With pure determination and toughness, the No. 3 Ohio State Buckeyes advanced to their second College Football Playoff National Championship game with a 49-28 victory over the No. 2 Clemson Tigers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome Friday evening in New Orleans, La.
Justin Fields tied the school record for touchdown passes with six scores for 385 yards, while running back Trey Sermon also had another monster game, registering 252 total yards, including 191 on the ground. Chris Olave returned to action in elite fashion with six catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns.
With the win, the Buckeyes (7-0) face No. 1 Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game set for Monday, Jan. 11, at 8 p.m. ET at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
In a frenzy, back-and-forth first-quarter, Clemson struck first on the opening possession of the game with an 8-play, 82-yard drive that ended with a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Trevor Lawrence. On third down, a key 27-yard completion to Cornell Powell from Lawrence put the Tigers inside the five-yard line to set up the scoring chance.
Following a 3-and-out by the Buckeye defense midway through the quarter, the Scarlet and Gray offense exploded, scoring in three plays in 77 yards, capped off by a 32-yard touchdown run by Sermon. The Tiger defense was caught off-guard by the push of the Ohio State offensive line, leading the Buckeyes down the field in a 1:12 span.
The scoring continued when Clemson regained the lead after a seven-play, 75-yard drive in 2:58. The Tigers came out fast with a run, pass mix. Tiger running back Travis Etienne ended the drive with a three-yard touchdown run for the 14-7 advantage.
But the Scarlet and Gray punched right back, this time through the air to tie the game. Justin Fields was in his rhythm and tossed a 47-yard completion to Garrett Wilson to push the Scarlet and Gray into the red zone. On third down, Fields connected with Luke Farrell for an eight-yard touchdown pass. The drive took 3:25 and covered 75 yards in six plays.
The two teams combined for 332 yards of total offense in the first quarter.
The OSU offense was in sync to start the second quarter, taking their first lead of the night from a combination of run and pass by Fields. It was a Buckeye tight end that found the endzone again, this time to Jeremy Ruckert on a misdirection pass for a 17-yard touchdown strike.
The Buckeyes drove down the Superdome on nine plays and 84 yards to take the 21-14 lead. Ohio State was just getting started in a determined offensive attack to extend its lead to two scores. Sermon powered through the middle of the Clemson defense for an electric, 30-yard run to push the Buckeyes once again inside Clemson territory.
Fields scrambled for an 11-yard run before taking a big hit by Tiger linebacker James Skalski inside the Clemson 11-yard line. Skalski was called for targeting on Fields and was disqualified for the remaining of the game.
After the hit, the OSU quarterback showed some serious toughness and missed only one play before delivering a strike to Olave for a nine-yard touchdown pass. The drive took 5:12 in nine plays for 75 yards.Fields fired a dart to Farrell just before the whistle on a 12-yard touchdown pass to put Ohio State on top, 35-14.
The Buckeye offense surged in the opening 30 minutes with 394 total yards, including 171 on the ground. Sermon combined for 168 yards with an impressive 121 rushing yards in the first half. Fields connected with seven different OSU receivers for 223 passing yards.
Ohio State had an opportunity to blow the game open to start the second half, however, a promising opening drive was halted on a Clemson interception in the endzone by linebacker Mike Jones Jr.
Following the takeaway, the Clemson offense put together a balanced nine-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to cut the lead back to two scores.
Lawrence found Powell with a 10-yard completion inside the right pylon at 7:56 in the third. The Scarlet and Gray answered back in a flash and stretched the lead again when Fields rocketed a 56-yard touchdown pass to Olave.
It was Field’s fifth touchdown pass of the evening. An enormous defensive play by OSU tackle Tommy Togiai ended a Clemson drive early in the following drive. Togiai forced a loose ball on Lawrence at 3:54 and was recovered by Justin Hillard to maintain the three-score Buckeye lead heading into the final quarter.
The explanation point was dotted right at the start of the fourth. Fields stepped back with great protection and launched a 45-yard touchdown pass over the Clemson secondary to Jameson Williams to put Ohio State ahead, 49-14, in just 57 seconds into the final frame. Lawrence trimmed the Buckeye lead back to three scores with a second connection to Powell in the endzone on a 26-yard touchdown pass.
Steady offense and sturdy defensive play highlighted by a late-quarter interception by Sevyn Banks sealed the win as Ohio State punched its ticket to their fifth national title game in the BCS/Playoff era. Ohio State totaled 639 of total offense vs. the Clemson defense, while the Silver Bullets held Clemson to just 44 rush yards.