Ohio State Comes Up Short Against Clemson Again, 29-23, For Season-Ending Loss in College Football Playoff Semifinals

By Dan Hope on December 29, 2019 at 12:03 am
Austin Mack

GLENDALE, Arizona – For the second time in four years, Ohio State’s hopes of playing for a national championship were squashed by Clemson at the Fiesta Bowl.

Despite scoring the first 16 points of the game and retaking the lead in the fourth quarter, Ohio State suffered a 29-23 loss to Clemson after the Tigers drove for a game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter and Justin Fields was intercepted in the end zone by Tigers safety Nolan Turner with 37 seconds to play, ending the Buckeyes’ season in the College Football Playoff semifinals.

  1 2 3 4 F
#2 OHIO STATE 10 6 0 7 23
#3 CLEMSON 0 14 7 8 29

The Buckeyes’ offense found immediate success through the air on the opening possession of the game, as Justin Fields completed his first six passing attempts of the day, including a spectacular 22-yard sideline catch by Garrett Wilson that brought the Buckeyes to the 5-yard line. That drive culminated with a 21-yard Blake Haubeil field goal that gave Ohio State a 3-0 lead.

After B.T. Potter missed a 49-yard field goal to end Clemson’s opening possession, J.K. Dobbins ran 68 yards through the heart of the Tigers’ defense on the first play of Ohio State’s second possession, giving the Buckeyes a 10-0 lead less than halfway through the first quarter.

On the final play of the first quarter, Dobbins broke through Clemson’s defense again for a 64-yard run – breaking Eddie George’s single-season Ohio State rushing record in the process – to get the Buckeyes back inside Clemson’s 10-yard line again. The Buckeyes were forced to settle for another short Haubeil field goal, this time from 22 yards, after what initially appeared to be an 8-yard touchdown catch for Dobbins on 3rd-and-goal was ruled incomplete upon replay review.

The Buckeyes drove into the red zone again on their next possession, a 14-play, 70-yard drive highlighted by a 24-yard contested catch by Austin Mack over Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell, but were forced to settle for their third field goal inside the 20-yard line after Dobbins dropped another pass that likely would have gone for a touchdown.

Following three straight punts, Clemson caught a break on its fifth possession of the game, when Shaun Wade was called for targeting – disqualifying him from the game – on a third-down sack of Trevor Lawrence. After Amir Riep, who replaced Wade at slot cornerback, was called for defensive pass interference on the next set of downs, Clemson broke through for its first points of the game with 2:45 to play in the second quarter on an 8-yard Travis Etienne touchdown run.

The Tigers took that momentum swing and ran with it for the rest of the first half. After Clemson’s defense Ohio State to its first three-and-out of the day on its next possession, Lawrence ran through the heart of Ohio State’s defense – making Josh Proctor whiff on a tackle in the open field – to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 16-14 with 1:10 to play in the first half. Clemson’s defense forced another 3-and-out on Ohio State’s final possession of the second quarter, then took a knee into halftime.

Ohio State’s defense forced Clemson to punt on its first two possessions of the third quarter, but on the second punt, Cameron Brown was penalized for roughing the punter. The Tigers took advantage of a fresh set of downs and just two plays later, Etienne took a screen pass 53 yards to the end zone to put Clemson ahead, 21-16, for the first time in the game with 7:54 to play in the third quarter.

The Buckeyes were hurt by another questionable call on Clemson’s next possession. Jeff Okudah knocked the ball out of Tigers receiver Justyn Ross’ hands for what was initially ruled to be a forced fumble on a third-down catch, and Jordan Fuller recovered the loose ball and returned it 29 yards for a touchdown, but Ross’ fumble was overturned to be an incomplete pass on replay review.

On Ohio State’s next possession, Justin Fields threw just his second interception of the season as he was picked off by Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons.

Ohio State retook the lead on its first possession of the fourth quarter, though, thanks to a gutsy call by Ryan Day. Facing 4th-and-1 at Clemson’s 23-yard line, the Buckeyes opted to go for it instead of settling for another field goal, and Fields connected with Chris Olave on a pass to the middle of the end zone to put the Buckeyes ahead 23-21 with 11:46 to play.

After both teams traded punts on their next possessions, however, Clemson put together the game-winning touchdown drive on its final possession of the game. A 38-yard catch-and-run by Amari Rodgers set up a 34-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Etienne on the very next play.

Ohio State had a chance to respond, but Olave fell down in the end zone while breaking from right to left and Fields’ final pass of the night, headed toward the middle of the field, was intercepted in the end zone by Tigers safety Nolan Turner, securing a Clemson victory.

The Buckeyes end their season with a 13-1 record.

Game Notes

  • Ohio State's game captains for the pregame coin toss: J.K. Dobbins, Jordan Fuller, K.J. Hill and Chase Young.
  • Hill tied Gary Williams' Ohio State record by catching a pass in his 48th consecutive game. 
  • True freshman Zach Harrison started at defensive end opposite Chase Young.
  • Clemson's leading wide receiver, Tee Higgins, went back to the locker room after his helmet came off on a near-catch on the sideline in the first quarter. He missed the remainder of the first half but returned for the Tigers' opening possession of the second half.
  • Dobbins left the game with an apparent foot/ankle injury late in the first half. He returned for Ohio State's first offensive play of the second half, but went down again after that play and did not return.
  • Ohio State defensive tackle Jashon Cornell went to the locker room in the third quarter.
  • 71,330 was the attendance for Saturday night's game.
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