. However, with 43 seconds remaining and the ball on the Clemson 23-yard line, Fields lofted a pass to the endzone intended for Chris Olave on a post route. Instead of running the post route however, Olave cut back toward the sideline as Fields released the ball. The result was an easy interception by safety Nolan Turner that sealed the game.
After taking a knee to end the game, the Tigers celebrated their 29-23 victory in what was one of the best games in program history. While the Tigers were far from perfect against the Buckeyes, they were able to grind out a win against a star-studded Buckeye squad. The road to the championship doesn’t get any easier from here, though as Joe Burrow and the LSU Tigers await the Clemson Tigers in the national championship. Kick off will take place at Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, LA on Jan. 13 at 8 p.m.