Bottom Line analysis: Ohio State had a big edge in want-to against Clemson

Ray Stein
Buckeye Xtra

Among the questions demanding answers after Ohio State took Clemson to the Sugar Bowl woodshed were these: Who, exactly, did Dabo Swinney rank in positions No. 3 through 10 in his final coaches’ poll? And if Justin Fields’ ribs hurt that much in the moments after impact, can they possible feel better in nine days? Leaves are awarded on a zero-to-five basis. — Ray Stein 

Offense (5 leaves) 

For a mere 60 cents – six beautiful dimes – Fields delivered one of the all-time great performances in program history. Behind his arm (385 passing yards, six TDs), Trey Sermon’s legs (193 rushing yards) and a hands team led by Chris Olave (132 yards, two TDs), the Buckeyes rolled up 639 yards against a legitimate opponent. Fields was the maestro, even if it pained him to lift the baton.

Defense (3 leaves) 

From the start, it was abundantly clear that anytime Clemson wanted a chunk of yards in pursuit if points, all the Tigers needed to do was explore Ohio State’s defensive edges. But the Buckeyes eventually adjusted, and three consecutive stops in the first half allowed OSU to seize momentum. The pass rush getting untracked in the second half helped seal the deal.

Ohio State running back Trey Sermon (8) tries to leap over Clemson cornerback Mario Goodrich for extra yardage on a first-half run.

Special teams (3 leaves) 

Ohio State’s philosophy on kickoff returns is obvious: the Buckeyes generally let kicks go into the end zone or call a fair catch and take over at the 25. However, it’s important to remember that kickoffs that don’t reach the end zone must be caught, a golden rule that Demario McCall blipped on in the third quarter, leading to a drive starting at the 9. All’s well: OSU scored on the possession, anyway. 

Coaching (5 leaves) 

It wasn’t just Dabo’s poll dis that had the Buckeyes playing with a chip on their shoulders the size of a Lay’s factory. Ryan Day and staff played the revenge card for a year, and 2020 circumstances allowed them to serve up heaping bowls of We Don’t Belong chili that the OSU players devoured. Where Day really got it done, though, was an aggressive game plan that never let the Tigers breathe.

Fun (4 leaves) 

The lack of fannies in the Superdome seats – from fans of both stripes – was the only demerit on a game that packed a serious emotional punch. Who knew that big, bad Ohio State was so suited for the underdog role? Fields’ incredible grit won the day, but the field was littered with banged-up players from both teams, many of whom rejoined the fray after some smelling salts or whatever.

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Opponent (3 leaves) 

If you think about it, what Ohio State’s offense did to Clemson in the Sugar Bowl was pretty much a continuation of what the Buckeyes did in rolling to a 16-0 lead last year in Glendale. This time, though, they traded field goals for touchdowns. Also this time, the Tigers were more one-dimensional, and it cannot have helped that their coach was writing checks that is players couldn’t cash.

Officiating (3 leaves) 

The zebra show got off on an inauspicious foot when officials allowed Clemson receiver Cornell Powell to get away with blatant OPI on the Tigers’ first TD drive. After that, though, the refs settled in until things got ragged in the fourth quarter. Although, how could they all have missed Sermon’s elbow and knee hit the turf on what would have been a 91-yard score? Thanks, replay. 

rstein@dispatch.com