Scarlet & Gray Matter | Sugar Bowl provides sweet revenge for Buckeyes

Joey Kaufman and Ray Stein
Columbus Dispatch

Observations on Friday's Sugar Bowl between Ohio State and Clemson, by Joey Kaufman and Ray Stein:

The game at hand

• Short-attention span synopsis: No. 11 Buckeyes? No, but as it happens they’ll be playing on the 11th of this month. It’s a high-tech world, but an old-school item such as a bulletin board still works. Justin Fields’ thumb is fine, thanks. Ribs are a little sore, though. The Sermon continues. Can OSU summon another underdog fairy tale?

• Pregame buzz: No program had been a bigger pain in Ohio State’s backside in recent years than Clemson, which knocked the Buckeyes out of the playoff last season and shut them out in a 2016 semifinal. A rematch in the Sugar Bowl offered OSU a chance to clear a big hurdle that had been at the forefront of minds of coaches and players for 12 months. The anticipation for the matchup only grew in the leadup after Clemson coach Dabo Swinney seemingly dissed the Buckeyes by voting them outside the top 10 on his final coaches’ poll ballot.

Spread the wealth?: Gambler’s heartache was reserved for the first national semifinal, when 19-point favorite Alabama failed to cover by allowing Notre Dame to score a touchdown in the final minute of the Tide’s 31-14 victory. In the nightcap, the 68-point over/under was in obvious danger after Ohio State and Clemson played to a 14-14 tie in the first quarter. By halftime, it was clear the Buckeyes had enough firepower on hand to eviscerate the 7½-point spread.

Reserve cornerback Lloyd McFarquhar revels in the postgame confetti to celebrate Ohio State's 49-28 win over Clemson in the Sugar Bowl.

Strategically speaking: As the Buckeyes pushed all the right buttons in scoring 28 unanswered points in the first half, Clemson became uncharacteristically afraid to touch the controls. On three occasions, the Tigers faced a fourth down with 4 or fewer yards to go to keep the chains moving, but each time opted to punt. Ohio State then responded each time with a touchdown drive. The final punt of the second quarter seemed most in question when the Tigers had a fourth-and-3 near midfield.

This week in vanity plates: MOTIV8D

The View

• How the team sees it: Pretty good win for an 11th-ranked team, huh?

• How the playoff committee will see it: Glad we didn't second-guess ourselves over Ohio State's selection.

• How Buckeye Nation will see it: Ding, dong, the witch is dead.

Hey, what did Day say?

What he said: "I don't know what we're more excited about, the fact that we have a chance to play for a national championship or the fact that we avenged that loss."

What it means: Beating Clemson was as sweet as moving on to the national championship game.

They said it

Your turn/the channel: ESPN’s top broadcast team of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit practiced serious social distancing because Herbie was home in Nashville dealing with a positive case of COVID – or else all the words he packs into a 3½-hour telecast made his luggage too heavy. The man can talk until you beg for mercy, but he usually has his finger on the pulse of a game, like when he described Ohio State as playing with a “controlled rage.” Less successful was his incessant lionizing of Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, whose unit was pretty well de-pantsed.

Numbers for dummies

639: Total yards of offense by Ohio State, the most it had ever compiled in a bowl game, surpassing the 617 yards totaled from a 2006 Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame.

49: Points scored by the Buckeyes, the second-most scored in a game against Clemson during Brent Venables’ nine seasons as defensive coordinator

195: The yards of offense that Ohio State out-gained Clemson by in the second quarter, amassing 229 compared to 34 from the Tigers, a turning point in the game.

6: Touchdowns thrown by Justin Fields, breaking a Sugar Bowl record first set by Florida State quarterback Chris Weinke in 2000 and matched by three other passers in the previous decades.

524: Combined rushing yards from Trey Sermon over the Big Ten championship game and semifinal win.

3: Touchdowns caught the Buckeyes' tight ends, Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert.

4: Three-and-outs forced by Ohio State’s defense, including three over Clemson’s first five drives to start the game.

80%: Red-zone touchdown percentage by Ohio State, which ended up in the end zone four out of the five times it was inside the 20-yard line after going 0 for 3 in last season’s loss to Clemson.

77: Average length in yards of Ohio State’s seven touchdown drives.

5: National championship game appearances by the Buckeyes in the BCS and College Football Playoff eras.

On tap

Considering how the Buckeyes so successfully played the underdog card against Clemson, they should thrive in the coming week, when they’ll hear how they’ll be deuces and treys against the aces and kings from mighty Alabama. One difference, though: The Crimson Tide will be heavy favorites – with reason – but Nick Saban is too smart to light any matches that might ignite Ohio State fires. This time, the Buckeyes will have to summon their own mojo.


Reactions to the game on Twitter:

@JoeB_inCLE: I can tell this Buckeyes game won’t be good for my sleep or liver. 

@BlindandDirty: This game is straight fire 


@kennysipes: Ryan Day using all the plays he had ready for Michigan. 

@Will_DaThrill3: “Ohio State is going to be lacking bc they only played 6 games.” -- Uneducated Normies 

@MitchS91: Clemson defense getting worked by the 11th-best team in the country. 

@MistaBohmbastic: My hands won’t stop shaking. 

@Jeffreygwyn_: Oh my, Trey Sermon 

@ScottKinkoph: Sermon = Elliott 

@RonMott: Goodness! Buckeyes startin to put some stank on #Clemson. Did NOT see this comin!!! 

@bmc_2020: What is a Dabo? 

@bearbullscubs: Dabo Swinney knew he didn't wanna be exposed by a real game so he tried like hell to keep the Buckeyes outta the #CollegeFootballPlayoff 

@VE3ZKS: Dirty hit but if it knocks out Fields, Clemson boosters will buy #47 a truck. 

@VFL991: That'll do it for Fields tonight. It’s a shame, but I don’t see him back out after the half. He definitely has broken ribs. 

@JordanDoenges: Can I donate my ribs to Justin Fields? 

@raymondsmalley: Dabo Swinney asking the same questions as a guy who wakes up the morning after a Vegas bachelor party, deep within the desert, without clothes, tied to a cactus and a dead clown: How did I get here and what do I do now? 

@mikelonergan85: Happy New Year, Dabo! Your goose is cooked!

Horseshoe haiku

Boom! Forty-two years 

After Woody’s punch, Buckeyes 

clock Clemson again