Rob Oller: Ohio State football owes Clemson for pain-inducing putdowns
- Ohio State's worst record against any opponent is 0-4 against Clemson
For too many years orange has rained disappointment on Ohio football fans. The Browns. The Bengals. The Clemsons.
The Cleveland and Cincinnati sadness is easy to explain. Bad ownership. Bad players. Bad teams. The Buckeyes’ misery at the hands of Clemson is more of a head-scratcher, but no less heartbreaking.
The Tigers have terrorized Ohio State for decades, often controversially, beginning with The Punch in the 1978 Gator Bowl and running all the way to last season’s crushing 29-23 loss in a College Football Playoff semifinal in Arizona, when Buckeye Nation blamed things on officiating miscues, which is a nice way to put it.
Between Woody’s slug and the 2019 Fiesta Bowl slugfest sits Urban Meyer’s only shutout loss, a 31-0 embarrassment in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl that led to a shake-up in the coaching staff. It was Meyer’s second loss to Dabo Swinney, the first coming by way of a 40-35 defeat in the 2013 Orange Bowl.
It adds up to 0-4, which is Ohio State’s worst record against any of its 101 opponents. Put another way, Clemson fans brush aside talk of the big, bad Buckeyes the way Ohio State fans make fun of Michigan. To the winner goes the mocking memes, including the crying Michael Jordan face, burning dumpster and cat pawing at a toy mouse. Shoe, meet other foot.
Clemson remains an enigma the Buckeyes struggle to solve. The ‘78 Gator Bowl loss was easiest to understand, but also the most shocking. At that point, Clemson enjoyed about the same national name recognition as Coastal Carolina does today, as in not much. The Tigers had been average-to-awful for two decades before Charley Pell showed up in 1977 and the next year coached them to a 10-1 record and No. 7 ranking entering the Gator Bowl. Pell resigned before the game, having accepted the job at Florida, and good ol’ boy Danny Ford stepped in to coach the Tigers in the bowl.
From a national perspective, Ohio State was still Ohio State. But the Buckeyes’ reputation as a dominant force was waning locally under Woody Hayes, whose old-school methods had come under question even among OSU fans. People often conveniently forget that Hayes went 16-7-1 over his final two seasons and lost his last three games against Michigan.
All of which is to say Ohio State was ripe for the picking in 1978, and Clemson’s Charlie Bauman made one of the most infamous picks in college football history. Hayes led Bauman 1-0 on the judge’s card when he was fired within 12 hours of Bauman’s fourth-quarter interception.
At that point, Clemson registered only as an anomaly on the Ohio State pain meter. It wasn’t really until the 31-0 beatdown that fans of the scarlet and gray began seeing red when discussing Tigers orange.
Then came last year’s disaster in the desert, when Shaun Wade was ejected for targeting Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and Jordan Fuller’s fumble return for a touchdown was called back upon replay review. Ohio State fans — and in the immediate aftermath, OSU players and coaches — cried foul on the officiating crew. Clemson fans simply shrugged, tossed out adjectives like whiny and overrated while putting their hands over their mouths to hide their laughter.
And now? Ohio State has redemption on its mind. Or revenge. Or however you want to describe the act of paying back perceived injustice. Even daring to call it “perceived” is enough to make fans go bananas. Whatever. The Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl will be a lollapalooza of heated emotion on the Ohio State side and a ho-hum, here we go again on the other.
One might assume the misery that COVID-19 has wrought would tamp down the intense dislike that Ohio State fans have for the orange helmet sporting the white paw. A reminder: never assume. Clemson may not cause the same uncivil conversations in OSU circles that comes when discussing Michigan. But the Wolverines no longer present much of a threat, while the Tigers are a program that can be trusted to bring on a certain amount of queasiness in Ohio locales like Powell, Marietta and Wadsworth.
Yet it also is not quite accurate to say that Clemson is a rival. After all, a rivalry needs able partners, and so far the Buckeyes have not held up their end of the bargain.
Will that change on Jan. 1 in a suddenly more subdued French Quarter? Know this, Ohio State will have its hands full getting that first win against Clemson. But— dad joke coming — orange you glad they get the chance to try?