Clemson's national-best winning streak improved to 29 games in a row thanks to quarterback Trevor Lawrence's game-winning touchdown pass to Travis Etienne and Nolan Turner's game-sealing interception in the end zone as No. 3 seed Clemson rallied to beat No. 2 seed Ohio State 29-23.
SCORE, STATS FROM THE FIESTA BOWL: How Clemson downed Ohio State
The Tigers will have the chance to play No. 1 seed LSU in the College Football Playoff national championship as Clemson will try to win back-to-back national championships.
The Buckeyes led 16-0 late in the second quarter after the Tigers' red zone defense repeatedly forced the Buckeyes into short field goals in the first half, which allowed Clemson to mount a comeback. The Tigers put together two touchdown drives in the final three minutes of the half, cutting Ohio State's lead to 16-14 at the break.
In the second half, Clemson wide receiver Tee Higgins returned to the field after being sidelined for most of the first half with an apparent injury and the Tigers also benefited from a major special teams gaffe as Ohio State was called for roughing the kicker deep in Clemson territory, which allowed the Tigers to put together a 99-yard scoring drive.
The play that Ohio State fans will be talking about for the next few days, if not the next few years, is when cornerback Jeffrey Okudah stripped Clemson wide receiver Justyn Ross deep in Clemson territory and teammate Jordan Fuller scooped up the football and ran it back for a touchdown, which gave the Buckeyes the lead. However, the play was ruled an incomplete catch after video review.
The Buckeyes were still able to score again as Justin Fields found Chris Olave in the end zone on 4th & 1, but that set up Trevor Lawrence, Travis Etienne and the Tigers to assemble their own go-ahead scoring drive. This time, it was the final score of the game, as Lawrence threw a jump pass to Etienne, who weaved his way through Ohio State's secondary for a touchdown.
Ohio State vs. Clemson: Quarter-by-quarter recap
Fourth quarter | Clemson 29, Ohio State 23
The Fiesta Bowl won't come down to Ohio State's decision not to go for two or Clemson's field goal kicking after all.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence found Amari Rodgers for a 38-yard gain, then one play later he found Travis Etienne for a 34-yard catch-and-run touchdown, putting the Tigers ahead again. In a game in which Etienne had just 10 carries for 36 yards, he has made a huge impact in the Tigers' passing game with three catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
Clemson was able to convert on the two-point conversion as Lawrence scrambled and found Tee Higgins, who was sidelined for most of the first half, in the back of the end zone.
The Fiesta Bowl might come down to two things – Ohio State's previous decision not to go for two after scoring the go-ahead touchdown and Clemson's kicking game after the Tigers already missed a field goal attempt in the semifinal.
Ohio State leads by two points in the closing minutes and Clemson has to drive almost the entire length of the field following a punt by the Buckeyes.
Clemson picked off Ohio State quarterback for the second time in the Fiesta Bowl...however, the interception was called off due to a holding penalty. That was a costly play for the Tigers as the Buckeyes faced 2nd & 21 on the play in which Clemson committed a holding penalty.
After a controversial fumble return touchdown was overturned, Ohio State was still able to reclaim the lead against Clemson with a touchdown connection between Justin Fields and Chris Olave on 4th & 1. The Buckeyes elected not to go for two.
The first would-be fumble of the game almost turned out to be one of massive impact. Ohio State star cornerback Jeffrey Okudah stripped Justyn Ross deep in Clemson territory and Jordan Fuller scooped up the football and ran it back for a touchdown, as the Buckeyes reclaimed the lead. Almost.
However, the play was reviewed and ruled an incomplete pass.
On Ohio State's next possession, Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons intercepted Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who had thrown just one interception all season prior to the Fiesta Bowl.
Ohio State forced Clemson to punt after the Tigers stalled out at their own 15-yard line but the Buckeyes were penalized for roughing the kicker, which extended Clemson's drive with a fresh set out downs.
Clemson capitalized on Ohio State's special teams gaffe with a screen pass from Trevor Lawrence to Travis Etienne, who scampered 53 yards for a touchdown, giving Clemson its first lead of the Fiesta Bowl.
Good news, Clemson fans. Wide receiver Tee Higgins is back. The Tigers' first play of the second half was a throw intended for Higgins, who didn't return to the field in the first half after he was shaken up on a play that left him with his helmet off.
