The Buckeyes and Clemson met for only the second time in history, and for the second time the Clemson Tigers pulled out the victory on an interception at the end of the game. In a tough, hard fought battle, both teams slugged their way into leads, and control of the momentum, but it was Clemson holding the 40-35 lead at the end. Braxton Miller, hurt for much of the game, grit his teeth and put together a 16/24 for 234 yards, 2 touchdowns and two interceptions. He also added two touchdowns and 35 yards on 18 carries, though he lost a lot of yardage on sacks. Tajh Boyd, Miller’s counterpart, came out with a stunning display by throwing 30/39 for 370 yards, 5 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, as well as running 20 times for 127 yards and a touchdown.
Carlos Hyde, the stellar Ohio State back, finished his career in a tough running day, managing to gain 113 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. Corey “Philly” Brown led the Buckeye receivers with 116 yards on 8 receptions for the day. For Clemson, Roderick McDowell picked up only 69 yards on 12 carries, while Sammy Watkins set an Orange Bowl record with 227 yards on 16 receptions, and capping it off with 2 touchdowns.
The Ohio State Defense, much maligned most of the season and especially going into this game, were the first unit tasked with handling a potent offense this evening. Things were going well for the first couple plays. Clemson was finding some success moving the football, but the Buckeyes were tackling and attacking. Until Tajh Boyd hit the center of the offensive line and blitzed away to a 49 yard touchdown. That was Boyd’s longest touchdown run of the season.
Going the other direction, things did not look a whole lot better for OSU. The Offensive Line, a huge strength of this team all season, suddenly looked unable to block up the middle. A few attempts at the edge, including a 10 yard pass to Corey “Philly” Brown in the flat, had some success, but it wasn’t enough. Clemson’s defensive line picked up an excellent 17 yard sack helped by their coverage unit. 20 yards of penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct, gave the Buckeyes new life on the drive.
The Buckeyes continued to struggle on their first drive. Eventually, they were forced to punt. But, instead of giving the ball back, Meyer called Heuerman’s number on a fake with only 2 yards to go inside Clemson territory. The fake worked, and began to breathe life into the Scarlet and Grey. The drive was capped off by a beautiful 33 yard run with a little Braxton-patented stutter-step for a touchdown.
It did not take Clemson long to answer. Sammy Watkins got free on the edge, failing to score only because of smart play by Josh Perry to force him to the boundary. Not long after, Boyd placed a beautiful pass over Vonn Bell’s head into the endzone to Chandler Catanzaro. It was the first sign we had that Vonn Bell may not have been entirely ready to perform in this game. To be fair, however, he was expecting safety help that never materialized.
The following possession was more about field position than scoring. While OSU moved the ball, primarily using Philly Brown on the edge, Clemson was eventually able to stop the Bucks by batting a pass out of the air on third and six. But the Buckeye special teams unit made the play to change the momentum. Ohio State pinned Clemson inside their one yard line, which allowed the defense to attack Tajh Boyd in the backfield on first down. The attack paid off, earning a safety on an intentional grounding call and getting the ball back to OSU.
Praise needs to be given to the Clemson defense in this game. One of the big problems Michigan State had with the Buckeyes was Braxton Miller’s ability to elude capture in the backfield. Clemson, recognizing this, knew they needed to cover the recievers well, and then maintain solid containment on the pocket. In so doing, they forced Miller to stay home and keep looking for options that weren’t opening up in the secondary. That gameplan seemed to pay off big early in the game, putting the entire game on Miller’s shoulders and forcing him to execute.
Both teams traded the ball a few times early in the second quarter, but it was Clemson that sorted out their offense first. A nice run to the edge that utilized the recievers as fakes to draw the OSU defense away from the right side gained a huge first down. That was closely followed by a 43 yard pass to Jordan Leggitt, putting them inside the red zone for the first time in the game. Amazingly, on third and four from the seven yard line, Tajh Boyd scrambled out of the pocket and tried to throw a little push pass over the head of the OSU defense when they committed to the tackle. Amazingly, Vonn Bell made a huge play, skying and snatching the ball one handed out of the air, ending the Clemson threat. OSU was not able to convert after being pinned on their own five, but Cameron Johnston booted a huge punt deep into Tigers territory, functionally flipping the field.
