Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware tries to tackle N.C. State running back Matthew Dayes on October 15, 2016 at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Todd Bennett/Getty Images)

Clemson linebacker Boulware still stung by national title game loss

“You’ve got to go through a lot of ugly phases,” Boulware said Tuesday in a press conference at the Camelback Inn. “You’ve got to be a man. But to fight it off and resist the razor. That’s about it. It’s definitely not a playoff beard. This has been here since January 12th and it’s December 27th. So that’s a long time.”

Facial hair or not, Boulware is a big reason No. 2 Clemson (12-1) earned a date with No. 3 Ohio State (11-1) in the Fiesta Bowl at 7 p.m. Saturday. The Tigers will seek to return to the national championship game for the second straight year with Boulware as the centerpiece of their defense. He leads the group with 114 tackles and was named a second-team All-American.

The Buckeyes have had a month to prepare for Boulware. They ought to know him well by now.

“He’s around the ball,” Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “He’s just one of those playmakers, ball-seekers. I think he does a great job of deciphering plays, like what the offense is trying to do. He’s instinctive in that way.”

Clemson arrived in Phoenix on Monday and held their first practice Tuesday at Scottsdale Community College. Boulware said he doesn’t like Arizona but only because of the memories of the 45-40 loss to Alabama in the national championship game last season at Univeristy of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale. The team will return to that stadium Saturday with a chance to bury the memory for good.

“It stuck with me for a while,” Boulware said. “After a while, I definitely became appreciative of what we’ve done. I know it’s so difficult to do it two years in a row, let alone one. Reflecting back on it now, and the past couple of months, it definitely allows you to appreciate that much more. Fourteen and one is a pretty dadgum good season. But obviously that one loss lingers and stands out. We’re definitely going to try to change that this year.”

The main lesson the Tigers learned last year, Boulware said, was to finish games.

“That’s kind of the only thing we’ve been preaching all year,” he said. “We played well for 14 games, and at the end of the day we didn’t finish. We got beat. That’s kind of been our motto all year: to finish in every aspect, in the film room, at practice, each game. We’re just treating every game like it’s the national championship, and hopefully when that time comes it will carry over.”

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