Trevor Lawrence threw to Higgins three times on the Tigers' first drive in the second half. Two were incomplete and one play resulted in an Ohio State penalty. Clemson punted after a three-and-out.
While Clemson got one of its best play-makers back in the second half, Ohio State lost one of its best. Running back J.K. Dobbins limped to the locker room after the Buckeyes' first play in the second half after suffering an ankle injury in the first half.
Halftime | Ohio State 16, Clemson 14
Ohio State could've built a three or four-score lead against Clemson but the Tigers' red zone defense forced the Buckeyes into three short field goals, which allowed Clemson to fight back with two late touchdown drives.
The game changed when Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade was ejected for targeting, extending a Clemson drive in which the Tigers later scored, and Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins' second-half availability is in question after he left the game with an apparent ankle injury. He was seen warming up on the sideline at the end of the first half as backup Master Teague III replaced him on the field. Dobbins had nine carries for 142 yards and a touchdown in the first half.
Second quarter | Ohio State 16, Clemson 14
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence did his best J.K. Dobbins impression with a 67-yard touchdown run on 2nd & 10 to cut Ohio State's lead to two points after PAT. It was the longest run of Lawrence's career and it came on his ninth rush attempt of the – an important part of his game and Clemson's offense that has come a long way since last season.
On Ohio State's next possession, Master Teague III was in the backfield for the Buckeyes while Dobbins was on the sideline after suffering an apparent ankle injury. Dobbins could be seen warming up on the sideline.
Clemson is finally on the board after Clemson running back Travis Etienne, who had just four carries in the game late in the second quarter, took a pitch from eight yards out into the end zone, after cutting back through the Buckeyes' second level of defenders.
The Tigers got into the red zone on the drive after Ohio State defensive back Amir Riep, who entered the game after Shaun Wade was ejected for targeting, committed a pass interference penalty.
After Dobbins' 64-yard scamper nearly ended in another long touchdown run, the Buckeyes' running back was nearly able to finish the drive with a touchdown on a diving catch on 3rd & Goal, but after the play was initially ruled a touchdown, it was overturned after video review. Ohio State had to settle for another field goal in the red zone.
Clemson's next drive resulted in a three-and-out and the Tigers elected to punt rather than go for it on 4th & 1 at their own 34-yard line.
Dobbins had another chance at a receiving touchdown when Ohio State's 12th play on its next drive was a screen pass on 2nd & 15 to Dobbins, who had blockers in front of him, but he couldn't hang on to the ball. Ohio State had to settle for a 33-yard field goal.
There was a pivotal sequence on the Tigers' next possession when Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade had a delayed blitz and delivered a huge hit on Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who stayed down on the field after the play. The hit was reviewed and Wade was ejected with targeting. Lawrence left the game for one play before returning.
First quarter | Ohio State 10, Clemson 0
Clemson kicked off to start the game, giving Ohio State the ball first. The Buckeyes came out firing, throwing the ball on five of their first six plays and moving at tempo. Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields was 6-for-7 for 64 yards on the drive, including a 22-yard connection to Garrett Wilson, who made an acrobatic catch along the sideline – shown below – to put the Buckeyes inside the Tigers' red zone.
However, Clemson cornerback A.J. Terrell broke up Fields' pass on 3rd & Goal, forcing Ohio State to settle for a chip-shot field goal.
On Clemson's first drive, Ohio State's defense also forced the Tigers to settle for a field goal after their offense stalled at the Buckeyes' 32-yard line. Ohio State linebacker Tuf Borland nearly picked off Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence then Damon Arnette helped force a pass break-up on third down. Clemson kicker B.T. Potter missed the 49-yard attempt.
To make things worse for Clemson, star receiver Tee Higgins lost his helmet while attempting to make a catch against double coverage and he appeared to be banged up on the play, which forced him to go to the locker room.
He was ruled out for the rest of the game, according to the broadcast.
Clemson's missed field goal created a 10-point swing as Ohio State's All-American running back J.K. Dobbins blew through Clemson's defensive front for a 68-yard touchdown on the very next play.
Later in the first quarter, Clemson safety K'Von Wallace jumped a route and could've had a pick-six deep in Ohio State territory, but he couldn't hang on to the ball. The Buckeyes ultimately punted on that drive, giving the Tigers the ball back just across midfield.
