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Chris Olave finds redemption in Ohio State's playoff win over Clemson

Joey Kaufman
Buckeye Xtra

NEW ORLEANS — When Chris Olave tested positive for the coronavirus last month, Ohio State coach Ryan Day became nervous, not sure if his team’s leading receiver would be healthy enough to return for the College Football Playoff.

“It was a little dicey,” he said.

Beginning a week of practices upon the return of coaches and players from a brief Christmas break, Olave had been limited.

But as preparations for a semifinal rematch continued, he seemed to recover. Day remarked that he had “started to get his legs back underneath him,” a sign his conditioning had improved after missing for the Big Ten championship.

His presence gave a big lift to the Buckeyes, particularly to quarterback Justin Fields, who had struggled without one of his top pass catchers two weeks earlier.

Olave hauled in six passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-28 win over Clemson, pushing Ohio State into the national championship game against Alabama on Jan. 11.

Ohio State receiver Chris Olave (2) came up big for the Buckeyes in the Sugar Bowl, finishing with six receptions for 132 yards and two touchdowns.

“One of the more clutch players as a receiver and maybe in the history of Ohio State football when you think back on it,” Day said. “What a player he is.”

The connection between Fields and Olave was evident throughout the Sugar Bowl.

When Fields returned in the second quarter after taking a brutal shot to his right ribcage, he immediately looked to Olave. Moving outside the pocket, Fields found him near an end-zone pylon for a touchdown that put the Buckeyes ahead by a 28-14 score.

Ohio State football:Justin Fields shakes off shot to ribs to push Ohio State past Clemson

It was a rollout play that Fields said he and Olave had practiced about 20 times during practices, timing that was evident during the sequence.

“We knew that was a call that we're going to get in the red zone, and we executed it well,” Fields said. “I'm so proud of Chris and the way he played.”

As the win turned into a blowout in the second half, Fields also hit Olave on a deep pass for a 56-yard touchdown.

Each instance offered a moment of personal redemption for Olave, who had come up short 370 days earlier in heartbreak at the hands of Clemson in the teams’ previous meeting.

With a chance to catch a winning touchdown in the closing moments of last season’s Fiesta Bowl, Olave instead broke off a route in the end zone, and a pass from Fields was picked off by Nolan Turner, sealing the Tigers’ triumph.  

Olave slumped as he walked off the field at State Farm Stadium, drowned in purple and orange confetti.

“That game didn’t sit well with him,” Day said. “How many times did he have to watch that play? He and Justin. Over and over again. It just made him sick. They're such great competitors. They wanted to come back and win.”

Both awaited the opportunity that arose with a rematch against Clemson, a postseason nemesis for the Buckeyes who had beaten them three times in the past decade, and a chance to reach a national championship game.

Ohio State had not been to the final since the first season of the playoff, in 2014.

“We were just talking about all week that this game can make an everlasting impact,” Fields said, “and this game controls our legacy.”

Along with the gutsy effort of Fields, who played through injured ribs, Olave also entered his name into Buckeye lore.

jkaufman@dispatch.com

@joeyrkaufman

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