GLENDALE, Ariz. – Chris Olave was on his knees, trying to get his body off the ground as quickly as possible after slipping while he watched Clemson’s Nolan Turner end both the Fiesta Bowl and Ohio State’s season from about 10 yards away.
Only moments before, the sophomore wide receiver thought he had made a read on Justin Fields, seeing what he believed to be his quarterback scrambling. Throughout the season, the quarterback-wideout combination had developed such a sense of chemistry that Olave felt confident he had made the correct decision. Immediately, he learned he had made what he described after Saturday’s game as a “mistake.”
Olave broke left. The ball sailed right.
Game over. Season over.
“It was a one-on-one with me on the safety, and I was supposed to run the post,” Olave said following the 29-23 loss to Clemson. “But when I looked back, I thought he scrambled, so I tried to work the second part of my route. He ended up throwing it, and that's how the game ended.”
Ryan Day backed up Olave's explanation of what happened on the final play.
“Chris played a great game. He's very upset in the locker room right now,” Day said after the loss. “He thought Justin was scrambling. He was running a post route right there. Actually, we had exactly the call on that we wanted. He felt like Justin was in a scramble mode. Justin does a lot of creating, so they weren't on the same page. They're playing football, and they're competing. Things like that happen. Unfortunately, that happened to us on the last play of the game when we needed it the most.”
It concluded as Olave watched from the end zone just a few steps away. By the time he realized what had happened, he was unable to do anything to prevent the outcome.
“It's terrible,” Olave said. “Worst feeling in the world.”
Up until that point, Olave had caught three passes for 50 yards. With a knack for the big play, he made Ohio State's most important catch of the game, snagging a go-ahead 23-yard touchdown on a 4th-and-1 call.
Still, Olave put the blame on himself for the loss.
“We definitely had a lot of opportunities, but I put that game on me to make that play at the end,” Olave said.
After the game, Olave didn’t specify names but said he had teammates who didn’t talk much come up to him to tell him how much they respect him.
Because Olave was so emotional, he said he hadn’t yet talked much with Fields, who completed 30-of-46 passes for 320 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. But the sophomore quarterback offered him a few words of encouragement in the immediate aftermath.
“He told me I'm one of the best receivers in the country and just keep my head up,” Olave said.
And he listened.
After the game, Olave answered every question to the best of his ability. He didn't break down. The sophomore handled the moment, his first significant error on a major stage as a Buckeye, with the poise of a veteran.
“Chris Olave is an unbelievable competitor,” Day said. “He loves his teammates. Nobody feels worse than Chris right now. So when you play games like this, you put yourself out there, and that's what happened at the end of the game. Our guys were competing all the way down to the end.”
Ultimately, in a game with more than a few swings, the game ended with Clemson on top.
“I feel like we had a great team coming in,” Olave said. “We felt like we had great matchups. Clemson's a great team, and it came down to the end and made a mistake.”
He won't soon forget what happened. The goal, Olave said, is to become the nation's best wide receiver next season.
That journey begins on Sunday.