Making its first appearance in the College Football Playoff since 2016, Ohio State fought the defending national champion Clemson Tigers to the end but fell short in a 29-23 contest in Glendale, Arizona.
The Buckeyes scored the game's first 16 points but did so ominously by failing to convert red zone trips into touchdowns in the first half.
Clemson would reel off 21 straight points to take the lead midway through the third quarter - helped by numerous questionable calls from the zebras - before Ohio State would reclaim the lead at 23-21 early in the fourth quarter.
To Clemson's credit - or more specifically credit to Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence - the orange answered the bell driving 94 yards in four plays for what became the winning touchdown with less than two minutes left in regulation.
The loss halted what had otherwise been a magical season, leaving a black mark on what was really an awesome 13-1 resume.
ZEBRAS STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT
Make no mistake, Ohio State shot itself in the foot plenty of times in a game that had little margin for error.
That said, the officiating was a questionable, at best, with one call in particular delivering a crushing blow to Ohio State's national title aspirations.
Trailing 21-16 midway through the third quarter, the defense forced Clemson into a 3rd-and-19 from its own 20. Lawrence found Justyn Ross for about nine yards who then took no less than four steps before cornerback Jeff Okudah forced the ball from his grasp. Safety Jordan Fuller scooped up the fumble and raced into the end zone for at touchdown giving the Buckeyes a 22-21 lead, or so we thought.
The replay booth ultimately overturned the call, meaning indisputable video evidence existed. I've yet to see that indisputable video evidence. Nor have you.
The officials also announced their presence on a failed punt block attempt by the Buckeyes on the first possession of the second half. On 4th-and-6 from the Tigers 15 yard line, Clemson attempted a punt, at which point Ohio State's Cameron Brown clearly ran into the kicker.
Brown let up as he neared his target, failing to "endanger" the punter which is a required component of a roughing the kicker penalty. Brown grazed him, no doubt, but didn't endanger nor did he drive through the kicker.
Clemson scored two plays later, capping a 99-yard drive, to take a 21-16 lead with 4:54 left in the third quarter.
Gene Smith was incensed with both calls in post game conversations with Joel Klatt and Pete Thamel.
RED ZONE STRUGGLES LOOM LARGE IN DEFEAT
Ohio State owned the first 25 or so minutes of the game, jumping out to a 16-0 lead while dominating virtually every facet of the game.
One facet in which the Buckeyes didn't measure up however - scoring touchdowns in the red zone - ultimately rendered other dominant areas meaningless.
Ohio State made three trips inside the Clemson 15 yard line in the first half but only had three field goals to show for it as drive after drive stalled out in the most critical part of the field, oftentimes via self-inflicted execution errors.
The Buckeyes reached the Clemson 4 yard line on the game's opening drive but a referee play stoppage to review a Garrett Wilson catch stopped a J.K. Dobbins run off left tackle that was destined to reach the end zone. Four plays later, the Buckeyes had to settle for a 21-yard Blake Haubeil field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Leading 10-0 a short time later, Ohio State was back in business with 1st-and-Goal at the Tigers 8 yard line but again had to settle for three points. Justin Fields had J.K. Dobbins wide open in the right flat but put too much heat and not enough arc on a ball that Dobbins originally appeared to catch, resulting in an on-field call of a touchdown, before replay rightly ruled it incomplete.
On Ohio State's next offensive possession, now up 13-0, it once again had to settle for a field goal after Austin Mack hauled in a pass in the back of the end zone but with his foot about six inches out of bounds. On the next play, Dobbins dropped a screen pass for what looked like a walk-in touchdown leading to another field goal.
JUSTIN FIELDS STANDS TALL
Sporting a bulky knee brace, Justin Fields completed 30 of 46 passes for 320 yards and a touchdown with another 42 yards on the ground in a valiant effort.
Fields came out firing, hitting on six of his first seven throws, connecting with six different receivers, as Ohio State took a 3-0 lead.
He was also unfazed with the game on the line as he calmly march Ohio State down the field on the game's final possession. He hit on four of six passes during the last gasp, showing great poise, and was a Chris Olave route break from throwing a game-winning 23-yard touchdown pass.
That play resulted in a pick you can't fault him for though he did toss another interception earlier in the game. Fields also took four sacks.
Fields wasn't perfect but he performed admirably in the biggest game of his life.
For the season, the first-year starter finished with 3,273 passing yards, good for the third-best single-season in school history. His 51 total touchdowns rank second-best in school annals behind Dwayne Haskins.
Running back J.K. Dobbins will mostly likely remember this game for what he didn't do than what he did but that's because the dude has high expectations and has produced at an elite level all season long.
Dobbins tore through the Tigers for 174 rushing yards on 9.7 per attempt with a touchdown and hauled in six passes for another 47 yards on eight targets.
The junior from LaGrange, Texas fueled Ohio State's hot start racing 68 yards for a touchdown giving the Buckeyes a 10-0 lead before his 64-yard sprint set up a field goal putting OSU up 13-0 early in the second quarter.
On the next Ohio State possession however, Dobbins would drop a screen pass that had touchdown written all over it, forcing OSU to settle for a field goal and a 16-0 lead. On the following possession, with Ohio State leading 16-7 late in the second quarter, Dobbins tweaked his ankle, impacting both his availability and productivity the rest of the way.
Truth be told, 141 of Dobbins' 174 rushing yards came in the first quarter though his 47 receiving yards were critical including 31 on the final drive giving the Buckeyes a shot at a game-winner.
Dobbins became the only Ohio State player to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single-season (2,003) as he ran for over 100 yards for the 10th time this year.
SUNSHINE IS GOOD
Trevor Lawrence is an impressive dude. I would rather drink gasoline than give Dabo Swinney a compliment but I have nothing but respect for Lawrence.
He took shot after shot from Ohio State's defenders and he was still a very willing participant in the run game, rushing for 107 yards on 16 carries, including a 67-yard scamper cutting the OSU lead to 16-14 just before the half. Last night was the first 100-yard rushing game of his career.
Lawrence completed only 18 of 33 passes but hit on nine of 15 in the second half for 162 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Overall, he accounted for 366 of Clemson's 417 total yards of offense and was unflappable carving up Ohio State's defense on the game-winning drive.
He marched the Tigers 94 yards on just four plays to take the 29-23 lead as he ran for 11 yards, and hit on three of three passes for the other 83 including a 34-yard catch-and-run to Travis Etienne for the dagger. The guy is a baller, plain and simple.