No. 3 Ohio State defeated No. 2 Clemson 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Friday.
With the win, the Buckeyes (7-0) advance to the College Football Playoff championship game, where they will face No. 1 Alabama on Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Ohio State avenged last year’s semifinal loss to Clemson with a gutsy performance from Justin Fields, who torched the Tigers’ defense by completing 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards and six touchdowns. The Buckeyes rolled up 35 points and 394 yards in the first half.
With that, a look at three takeaways from the Sugar Bowl semifinal:
Justin Fields was unstoppable
Fields took a shot from Clemson linebacker James Skalski with 5:57 left in the first half. Skalski was ejected for targeting, but Fields played through it in a remarkable performance against the Tigers.
Fields returned to the game and threw a 9-yard touchdown to Chris Olave two players later. Fields’ 12-yard touchdown to Jeremy Ruckert with 11 seconds left in the first half opened up a 35-14 halftime lead. Fields threw an interception on the first drive of the second half, but he helped put the game away with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Olave on the next drive on a picture-perfect throw on a post route.
A 45-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Williams with 14:03 left in the fourth quarter served as the exclamation point.
Fields outdueled Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who fell behind after the Tigers had three empty possessions in the first half. The Clemson quarterback completed 33 of 48 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns to one interception, losing just his second career start. The competition between the quarterbacks started in high school, but Fields evened the score in their collegiate matchups. These should be the first two quarterbacks taken in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Trey Sermon’s encore
Clemson jumped out to a 7-0 lead, but Sermon set the tone on the next drive with two big plays that showed the difference in the game. Sermon caught a 34-yard pass then scored on a 32-yard touchdown on the next play.
Sermon built on a 331-yard performance in the Big Ten championship game with another dominant performance in the running game that evoked shades of Ezekiel Elliott in the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship run.
Sermon finished with 31 carries for 193 yards, adding four catches for 61 yards. The 215-pound Oklahoma transfer is the difference-maker that will give Alabama something to think about in the CFP championship game.
Clemson, meanwhile, had just 14 rushing yards in the first half. Travis Etienne, who finished with 96 total yards, didn’t match his Ohio State counterpart. That made a huge difference throughout the game.
Clemson defense implosion
Dabo Swinney is going to take some heat after putting Ohio State at No. 11 in his final Coaches Poll, but the real talking point should be the Tigers’ defense.
The Tigers allowed 518 yards in a 47-40 double-overtime loss to Notre Dame in November. The Buckeyes exploited that defense in the first half. Clemson was missing safety Nolan Turner, who was ejected for targeting in the second half of the ACC championship game against Notre Dame. Skalski’s ejection didn’t help.
Did that matter? After going three-and-out on its first drive, Ohio State scored on its next five possessions of the first half.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has some talented pieces coming back up front, but the Tigers will have to answer for the last two defensive implosions on the playoff stage.
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