ANALYSIS: 5 takeaways from Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl win over Clemson

Ohio State advanced to the National Championship Game by trouncing Clemson 49-28 on Friday night in the Sugar Bowl on Friday night at the Superdome.

The College Football Playoff semifinal victory ended a two-game losing streak in the CFP for the Buckeyes and a four-game losing streak to the Tigers.

Next up is a date with Alabama in Miami, where the Buckeyes will play for the title on Jan. 11.

But first here are five things to know about the Sugar Bowl win:

1. Ohio State overcame a slow start.

The Tigers led 7-0 and 14-7 in the first quarter, moving through the Buckeye defense with relative ease early.

The Buckeyes tied the game at 14 on an 8-yard touchdown pass from Justin Fields to Jeremy Ruckert then dominated the second quarter to take control of the game.

They outscored the Tigers 21-0 and outgained them 229-34 with Fields completing 12 of 14 passes and throwing for three scores.

Ohio State had 394 yards in the first half and led 35-14 with 30 minutes to play.

“It all becomes a blur to me, but when we probably scored, we got into that 21-point range right there and the defense started getting some stops, we started to feel like maybe we got a chance to really roll in this game,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

2. Fields overcame a vicious hit to avenge a painful loss.

The Ohio State quarterback was intercepted late against Clemson to seal a 29-23 defeat last year, but he left no room for such disappointment this time.

When the Tigers tried to mount a comeback in the second half, Fields responded with bombs to Chris Olave (56 yards) and Jameson Williams (45 yards) to keep them at bay.

That was all despite playing with painful ribs from a hit by Clemson linebacker James Skalski, who was ejected for targeting after driving the crown of his helmet into Fields’ back on a scramble in the second quarter.

Fields left the game for one play but came back to throw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Olave to extend Ohio State’s lead to 28-14.

“I wasn’t really able to run,” Fields said. “It would really hurt every time I threw the ball. So I would just not really worry about that during the play and just deal with the pain after the throw. Of course, when you’re in the play and you’re going through your reads and stuff like that and you’re about to throw the ball you’re not worried about your side hurting. You’re just playing football, but of course after each and every throw, my ribs hurt for sure.”

Fields finished with 22 completions on 28 pass attempts and 385 yards. He threw a Sugar Bowl record six touchdown passes and also ran for 42 yards.

3. Trey Sermon had another huge game.

The Tigers couldn’t stop the Ohio State passing game, but they didn’t fare much better against the Buckeyes on the ground.

Two weeks after rushing for an Ohio State record 331 yards against Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game, Sermon carried 31 times for 193 years and a touchdown against the Tigers. He also caught four passes for 61 yards and proved tough to tackle all night.

“Wow, I mean whether it’s in the pass game, whether it’s in protection, and obviously running the football, he’s been special,” Day said. “But you got to give a lot of credit to our offensive line and our tight ends. There was a point there where we weren’t going to run Justin, and the defense knew it. We were getting the extra hat (in the box). It was ugly, but we had to make it work and those guys played good.”

4. The Ohio State defense held its own.

Clemson’s powerful offense got in some shots, but the Buckeyes made them inefficient.

After averaging double-digit yards per play early on, the Tigers finished at 6.3 compared to Ohio State’s 8.9.

Trevor Lawrence completed 33 of 48 passes for 400 yards with two touchdown passes and an interception, but he also lost a fumble.

Lawrence lost for just the second time in his three-year career, but he pretty much had to do it all.

Ohio State shut down the Clemson running game, holding star tailback Travis Etienne, the all-time leading rusher in the ACC, to 32 yards on 10 carries (though he did catch four passes for 64 yards).

“I thought the game plan was excellent by our defensive staff,” Day said. “I thought our defensive players really spent a lot of time putting it on the field, and they executed at a high level. I thought our D‑line was awesome. I thought the plan going in was excellent. We knew they were going to make plays. We stuck together, though. We didn’t flinch when they got a couple touchdowns. We just kept going after them. Was it perfect? I don’t know, but it was gutsy. And they played really good. And we played complementary football tonight.”

5. The Buckeyes beat Clemson for the first time.

Ohio State was 0-4 against the Tigers, the only team to play them more than twice without a loss.

“We had great preparation but wasn’t our night,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “And you have to give Ohio State credit for that. They were awesome. They absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage. You can’t win games like this if you can’t stop the run and the big plays.”

He expressed no regret about voting Ohio State 11th on his coaches poll ballot.

“Polls have nothing to do with motivation. Both teams were highly motivated to play,” Swinney said. “And listen, they’re a great team. As I said, that had nothing to do with Ohio State. I said they were good enough to beat us, good enough to win the whole dang thing. But I didn’t think anybody that didn’t play at least nine games, in my poll, that I wasn’t going to put them in the top ten. So I wasn’t going to change that just because there was a chance we could play them. So I don’t have any regret about that.

“Only thing I regret is obviously not doing a good enough job getting my team ready.”

About the Author