Finishing with a flourish and exorcising the demons on one glorious night, 12th-ranked Clemson took down a college football giant in a game that ended the careers of one, if not two, of the greatest players to wear Tiger orange.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd accounted for five touchdowns and 505 yards in beating 7th-ranked Ohio State, a team that came within a whisper of playing for the national championship.
But it was junior Sammy Watkins, 105 miles from his hometown, who delivered the performance of his career with school records for pass receptions (16) and receiving yards (227) in a 40-35 win Friday that made grown men weep and children giddy as oranges flew through the night at Sun Life Stadium.
“Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time games, and that’s what they did for us tonight,” running Rod McDowell said. “We came out here to handle business, and we did that tonight.
“This was the best. We have never won a BCS game, and going out like this in my final game, it’s really a blessing.”
Hinting at what was to come, Clemson came out firmly, building an 11-point lead in the first half and establishing itself despite the skeptics who anticipated another implosion like the losses earlier this season to Florida State and South Carolina and the whipping here two years ago by West Virginia.
“Two years ago, we’d never been in the environment,” McDowell said. “We took that experience and we got hungry, we got better.”
Facing a defense crippled by injury and visibly deficient, Clemson found Ohio State’s weaknesses and continually probed them. Clemson finished with 576 yards, with Boyd completing 31 of 40 passes for 378 yards and five touchdowns. Playing a team he considered playing for out of high school, he also rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown.
“The significance of this game, not just for me particularly, not for the team particularly but for the university, for the fans that support us day-in and day-out, has been unbelievable.
“I couldn’t have picked a better way to go out.”
This was the first BCS bowl championship for coach Dabo Swinney, giving the Tigers a second consecutive 11-win season. Ohio State, playing Clemson for the first time since Woody Hayes’ punch 35 years ago, took a big hit and finished 12-2.
Clemson controlled the momentum for much of the first half, but the Buckeyes rallied and triggered swings of momentum on turnovers, penalties and big plays.
In the final minute, each team intercepted a pass, with Clemson linebacker Stephone Anthony snagging the definitive one.
A five-yard pass from Boyd to tight end Stanton Seckinger made it 40-35 with 6:16 to play, but a two-point attempt that ended with Watkins lobbing the ball to Boyd failed when OSU knocked the ball to the ground.
The Buckeyes responded, moving confidently from their 25 to the 47, where on third down, Bashaud Breeland popped Braxton Miller and linebacker Spencer Shuey snapped the ball out of the air at the 47-yard line with 3:12 to play.
Miller was sacked five times, the most all season.
A 14-yard touchdown pass from Miller to Hyde capped a 10-play, 75-yard drive, reclaiming the lead for OSU, 35-34, with 11:35 to play.
Back-to-back OSU turnovers turned a nine-point Buckeye lead into a five-point Clemson advantage late in the third quarter. Safety Jayron Kearse intercepted Miller at the OSU 38. Boyd completed a 14-yard pass to Watkins, scooted 15 to the nine and, on second down, found Martavis Bryant for his second touchdown in the final minute of the quarter.
Momentum seemingly secure for Ohio State in the third, Clemson caught a break when safety Robert Smith recovered a fumbled punt by Corey Brown at the OSU 33. On third down from the 30, Boyd lofted a ball that Watkins caught at the apex of his leap for his second touchdown.
With Miller and Hyde throwing body punches between the tackles, Ohio State took a 29-20 lead with 10:37 to play in the third quarter with an 87-yard drive in nine plays. A quaint pass-interference penalty on Darius Robinson and Hyde’s 31-yard run to the one were the critical plays in a drive extending Ohio State’s halftime advantage.
Down by 11 in the second quarter, Ohio State rallied for a 22-20 lead at the half of a game largely dictated by Clemson. An interception near the OSU goal line and a quirky penalty on fourth down near midfield cost Clemson two possessions, and Ohio State’s first scoring drive was extended by a taunting penalty and a punt fake.
Clemson led 20-9 when Boyd and Bryant teamed for 3-yard touchdown pass with 8:51 to play. Boyd had been near perfect at that point, 16 of 19 passing, with the interception and two drops.
Ohio State had punted on four previous possessions when Miller hit tight end Jeff Heurmann for a 53-yard touchdown with 3:39 to play in the half. Clemson’s Josh Watson blocked Drew Basil’s kick leaving the score at 20-15.
Clemson’s last possession of the half stalled near midfield, but rather than punt on fourth down at the 40, the call was a swing pass to running back to McDowell. McDowell was knocked out of bounds at the OSU 36 and the Buckeyes penalized for a late hit, but the play was determined to be a dead-ball foul. The ball went back to OSU at its 21.