It ended up not mattering. Sammy Watkins and Boyd systemically picked apart the Ohio State defense straight down the field in about three minutes. A touch pass over Armani Reeves in the corner gave Clemson the two score lead they missed on the previous drive. Surprisingly, Catanzaro bounced the extra point off the upright, leaving the score at a very unusual 20-9.
The Buckeyes gave the extra point back on the very next drive. Braxton Miller finally got the ball moving, running for a first down on first and ten, and hitting Philly Brown on a crossing route. Then, using Hyde on a play action pass to fake the attack on the right side, the Buckeyes opened up the middle of the Clemson defense. Jeff Heuerman had to wait forever for Miller’s pass to get to him, but he was so wide open that it didn’t matter. Heuerman was able to truck it 57 yards into the endzone. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, who chose not to go for two when down five, Clemson managed to get a hand on the extra point.
It looked for all the world like Clemson was going to get the last chance to score before the half. Amazingly, the Buckeyes defense made a great play on fourth and five inside their own territory, proving the mantra that Football is a game of inches. The Clemson runner stretch the ball out near the sideline, but came up less than a yard short as he ran out of bounds. Unfortunately, Vonn Bell committed a late hit after the play, forcing the OSU offense to start deep in their own end.
But Meyer and Miller were game to try to score before the half. After struggling in the passing game all half, Braxton was able to find open receivers over the middle of the field repeatedly. He hit Nick Vannett with a nice pass to put the team past the 50, and two other passes to Philly Brown. The second pass to Philly could have gone for a touchdown, but Miller underthrew it causing Philly to have to stop and ultimately fall to contain the catch. On the next play, Braxton called his own number and charged into the endzone for the first OSU lead of the game.
Despite getting the ball back following the half, the Buckeyes weren’t able to do much with the ball. Carlos Hyde pounded the ball up the middle relatively successfully, but on third and short, Miller decided to keep and Clemson had it read the whole way. Clemson recieved the resulting punt and proceeded to move the ball with authority. Once they crossed midfield, things began to bog down as the Buckeye defense went on the attack. A huge sack on second down forced Boyd to try to throw on third. Amazingly, OSU was able to get pressure with a three man rush, helped out by a spy keeping Boyd honest. Boyd was flushed from the pocket and heaved a pass down the field into single coverage that was batted away by the corner.
OSU responded on their following drive by smartly moving the football in bits and pieces. Rather than continually handing the ball to Hyde, the Bucks used a balance of Hyde, Miller, and Dontre Wilson to keep Clemson’s defense guessing. The strategy worked, advancing the Bucks down the field in small 4-5 yard pieces. Forced into a fourth and inches just inside field goal range, the Buckeyes chose to go for the first. For the first time in the game, Carlos Hyde managed to break a run, cutting deep into the second level. After fighting his way through several attempted tackles, Hyde was brought down just inches short of the goal-line. He was rewarded on the following play with the scoring run.
It was looking like the momentum had firmly taken a seat on Ohio State’s side of the field. The defense, having struggled to contain Clemson all night long, managed to get a stop on third and short deep in Clemson territory, forcing a three and out. But Philly Brown made a stupid attempt to not fair catch the punt, instead muffing it away inside the OSU 40. Clemson wasn’t going to let a golden opportunity go to waste, putting up a 30 yard touchdown pass on third down to score their first points for more than a quarter of play. That score ended a streak of 21 unanswered points for the Buckeyes, and huge win for the Tigers late in this game.
