NEW ORLEANS — The No. 11 Warriors, brave and bold from Ohio State.
If Clemson didn’t respect its opponent heading into the Sugar Bowl, the Buckeyes made damn sure there was no other choice on Friday night in a dominant victory in the College Football Playoff semifinal.
Ohio State left absolutely no doubt about its national-title candidacy, erasing a year’s worth of bad memories and making more history down in the Superdome along the way. The Buckeyes have their sweet revenge over Clemson, and Dabo Swinney’s vote will go down as one of the most egregious unforced coaching errors in the buildup to a high-stakes game imaginable.
Ohio State punched a ticket to South Florida to pay for the national title, and it punched its bully in the mouth with an 49-28 win that left no doubt whatsoever about why the selection committee put the Big Ten champs in the field. Justin Fields was nearly flawless, the defense made the stops required to slow down Clemson’s vaunted attack and Ohio State overcame adversity on both sides of the football to move within one victory of the sport’s biggest prize.
Bottom line:Â Ohio State was once again the better team against Clemson, but this time it didn’t let anything stand in its way of a monumental victory.
That takeaway starts the Snap Judgments as Lettermen Row begins its postgame coverage of Ohio State’s Sugar Bowl win over Clemson.
Justin Fields simply won’t be denied for Ohio State
The Buckeyes didn’t need their superstar quarterback to be Superman. Justin Fields decided to do his impression of the Man of Steel anyway with a truly remarkable, gritty outing when he was clearly in pain. So much for those supposed struggles over the last few games, right?
Fields had a wrap on his thumb as a precaution after his injury in the Big Ten title game. Then he added another health concern after an illegal, bone-rattling hit to his ribs in the first half, leaving for a play and getting medical attention between drives. But Fields kept bouncing back, delivering the football with pinpoint accuracy, off-the-charts velocity and confidence against a talented Clemson defense. Fields wasn’t named a Heisman Trophy finalist this year, but he played like the best player in America when it counted most.
Buckeyes emphatically silence Dabo Swinney, Clemson
Dabo Swinney should have known better, but the Clemson coach simply couldn’t help himself. And if he didn’t recognize that there aren’t 10 teams more talented or deserving than Ohio State, he should probably give up his ballot to vote in the coaches poll. The Buckeyes took the high road during the buildup to the Sugar Bowl, but they were clearly motivated by the slights coming from the Tigers over the last few weeks and intent on sending a message that couldn’t be denied to anybody who doubted them.
Ohio State needed a bit of time to get their feet under them defensively in the first half, but the relentless effort they played with help make up for that as the Silver Bullets started stringing together stops and building a comfortable lead by halftime. The Buckeyes clearly had a deep reservoir of energy that was at least partially provided by Swinney himself, and the program never has to hear about its winless record against Clemson ever again.
Ohio State unleashes tight ends at perfect moment
The best way to keep a couple weapons secret is to not actually use them until the right time. The element of surprise was there for the Ohio State tight ends after they went quiet in the passing attack for the second half of the season, and Ryan Day picked the most opportune moment of the year to slice up Clemson with Jeremy Ruckert and Luke Farrell. Hitting those two athletic, invaluable targets for three touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl was a clear reminder that Ohio State had kept a couple tricks up its sleeve when it never needed to show off the fully-functioning Deathstar during the march to the Big Ten crown. The Buckeyes have so many ways to move the football and score in a hurry, and Ruckert and Farrell will now give Alabama’s suspect defense yet another concern heading into the national championship game.
Rushmen answer challenge to seal Sugar Bowl win
The Buckeyes had yet another curveball thrown at a position group with two rotation-regulars missing at defensive end, forcing the unit to play a higher volume of snaps than it would prefer. But Jonathon Cooper, Tyreke Smith and a pinch-hitting Baron Browning looked as fresh as could be in the fourth quarter with a chance to seal the victory — and they did just that by harassing Trevor Lawrence on three critical snaps to get a stop and send the Tigers home with a loss. The win will be especially sweet for the captain Cooper, who was injured last season and didn’t even have a chance to compete against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes have taken some unwarranted criticism about their pass rush this season, but they certainly got the job done in the Sugar Bowl.