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Here are seven takeaways from Clemson’s 29-23 win over Ohio State on Saturday night in the Fiesta Bowl:
1. Ohio State wanted a fast start and got it.
After falling behind in their last two games, the Buckeyes were eager to get out in front against by far the best opponent they have played.
They dominated the first quarter, outgaining the Tigers 222-77 and taking a 10-0 lead, and pretty much everything was working.
J.K. Dobbins ran for 141 yards while Justin Fields completed 9 of 12 passes for 81 more.
Meanwhile, Clemson had three first downs and two punts in the opening stanza.
2. J.K. Dobbins broke Eddie George’s single-season rushing record.
Dobbins had a runs of 68 and 64 yards in the first quarter, passing George’s mark of 1,927 yards along the way.
The junior from Texas finished the night 174 yards on 18 carries and 2,003 yards on the season.
However, a left ankle injury knocked him out of the game temporarily and seemed to limit him at least somewhat in the second half.
3. Shaun Wade was ejected for targeting in the second quarter, a play that had far-reaching consequences.
The sophomore defensive back appeared to have ended a Clemson drive with a sack of Trevor Lawrence, but upon further review, he was ejected for illegal helmet to helmet contact.
The Tigers went right after his replacement, Amir Riep, and drew a pass interference flag on the junior from Cincinnati.
Two plays later, Travis Etienne knifed through the Ohio State defense for a 9-yard touchdown to get the Tigers on the board and start a 21-0 run take spanned the second and third quarters and left them in front heading into the fourth quarter.
“The momentum swung right there,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “We thought we really were doing a great job on defense. We had almost 300 yards of offense. We got in the locker room, and we thought we had played really well. The draw that Lawrence hit, then that drive that got extended because of the targeting call on Shaun Wade, other than those plays, we thought we kind of dominated the first half.”
4. That was one of multiple close calls that did not go Ohio State’s way.
Referee Ken Williamson said after the game Wade was ejected for hitting Lawrence with the crown of his helmet.
He also explained a fumble return for a touchdown by Jordan Fuller was overturned because the replay official ruled Clemson receiver Justyn Ross had not completed the process of a catch before Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah stripped the ball from him and Fuller scooped it up.
“After the video, instant replay in the stadium as well as back at the video center, they both looked at it slow and fast and they determined when he moved,” Williamson said. “The ball was becoming loose in his hands and he did not complete the process of the catch.”
5. Prior to the game, Ohio State’s pass protection problems were a big focus, but in the first half the Buckeyes’ so-so red zone offense was a bigger issue.
Ohio State would have better been able to absorb the Tigers’ run if the Buckeyes had better taken advantage of scoring opportunities in the first half.
They drove into the red zone three tines in the first 23 minutes and settled for short field goals every time, meaning a potential 28-0 lead was only 16.
“The one thing on offense, we didn't score touchdowns when we got in the red zone in the first half,” Day said. “We're looking there, it’s16-14. We had played really well on both sides of the ball. So we felt great coming out of halftime.”
6. Big play problems returned for defense.
An Achilles heel last season, giving up explosive gains was not a problem for the Buckeyes in their first 13 games.
Saturday night, Clemson gashed them again and again as Lawrence had five passes of more than 20 yards and a 67-yard touchdown run that cut the deficit to two points late in the second quarter.
The Tigers took the lead for the first time on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to Etienne in the third quarter, and their last drive featured a 38-yard catch-and-run by Amari Rodgers before Etienne scored the eventual game-winner from 34 yards out.
7. Ohio State still had a chance to win it in the end.
Fields drove the Buckeyes to the Clemson 23-yard line with 43 seconds left but was intercepted by Nolan Turner to end Ohio State’s comeback hopes.
The ball was intended for Chris Olave, who caught three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown but fell down making a cut on the final play.
He said afterward he had though Fields was scrambling so he broke outside when the play was originally designed for him to inside toward Turner, the safety in the middle of the field.
“It was basically just a miscommunication,” Fields said. "So that happens in life, and you really can't do anything about it now. Just have to move on.”