Jashon Cornell said he'd purged the memory of Ohio State's last game against Clemson.
“To be honest, I can't really remember,” the Buckeyes' fifth-year senior defensive tackle said Sunday. “I blocked it out.”
Three years ago, as they will on Dec. 28, Ohio State played Clemson in the College Football Playoff at the Fiesta Bowl. Clemson won 31-0.
Both Cornell and fellow defensive tackle Robert Landers were among the few current Buckeyes who played in that game.
“It was rough,” Landers said, then a redshirt freshman. “We put in so much hard work, and we just fell short. We asked some questions like, 'What did we not do? What did we miss? What did we take for granted?'
“We put so much blood, sweat and tears into it to get to that moment and get on a big stage, and we just didn't play the way we wanted to or should have. I think it was more disappointment than being shocked.”
After beating Ohio State, Clemson edged Alabama to become the national champion. The Tigers also won it last year with a 44-16 rout of the Crimson Tide. They have won 28 straight games.
Only their schedule kept Clemson from being higher than a No. 3 seed. The Atlantic Coast Conference was a sea of mediocrity this year other than its standard-bearer.
While Clemson has risen to the top of the college football world, the No. 2 Buckeyes will be making their first CFP appearance since that loss to Clemson. They don't believe what happened three years ago is particularly relevant.
“It's history,” Landers said. “We'll try to write a new chapter in this book and see what happens.”
That loss was a pivotal moment, though. The shutout was the first time any Urban Meyer-coached team had been blanked. Days later, Meyer hired Ryan Day as quarterbacks coach/offensive co-coordinator to help give the Buckeyes offense a jolt.
Since Day wasn't around for the Clemson loss, it makes sense that he's not making it a focal point as the teams meet again.
“We'll definitely use it as a reference point, but I don't think it's very relevant here,” he said.
There will be no shortage of storylines. One is the matchup of Day the play-caller against Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who's considered one of the best in the country.
“What Brent Venables has done year in and year out, they're the best defense in the country,” Day said. “If you look over the last 5-10 years, you can make a case they are the best. They change up looks. They're aggressive. He's aggressive. And they're very, very talented.”
Another is the comparison at quarterbacks. Ohio State's Justin Fields was the No. 2 overall prospect in the 2018 recruiting class. Clemson's Trevor Lawrence was No. 1.
Both teams will have a chip on their shoulder for not being the No. 1 seed despite dominating seasons. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney hasn't been shy about voicing his opinion that his team hasn't gotten proper respect.
Oddsmakers have made Ohio State a slight underdog. It's the only time all season the Buckeyes haven't been clear favorites.
“I think Clemson is a great team,” Cornell said. “I think we're a great team. Something coach Day says is that when talent equates, there's no margin for error. One thing we have to do is focus on the little things and not worry about the whole big picture that everybody else sees with Clemson vs. Ohio State.”