A grade card on Ohio State’s 29-23 loss to Clemson in a College Football Playoff semifinal in the Fiesta Bowl.
Ohio State moved the ball effectively most of the game but its inability to finish off trips into the red zone cost the Buckeyes dearly. The controversial replay decisions which overturned calls on the field by the officials would have been a sideshow if OSU had built the lead it could have had in the first half.
Ohio State finished drives with field goals of 21, 22 and 33 yards to go up 16-0 late in the second quarter but it could have delivered a knockout blow if some of those trips into the red zone had ended with touchdown celebrations.
J.K. Dobbins had another huge game with 174 yards on 18 carries and had a run of 68 yards for a touchdown and another run of 64 yards in the first half. And he played the second half with an ankle injury.
Justin Fields obviously was not able to produce the explosive runs he brought to the offense most of the season because of strained knee ligament dating back to the Penn State game. Fields was 30 of 46 for 320 yards passing and a touchdown but netted only 13 yards rushing on 14 carries. He also threw two interceptions, including one in the end zone on OSU’s final offensive play, after being picked off only once in the first 13 games.
Ohio State’s offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage for the most part. The Buckeyes had 516 yards of total offense but needed just a little more.
Ohio State gave up a 67-yard touchdown run to Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and a 53-yard catch and run TD to running back Travis Etienne after allowing only one play of 50 yards or more the rest of the season. Missed tackles helped pave the way to the end zone on both plays.
Etienne, who came into the game with 1,500 yards rushing was held to 36 yards rushing and his longest gain on the ground was eight yards. Lawrence threw for 259 yards and two touchdowns after he passed for three or more scores in Clemson’s previous eight games.
The ejection of cornerback Shaun Wade for targeting on what was ruled a clean sack on the field that would have put Clemson in a fourth down situation late in the second quarter meant Ohio State played without one of its best defensive players more more than half the game.
With Wade in the game, Ohio State didn’t allow any points. Without him, Clemson scored two touchdowns in the final 4:45 of the first half on a total of 10 plays and went 94 yards on only four plays for the game-winning score with 1:49 left to play.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Blake Haubeil was three for three on field goals and finished the season with only two misses. Drue Chrisman forced Clemson to begin drives at the 1-yard line and the 6-yard line in the second half but saw the Tigers turn both of those punts into touchdowns on a 7-play, 99-yard drive and the 4-play, 94-yard drive.
A roughing the punter penalty, which needed no replay analysis, kept Clemson’s 99-yard drive going and led to Etienne’s 53-yard touchdown catch. That catch gave Clemson its first lead in the game.
Saturday’s playoff semifinals made it clear who the three best teams in the College Football Playoff were and they were Ohio State, LSU and Clemson. The Buckeyes didn’t play their best game but they played well.
That’s not much of a consolation prize for Ohio State and its fans, who if given the chance would hand out very low grades to the replay officials.\
Coach Ryan Day described the post-game locker room this way: “There’s just a lot of tears, a lot of disappointment, a lot of people angry in that locker room right now, a lot of thrown helmets, just a lot of can’t believe it’s over.”