Aided by a personal foul penalty, OSU completed the 79-yard drive in five plays with Miller completing three passes. The last to Corey Brown was a 24-yard touchdown, for the Buckeyes’ first lead.
A simple run by Boyd off a familiar play into the heart of the OSU defense gave Clemson its first touchdown. Watkins opened the game at tailback and carried on Clemson’s opening snap. Backup running back C.J. Davidson lined up split right for his first action since injuring a knee in the The Citadel game.
But on third down and two near midfield, Boyd ran the play Clemson used most frequently in short yardage, stepping through the line and accelerating untouched for a 49 yard touchdown. It was Boyd’s longest rush from scrimmage by 21 yards, surpassing the 27-yard against Auburn in 2012.
At 12:50 in the first it was 7-0 Clemson.
Clemson twice stopped Ohio State in its first possession. When Vic Beasley sacked Miller, Beasley was flagged for taunting with the double slash sign. Later, a punt fake pumped further life into the drive. From the Clemson 33-yard line, Miller road a fake right to Dion Miller, kept the ball and sprinted left for the tying touchdown with 5:44 to play.
Needing 48 seconds, Clemson darted 75 yards in four plays with its next possession with Boyd hitting Watkins for a 34-yard touchdown.
Forcing Ohio State to punt on its next possession, Clemson was buried inside the one-yard line. In a bold stroke, Clemson tried to get a bunch in one play but Boyd had no time. His attempt to unload the ball resulted in grounding, Ohio State was awarded a safety and it 14-9
Stopped in each of its next three possessions OSU dodged a bullet when early in the second quarter, third down and three on its six-yard line, Boyd rolled right.
With the first down in reach, he tried flipping the ball to Watkins in the end zone. Vonn Bell ranged high to snag the ball for the interception at the four-yard line.
Another stop by the Clemson defense and an OSU punt, the Tigers began a 77-yard drive that included a setback for holding. All it took was seven plays and 2 minutes, 35 seconds. Boyd lofted the ball to Bryant in the far left corner of the end zone for a three-yard touchdown. Kicker Chandler Catanzaro hit the left upright, missing the point after for the first time this season, making it 20-9 with 6:18 to play.
Tight end Jeff Heurmann caught a 53-yard touchdown pass from Miller to keep it close, but the kick by Basil was blocked by Watson, leaving the score at 20-15 with 3:38 to play. It was the first block of any kind by the Tigers this season.
NOTES: McDowell, a senior from Sumter, became the 13th Clemson back to top 1,000 rushing yards with a four-yard gain in the second quarter Boyd’s 18th 300-yard game tied former N.C. State quarterback Phillip Rivers’ record. Senior linebacker Spencer Shuey’s sack in the first half was his first of the season and second of his career. Watkins’ 15th reception of the game, a Clemson record, was his 100th of the season.
Clem—Boyd 48 run (Catanzaro kick), 12:50. OSU—B.Miller 33 run (Basil kick), 5:44. Clem—S.Watkins 34 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), 4:56. OSU—Safety, 2:25.
Clem—Bryant 3 pass from Boyd (kick failed), 6:16. OSU—Heuerman 57 pass from B.Miller (kick failed), 3:39. OSU—B.Miller 3 run (Basil kick), :12.
OSU—Hyde 1 run (Basil kick), 5:50. Clem—S.Watkins 30 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), 2:47. Clem—Bryant 3 pass from Boyd (Catanzaro kick), :32.
OSU—Hyde 14 pass from B.Miller (pass failed), 11:35. Clem—Seckinger 5 pass from Boyd (pass failed), 6:16.
Att.—72,080 (at OhioSt.).
|Time of Possession||27:09||32:51|
RUSHING—Clemson, Boyd 20-127, McDowell 12-69, Davidson 1-3, S.Watkins 1-3, Team 2-(minus 4). Ohio St., Hyde 25-113, B.Miller 18-35, Wilson 3-24, Corey (Philly).Brown 1-15, Heuerman 1-6.
PASSING—Clemson, Boyd 31-40-2-378. Ohio St., B.Miller 16-24-2-234.
RECEIVING—Clemson, S.Watkins 16-227, McDowell 4-32, Bryant 3-28, Davidson 3-27, Seckinger 2-14, Hopper 2-7, Leggett 1-43. Ohio St., Corey (Philly).Brown 8-116, Hyde 2-39, Vannett 2-22, D.Smith 2-5, Heuerman 1-57, Wilson 1-(minus 5).