Ohio State-Clemson | Ray Stein’s Bottom Line

Ray Stein
Pass called a no catch and not a fumble in the second half College Football Playoff Semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. December 28, 2019. [Adam Cairns/Dispatch]

So dominant was Ohio State for the first 25 minutes of the Fiesta Bowl that Buckeyes fans had one eye on the game and one searching for the best prices for flights to New Orleans. Soon enough, though, OSU followers were clutching their prayer beads and scream pillows. The former worked for a while, but in the end the night belonged to the scream-catchers. Leaves are awarded on a zero-to-five basis.

Offense (3)

J.K. Dobbins once again proved he is best in games against good teams. But he’s also way better on two healthy legs, and so his 141-yard first quarter ended up being 174 at game’s end. Justin Fields showed passing-game moxie, as usual, but he took too many sacks, was victimized by a few key drops and eventually threw two killer picks.

Defense (3)

The Buckeyes took it to Clemson with violence at the start, but hard hitting somehow morphed into taking bad angles on tackle attempts. When they watch the film, they’ll kick themselves for allowing Trevor Lawrence to beat them with his legs. OSU’s secondary mostly held up, but it was powerless as Lawrence led the winning drive.

Special teams (3)

Blake Haubeil doesn’t generally get much work except for extra points and kickoffs, so he gets attaboys for going 3 of 3 on field goals, though each was from chip-shot range. Punter Drue Chrisman busted his slump in a big way and routinely pinned Clemson, but OSU was hurt by one seriously silly and costly roughing the punter penalty.

Coaching (3)

Ryan Day’s offensive play-calling had every answer at the start, but some questionable calls and a lack of execution in the red zone throughout the first half meant the Buckeyes were settling for field goals in a touchdown game. The fourth-down TD pass to Chris Olave was a stroke of boldness, but the defensive schemes didn’t hold up.

Fun (4)

Semifinal Saturday proved there were three teams worthy of the playoff, and at least one of them was bound to make an unhappy trip home. Ohio State fans will recall this Fiesta Bowl unfondly as a game of woulda shoulda coulda and a win left on the table, but in the end it was hard to not appreciate the entertainment of the slugfest.

Opponent (4)

Lucky to be down only 16-0 in a lopsided first half, the defending champions showed what they’re made of in a rousing comeback. The Tigers hadn’t taken a legitimate shot all year, but the Buckeyes had them reeling — and should have finished them off but couldn’t. That’s to Clemson’s credit. Now, will it have anything left in the tank?

Officiating (1)

Those who complain about Big Ten officiating will have nightmares about this SEC crew. The targeting call against Shaun Wade flipped the momentum; Lawrence ducked his head, yes, but you can’t lead with your helmet these days. Worse was the scoop and score ruled an incompletion on review. Three steps doesn’t constitute a football move?