Best of 2016 Fiesta Bowl: Clemson spoils Ohio State's title dreams

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Best of 2016 Fiesta Bowl: Clemson spoils Ohio State's title dreams

Two years ago, Ohio State had a Cinderella run to the national title, knocking off Alabama and Oregon in the playoff to win it all. The Buckeyes will enjoy no such run this season after being the first team to make the playoff despite not winning its conference championship.

The Buckeyes were whipped in every way, shape and form by Clemson, falling 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night. In a word, it was an embarrassment. Typically, when Urban Meyer has several weeks to prep for an opponent, he’s deadly. Not this time.

Clemson will play Alabama for the national title on Jan. 9 in Tampa, Florida, a rematch of last year’s title game. Ohio State will head back to Columbus, Ohio, dazed and confused.

The offense was an abomination from the start—and it never got better on this night. The Buckeyes trailed, 17-0, at the half, getting out-gained 275-88. Ohio State generated two turnovers in the opening 30 minutes but couldn’t convert either into points. It didn’t help that kicker Tyler Durbin missed two 47-yard field goals. Things never got better in the second half in one of the worst bowl games in Ohio State annals. In fact, it was the first time Urban Meyer ever has been shutout as a head coach, spanning 15 years and 194 games. And it was the first time the Buckeyes had been blanked since 1993 (vs. Michigan).

BEST OF THE FIESTA BOWL

Best play: There were none from Ohio State. If you had to pick one, it would be Malik Hooker’s end zone interception. But hat’s off to the 30-yard TD catch by Clemson’s C.J. Fuller in the second quarter. He had a Buckeye defender draped on him (probably pass interference) and Fuller still made the catch to give the Tigers a 17-0 lead in the second quarter.

Best player: No doubt, it was Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, the Heisman runner-up. The Fiesta Bowl Offensive MVP hit 23-of-36 passes for 259 yards with one TD and two interceptions. Watson also ran 15 times for 57 yards and two TDs. He totally outplayed counterpart J.T. Barrett, who hit 19-of-33 passes for 127 yards with no TDs and two interceptions and ran 11 times for minus two yards.

Best stat: 0, Ohio State’s points, marking the first time an Urban Meyer coached team was shut out, and the first time the Buckeyes were held scoreless since 1993.

GRADES

Offense: F. The offense never really got on track, as once again the Buckeyes struggled to develop a ground game. OSU ran 11 times for eight yards in the first half and finished with 81 yards rushing (64 came on one run). The Buckeyes had just 208 total yards and nine first downs to go with three turnovers. Big plays were basically non-existent. It was a scenario we had seen before from this Buckeye attack, which outside of RB/WR Curtis Samuel and QB J.T. Barrett had a void in the playmaker department. This offense has missed former coordinator Tom Herman, who left after the national title season in 2014 to coach Houston and is now at Texas.

Defense: D. This unit tried. But, the offense offered no support, as the Buckeyes yielded 470 yards including 205 on the ground. OSU was No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring defense (14.2 ppg) and No. 2 in total defense (282.4 ypg). It hadn’t allowed more than 27 points in any game in 2016. There really isn’t much to say.

Special teams: F. Two missed 47-yard field goals in the first half by Tyler Durbin seemed to take the wind out of the Buckeyes. One miss was wide right; the other was wide left. His first miss would have given OSU a 3-0 lead and some mojo. It was all downhill from there. Parris Campbell provided some juice in the kickoff return game, returning one kick 54 yards early on. Alas, the Buckeyes couldn’t turn it into points.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Some will wonder if Ohio State deserved to be in the playoff since it didn’t win the league title. Would Penn State, which won the conference crown and beat the Buckeyes this season, had fared better vs. Clemson? We’ll never know, but the Nittany Lions were white-hot with a smoking offense and nine-game winning streak. This was no way for Ohio State to end the season after it closed with five wins in succession, including a spellbinding double-OT triumph vs. Michigan and back-to-back 62-3 wins.

A look toward 2017: The prospects will be bright (when aren’t they at Ohio State?), as this was a young squad in 2016. QB J.T. Barrett and RB Curtis Samuel were just juniors this season. And the o-line will have four starters back and should improve—and must improve. The receiving corps also needs to develop. All of this year’s key wideouts will be back led by Noah Brown and K.J. Hill. The defense also is loaded with underclassmen, but a few guys may turn pro: LB Raekwon McMillan; CBs Gareon Conley and Marcus Lattimore; S Malik Hooker. The line should be boffo if E Tyquan Lewis returns for his senior year. Even with personnel losses, you can count on the Buckeyes filling vacancies with more four- and five-star recruits. Bottom line: The Buckeyes may be the team to beat in the Big Ten East … again.

Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer

About Tom Dienhart: BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men's basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, and send him questions to his weekly mailbag.

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