GLENDALE, Ariz. Clemson walked off the field at University of Phoenix Stadium nearly a year ago wanting nothing more than another chance to beat Alabama for a national title. The Tigers blew out Ohio State in the same stadium Saturday night to earn their shot.
Clemson’s defense dominated Ohio State’s offense for four quarters, and Deshaun Watson bounced back from an early pick to put together another impressive performance in a big game, as the Tigers topped the Buckeyes 31-0 in front of 71,269 fans.
Ohio State was shut out for the first time since 1993, and Urban Meyer was shut out for the first time in 194 games as a head coach.
“What a night. What a journey. I just can’t tell you how proud I am of our team, our staff,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “Back-to-back playoffs, back-to-back national championship appearances. Hopefully we can finish this year.”
Ohio State entered Saturday night averaging 43 points per game but did not sniff the end zone against Clemson’s stout defense. The Buckeyes did not even run a play in the red-zone, reaching as far as Clemson’s 16 before a penalty pushed them back to the 21.
Clemson owned the line of scrimmage, with Brent Venables’ defense finishing with 11 tackles for loss and holding Ohio State to 215 total yards.
The Buckeyes were averaging 258 rushing yards per game, good for ninth in the nation, but finished with 88.
“We didn’t really have any illusions they wouldn’t score a point. We just wanted to have one more than them,” Swinney said. “Coach V and our staff, nobody works harder at preparing.”
Watson passed for 259 yards and a score, and added 57 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Watson connected with his favorite target, Mike Williams, six times for 96 yards.
“We’ve got the best player in the country in No. 4, and he showed that again tonight,” Swinney said. “He’s a winner and he’s hard to beat because he just handles everything with such great poise.”
Clemson built a 17-0 halftime lead as Greg Huegel hit a first-quarter field goal, Watson scored on a 1-yard run late in the first quarter, and Watson found C.J. Fuller out of the backfield for a 30-yard touchdown just before the half.
The Tigers added to their lead late in the third quarter with Watson’s second rushing touchdown, this time from seven yards out.
Running back Wayne Gallman capped the scoring with a 7-yard touchdown run early in the fourth period after Van Smith picked off a J.T. Barrett pass in the end zone and returned it 86 yards. Cordrea Tankersley added an interception for the Tigers.
“I’m really proud of our staff and so happy for Clemson nation and our fans,” Swinney said. “I mean back-to-back ACC titles and CFPs and now national championship appearances. It’s just a special moment. Special time to be a Tiger.”
Clemson (13-1) for the second consecutive season will face Alabama for the national championship. That game will take place at 8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 9, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. It will be televised on ESPN.
The Crimson Tide (14-0) defeated Washington 24-7 in the Peach Bowl semifinal game.
HOW THEY SCORED
CLE: FG Huegel 45, 9:16
CLE: Watson 1 run (Huegel kick), 2:16
CLE: C. Fuller 30 pass from Watson (Huegel kick), 2:21
CLE: Watson 7 run (Huegel kick), 2:06
CLE: Gallman 7 run (Huegel kick), 8:51
Time of Possession
RUSHING: Ohio St., Samuel 6-67, Weber 5-24, Alexander 0-0, (Team) 1-(minus 1), Barrett 11-(minus 2). Clemson, Gallman 18-85, Watson 15-57, Schuessler 1-19, Choice 4-16, Feaster 3-12, McCloud 2-8, A.Scott 3-8, C.Fuller 1-3, (Team) 1-(minus 3).
PASSING: Ohio St., Barrett 19-33-2-127. Clemson, Watson 23-36-2-259, Schuessler 1-1-0-6.
RECEIVING: Ohio St., Samuel 9-43, Weber 3-4, Co.Smith 2-27, Brown 2-17, Victor 1-21, K.Hill 1-8, McLaurin 1-7. Clemson, M.Williams 6-96, Renfrow 5-50, McCloud 4-29, C.Fuller 3-45, A.Scott 2-16, Gallman 1-10, Cain 1-9, G.Williams 1-6, Leggett 1-4.
MISSED FIELD GOALS: Ohio St., Durbin 47, Durbin 47. Clemson, Huegel 31.
Alabama early favorite
Alabama’s a seven-point favorite against Clemson in a title game rematch, according to Pregame.com. Alabama was projected to be a heavier favorite, but oddsmakers were impressed by Clemson’s dominance over OSU.