GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Clemson Curse hasn’t been broken by Ohio State.
The Buckeyes had every opportunity to break through, finally tame the Tigers and continue their perfect season and hunt for a national championship.
But it slipped away from Ohio State after a dream start, and once again the program is left to wonder what might have been if not for a couple strange calls, missed opportunities and a defensive breakdown with the game in the balance. In the end, Clemson had the number of the Buckeyes yet again, pulling out a 29-23 thriller on Saturday night at the Fiesta Bowl.
There will be plenty more coverage to come from the setback in the College Football Playoff semifinal for the Buckeyes. But as always, everything starts with Snap Judgments from Lettermen Row.
Red-zone issues return at worst moment for Ohio State
The play-calling was just about perfect for the Buckeyes in the red zone. The execution came up a little short, and leaving points on the table against an elite opponent tends to come back to bite anybody — just like it did Ohio State after an otherwise dominant start in the first half on Saturday night. There was really no reason for the Buckeyes to in a battle like the one that transpired in the semifinal, and while the officiating was absolutely atrocious, they couldn’t blame that for the near-miss plays that turned touchdowns into field goals. For all the remarkable progress Ohio State made in that area this season, it didn’t get it done when it mattered most.
Targeting rule continues to be terrible joke
There is absolutely nothing wrong with making the game safer. But it damages the product and robs players of hard-won opportunities when they are ejected for hits that couldn’t possibly have been avoided. Shaun Wade was simply trying to finish a tackle after blitzing off the edge, and if Trevor Lawrence hadn’t ducked his head, the Ohio State defensive back wouldn’t have collided with his helmet. That wasn’t a defenseless player or a malicious shot designed to injure the quarterback, and yet Wade was tossed for the rest of the biggest game of his life. Clearly it’s time for some overdue adjustments to the rule, and it must start with a yellow/red card system to avoid situations like what happened to Wade and the Ohio State defense.
Complicated, mixed bag for J.K. Dobbins
There were flashes of the greatness J.K. Dobbins has flashed since the first start of his career as a freshman. Those were counterbalanced by two dropped touchdowns and a foot injury that clearly zapped him of his top gear for the Buckeyes. And assuming that was the final game of his three-year run with the program, it is going to be a complicated legacy he left in the Fiesta Bowl. Dobbins proved he was willing to fight through the pain, came back in the second half to make a couple key plays and broke a single-season rushing record in the process. But he wasn’t able to deliver the national championship he guaranteed, and that will sting forever.
Justin Fields wasn’t at full speed for Ohio State
After three weeks of speculation and his own admission earlier in the week that he was at 80 or 85 percent on his sprained knee, it was clear from the outset that Justin Fields was being honest. There was no gamesmanship involved with him wearing the brace, and Ohio State certainly didn’t want to put him in harm’s way as a rushing threat. The difference in his level of health and that of his quarterback counterpart was clear based on how often Clemson ran Lawrence, a weapon that Ohio State certainly would have used more frequently if it had complete confidence in the strength of the knee of Fields. But the Buckeyes sophomore was an absolute warrior, throwing a gutsy, go-ahead touchdown on a fourth down before coming up short on a drive that could have iced the win. The best is still yet to come for the Heisman Trophy finalist.