The first quarter ended with another 60-yard run by Dobbins – this time, 64 yards – before he was tripped up at Clemson's 8-yard line, setting up the Buckeyes for another scoring opportunity.
Ohio State vs. Clemson: Fiesta Bowl: Time, TV channel
Ohio State and Clemson play at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday, Dec. 28 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The game is on ESPN.
Ohio State vs. Clemson: Fiesta Bowl prediction, preview
For the second consecutive season, two undefeated teams meet in a CFP semifinal.
But this one feels different.
Last year, Clemson routed Notre Dame in the No. 2 vs. No. 3 game. But this year, defending national champion Clemson is the No. 3 seed and plays a No. 2 Ohio State that was No. 1 going into the final week of the regular season.
This marks the second time the Buckeyes and the Tigers are meeting in the CFP. In the 2016 season, Clemson blanked OSU 31-0 on its way to winning the national title.
Expect a much closer game this time. Both Ohio State and Clemson have won big week after week. OSU's closest win was by 11 points against top-10 Penn State; after escaping North Carolina in the last weekend in September, Clemson has won its last eight games by 42.1 points per game.
Here's how dominant Clemson and Ohio State have been. They are Nos. 1 and 2 in passing defense, with the Tigers ranking first in the nation in points allowed per game (10.6), yards allowed (244.7) and passing yards allowed (138.5). Ohio State? Oh, just two Heisman finalists in QB Justin Fields and DE Chase Young. Young's 16.5 sacks lead the nation. And Ohio State's 48.7 points per game leads the country.
If there's one area that could be trouble for Ohio State, it's protecting Fields. The Buckeyes have surrendered 31 sacks in 13 games — 95th in the country at 2.38 per game. That hasn't cost OSU yet, however, as Fields has 40 passing touchdowns with only one interception. He also has star RB J.K. Dobbins.
TV SCHEDULE: Complete times and TV channels for every bowl game
When Clemson has the ball, it looks to QB Trevor Lawrence and RB Travis Etienne. Lawrence has 20 passing touchdowns without an interception his last six games — and Etienne ranks first in FBS with 8.24 yards per carry.
The Buckeyes have certainly been more tested than Clemson. Ohio State has wins against final CFP Top 25 ranked teams Cincinnati (by 42), Wisconsin (by 31), Penn State (by 11), Michigan (by 29) and Wisconsin again (by 13). It also has wins against CUSA champion FAU and MAC champion Miami (Ohio). That's an impressive resume.
Clemson has one win against a team that's currently ranked: No. 23 Virginia (62-17) in the ACC title game. That's it. That perceived schedule weakness — and the one-point escape at UNC — are why the defending champions dropped out of the top spot in the polls despite beating teams by almost 36 points per game.
|The Pick||Clemson 28,
Ohio State 24
Ohio State vs. Clemson: Stats, how they compare
NOTE: Stats in bold lead FBS.
|13-0 (9-0 Big Ten)||Record (Conference)||13-0 (8-0 ACC)|
|No. 2||CFP ranking||No. 3|
|48.7||Points per game||46.5|
|531.0||Yards per game||547.7|
|247.6||Yards allowed per game||244.7|
|148.1||Passing yards allowed||138.5|
|99.5||Rushing yards allowed||106.2|
2,953 yards (40 TDs, 1 INT)
|Passing yards leader||Trevor Lawrence
3,172 yards (34 TDs, 8 INT)
1,829 yards, 20 TDs
|Rushing yards leader||Travis Etienne
1,500 yards, 17 TDs
799 yards, 11 TDs
|Receiving yards leader||Tee Higgins
1,082 yards, 13 TDs
44 total tackles, 21 tfl, 16.5 sacks
|Defensive leader||Isaiah Simmons
93 total tackles, 14 tfl, 7 sacks
Ohio State vs. Clemson: Series history, scores
Clemson leads the series 3-0 all-time, with two of the matchups coming since the 2013 season.
|Dec. 29, 1978||No. 7 Clemson||17-15||No. 20 Ohio State||Gator Bowl|
|Jan. 3, 2014||No. 12 Clemson||40-35||No. 7 Ohio State||Orange Bowl|
|Dec. 31, 2016||No. 2 Clemson||31-0||No. 3 Ohio State||Fiesta Bowl - CFP semifinal|