GLENDALE, Ariz — The defense made two red zone stops, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson threw two picks and Ohio State was given good field position on two of its first three possessions. But the No. 3 Buckeyes simply had no answer for the Clemson defense.
Redshirt junior cornerback Gareon Conley intercepted Watson on Clemson’s second play from scrimmage. After seven plays for 12 yards, senior kicker Tyler Durbin missed a 47-yard field goal. That was just the beginning.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Parris Campbell returned a kickoff to the Clemson 42-yard line after the Tigers took a 3-0 lead. After another three-and-out, Durbin missed a second field goal.
Whenever OSU gained 10-plus yards on a play, forced a turnover or got a stop, the offense was never able to string positive plays together. Through 60 minutes, the Buckeyes gained 215 yards and only 88 on the ground.
“Ohio State is not used to this,” OSU coach Urban Meyer said. “I’m not used to this, and we will not get used to this. That’s not going to happen again.”
No. 3 Clemson (13-1) handed OSU its first shutout loss since 1993, 31-0. The Buckeyes finish the season 11-2.
OSU entered the game averaging 258.3 rushing yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry, each ranking in the top 15 in the country. But the inability of the running game wasn’t just one player or one systematic malfunction. The trio of redshirt junior quarterback J.T. Barrett, redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber and junior H-back Curtis Samuel couldn’t buy yardage on the ground.
Like Michigan and Penn State which also had success against OSU’s offensive line, Clemson had 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. Freshman left guard Michael Jordan injured his ankle early in the game, and was replaced by redshirt sophomore guard Demetrius Knox who hadn’t played all season. Jordan eventually returned to the game, but it didn’t matter.
Defensive linemen Carlos Watkins, Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins constantly pressured Barrett in the backfield and completely eliminated Samuel from impacting the game. Linebackers Ben Boulware and Kaleb Joseph were all over the field, terrorizing the OSU offense who had no answers for just about anybody on the Clemson defense.
“It’s a hard one to end on,” said redshirt senior center Pat Elflein. “You win and lose with your boys.”
Samuel had been OSU’s go-to player on offense all season, but Clemson had an answer for him. Any time the junior from Brooklyn, New York, tried to hit the edge and get past defenders, the Tigers’ defense met him before he could start.
Aside from one 64-yard run when the outcome was already certain, Samuel had five carries for 3 yards and nine receptions for 43 yards.
“I didn’t make enough plays out there for my team to win this a game or keep it a close game,” Samuel said. “It kind of sucks to go out there and play like that.”
Weber only had five carries for 24 yards and a fumble after what seemed to be OSU’s first two consecutive plays for more than 8 yards.
If there was one theme from OSU’s season, it was its struggles in the passing game. 19-for-33 passing for 127 yards and two interceptions with no touchdowns in the biggest game of the year put a nice bow on top of a season that Meyer promised to be more efficient in the passing game.
Meyer said that OSU got away from the game plan in the first half, calling passes on 21 of 27 plays. When asked about a possible coaching change on offense, he will “take a hard look at things.”
Now with the 2016 season in the rear-view mirror, Meyer and the players will attempt to cope with one of the most devastating losses in program history and correct those offensive problems for next year.
“Our units were messed up,” Barrett said. “We were not nine units strong. It’s real simple.”