The Clemson defense earned themselves a win too. Having played a nearly flawless game from a turnover perspective, the Buckeyes committed two on straight possessions. On third and long, Miller was forced from the pocket and attempted to squeeze a pass down the sideline to Philly Brown. Brown, unfortunately, was double covered, and Clemson made a play on the ball, picking it off inside the OSU 40. Tajh Boyd went to work immediately, finding no trouble moving the football. Finally, Boyd tossed a pass to Martavis Bryant over the head of Armani Reeves in the left corner of the endzone, scoring an amazing touchdown despite a tough defensive play. Clemson had regained the five point lead in just over two minutes of play.
With only a quarter left to play, the Buckeyes came back out with their methodical offense. Despite his hurt right side, Miller continued to deliver passes during the drive, regularly finding Carlos Hyde in the flat and along the sidelines. Eventually, with a little bit of help from the Clemson sideline being unable to stay on the sidelines, the Buckeyes were in striking distance. Miller faked left, and then came back to the right with a pass to a wide open Hyde for the touchdown to take the lead. Unfortunately, Miller was crushed on the play by Spencer Shuey, resulting in a penalty on the ensuing kickoff. Being up only one, the Buckeyes chose to go for two, running the offense with Kenny Guiton. Guiton released a pass to Devin Smith too late, allowing a Tiger to jump the route and knock it to the turf.
It didn’t matter if OSU had a one point lead or a three point lead. The Buckeyes had not proven that they could consistently stop the Clemson passing attack all night long, particularly Sammy Watkins, who set an Orange Bowl record for yardage in a game. The Tigers continued to go to the screen pass to Watkins that basically gained them 15 to 20 yards at least every time they ran it. The Bucks simply had no way to effectively stop the play. After the Buckeyes effectively stopped Clemson with a goalline stand, a fortuitous penalty on Clemson backed them up five yards. That made the resulting pass play easier to manage, as Tajh Boyd faked right and then tossed the ball to a wide open receiver who simply walked into the endzone. Clemson, finding themselves up five, attempted to go for two with a trick play for Sammy Watkins to throw, but the pass was batted down.
Braxton Miller, despite being hurt, came back out to lead the Buckeyes in one final drive for the game. A nice pass over the middle to Philly Brown started things off right. That was followed by an excellent Braxton Miller run up the middle for another first down. However, the offense repeated the same Miller run, which got swallowed up at the line, and then ran a screen play to Devin Smith to the short side of the field, giving Smith no space to work. On the resulting third and long, Clemson sold out and got to Miller as he was throwing, causing Miller to fumble the ball straight into the arms of Shuey. With only three minutes left, the game seemed like it was all but over.
But Clemson just had to make the mistake of a lifetime. Tajh Boyd was asked to throw the ball on third and long with a minute and a half left, and CJ Barnett jumped the route. The interception gave the Buckeyes the ball inside Clemson territory.
But Miller threw the ball straight to a waiting linebacker, having locked on to Philly Brown for the majority of the game.
Give Clemson a ton of credit. They overcame some critical mistakes to put together a tough, gutty win on the strength of great offense, and surprisingly game defense. Ohio State’s four turnovers made a big difference in this one, even if Clemson responded with 2 of their own. This was an excellent football game, an all-time classic battle of great teams, and the team that had the all around better ability to control the line won the game – as it should be.
The big story coming into this game were the young guns the Buckeyes were forced to play on defense due to injuries an suspensions. Most of those young guys acquitted themselves well in a tough battle tonight. Jamal Marcus, playing the game in replacement of Noah Spence, put together a good show early and often today. He made a few critical tackles, and was in on a couple big plays. Vonn Bell, replacing the injured Bradley Roby, made a key interception to end a scoring attempt by Clemson. He also made a few tough plays in the secondary to help out against a dominant passing team that simply wasn’t going to be stopped.
In the final analysis, a 12-2 season, a 24 game winning streak, and a win over Michigan, along with a B1G Championship berth, and a spot in a BCS bowl game, this was a successful season. It may not have ended the way we as fans wanted it to, but it was a great season none-the-less. It’s certainly something for this team to build on moving forward.
The Buckeyes have completed their 2013-2014 season and will next play the Navy Midshipmen on August 30th, 2014. That game will be played at a time yet to be determined in M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.