Clemson coach Dabo Swinney gave Ohio State a hand he played all night in a 49-28 blowout in the college football playoff semi-final at the Sugar Bowl .
You won’t find a “No. 11” in a 52-card deck, but the Buckeyes used it as motivation in a 21-point New Year’s Day win.
Ohio State associated the combination of respect (or lack of respect) and revenge for last year’s Fiesta Bowl loss for redemption against the Tigers. Now, the Buckeyes (7-0) advance to the CFP Championship game for the first time since the inaugural four-team playoffs in 2014. No.1 Alabama (12-0) will wait Jan. 11 in Miami.
“You have to give the credit to the state of Ohio for that,” Swinney said in his post-game press conference. “They were awesome. They absolutely dominated the line of scrimmage. … They were the best team and they deserved it.”
The Buckeyes earned it at the expense of the Clemsons coach. Swinney goes feel the weight of it after placing Ohio state at No.11 in its latest coaching poll submission, a move that generated enough pre-game heat to melt the Christmas snow in Columbus. The Tigers (10-2) could have gotten away with that if it was Notre Dame, Texas A&M or Cincinnati.
There were other teams critics saw as more deserving than the Buckeyes, who played a six-game Big Ten schedule in a season toppled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Neither of those teams are in the Ohio State weight class, however, and Swinney should have known better than giving the Buckeyes so much to work on heading into a national semifinal.
Ohio State had a 16-0 lead in last year’s semifinals at the Fiesta Bowl before spitting it out in a 29-23 loss. That stuck, even when the Big Ten called off their season on August 11 before returning later. The Buckeyes have had three games canceled due to COVID-19 – including their rivalry game with Michigan – and their playoff credentials have been called into question every step of the way.
Swinney played directly into that narrative, and he didn’t give up on poll controversy afterward.
“I don’t regret any of this,” Swinney said. “The polls have nothing to do with motivation. Both teams were very motivated to play. It’s a great team. Like I said, it had nothing to do with Ohio State. were good enough to beat us. Good enough to win the whole thing. dang thing. ‘”
The Buckeyes could be the third wheel in the CFP era with Alabama and Clemson on a seven-year cycle, but they are the only team that can match talents with these two programs on an annual basis. On Friday, the Tigers were the ones who couldn’t compete.
Quarterback Justin Fields led a 35-point blowout in the first period that gave the Buckeyes a three TD lead at the half. He completed 16 of 18 passes for 223 yards in the first half alone. It took another level after Clemson linebacker James Skalski Targeted fields on an 8-yard run with 5:57 left in the first half.
Fields didn’t just play through: he threw four of his six record-breaking Sugar Bowl touchdowns. after the shot. Fields hit Chris Olave and Jeremy Ruckert for red zone scores in the first half, then made up deep touchdowns to Olave and Jameson Williams in the second half. He edged out Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who finished 33 of 48 for 400 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
Fields, who has only one loss as a starter, handed Lawrence his second. Let’s put that in perspective, using the only other quarterback to do it: In last year’s CFP Championship game, LSU’s Joe Burrow torched Clemson for 463 passing yards, 58 rushing yards and six touchdowns. in total. Fields finished with 385 passing yards, 42 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
It was more than just Fields. Trey Sermon finished with 193 rushing yards on the heels of a Big Ten Championship game for 331 yards. The Ohio state defense forced Clemson three straight punts in the first half, which transformed the momentum. The Buckeyes forced two turnovers and kept the pressure on Lawrence in the second half.
It was complete dominance that allowed the Buckeyes to bask in that “11” tag. Swinney, who joked earlier in the week that he “could run for governor of Michigan” used the same strategy the Wolverines did in 2018 during the self-proclaimed “Revenge Tour”. The Buckeyes beat Michigan 62-39.
The entire Ohio State program operates at a higher level when it receives the Disrespect Card. The entire state feeds on this “Ohio vs. the world” mantra. While exaggerated when it comes to the rest of the Big Ten, which the state of Ohio has won for the past four years, it still applies nationally.
Jim Tressel used it to lead Ohio State to a national title in a 31-24 victory over Miami No.1 at the 2003 Fiesta Bowl. Meyer used it in the first playoffs, in 2014, when the Buckeyes slipped into fourth place before knocking down Alabama No.1 42-35. This led to a 42-20 victory over No. 2 Oregon in the CFP Championship game.
Friday was the first time Day used it, and Fields was his ace.
“I think this performance of not just Justin, but this whole team will go down in Ohio State history as a historic game,” Day said. “We want to go on and win the national championship, but there have been a lot of tough days in the last six months.
The most difficult challenge is yet to come. Alabama coach Nick Saban will not be offering this kind of scoreboard material. The Crimson Tide have played four National Championship games since losing the Sugar Bowl to the Buckeyes in 2014.
The state of Ohio is the only program Saban didn’t beat in the CFP Championship game. Alabama are also awaiting that rematch with the Buckeyes, and he’s armed with three of the top five Heisman vote-takers in Najee Harris, Mac Jones and DeVonta Smith.
The Crimson Tide are averaging 48.2 points per game. The Buckeyes are at 43.4 points per game.
It comes on top of what could be the best game of the playoff era since these two teams first met – one that carries more weight than anything Alabama-Clemson could offer. More than one region of the country is involved this time around, and the Big Ten-SEC clashes are just as hot.
Day said Swinney, who played for Alabama, showed that respect in the post-game handshake.
“Dabo was only professional for me,” Day said. He said, ‘Have a good game and go win it all. “”
Maybe # 11 can be # 1 after all.