Orange Bowl 2014: 10 Things We Learned from Clemson vs. Ohio State
The No. 12 Clemson Tigers bounced back from their season-ending loss to South Carolina in the Discover Orange Bowl, beating the No. 7 Ohio State Buckeyes in a 40-35 shootout Friday night.
The Tigers handed the Buckeyes their second loss in as many games, capping the worst possible ending for Urban Meyer's squad after Ohio State set a school record with 24 consecutive wins over the past two seasons.
Fueled by a lethal offense, Dabo Swinney's team could not be stopped as the Clemson Tigers claimed their first victory in a BCS bowl game.
Here's 10 things we learned from Clemson's five-point victory over the Buckeyes.
Tajh Boyd Was Too Much for Ohio State to Handle
Simply put, Tajh Boyd dissected Ohio State's beleaguered defense.
The senior quarterback was sensational against the Buckeyes, completing 77.5 percent of his passes for 378 yards and five touchdowns. Boyd also ran for a game-high 127 yards and tacked on another touchdown on the ground, accounting for all six of Clemson's touchdowns.
The Buckeyes tried to rattle him with an array of blitzes from multiple positions, but Boyd calmly stepped up, time and time again, and found his receivers on the perimeter or downfield. It was a calm and meticulous effort from an outstanding signal-caller against a defense he knew he could hurt.
While Boyd did make a pair of mistakes, throwing costly interceptions in two pivotal spots, he was otherwise brilliant in his final game as a Tiger.
Braxton Miller Was Good Too, but Clemson's Defense Bothered Him
Like Clemson, Ohio State was paced by its dual-threat quarterback. Unlike Clemson, Ohio State couldn't keep the Tigers from punishing its signal-caller.
Braxton Miller piled up 269 total yards and four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing), but the Clemson defense made its presence felt. Miller was sacked four times and took a number of big hits, one of which was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
Asked after the game how much pain he was in, Miller told Andrew Holleran of Buckeye Grove, "On a scale of 1-10 it was probably a 9."
Miller showed a lot of toughness against the Tigers. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, that toughness wasn't rewarded with a victory.
Sammy Watkins Was the Best Receiver Ohio State Faced This Year
Ohio State has faced a lot of talented receivers this year. Penn State's Allen Robinson ranked third in the country with 119 receiving yards per game. Michigan's Jeremy Gallon ranked ninth with 105. Indiana's Cody Latimer, Wisconsin's Jared Abbrederis and Illinois' Steve Hull all rank within the top 40 for receiving yards per game nationally.
None of those players are on Sammy Watkins' level.
The junior receiver torched the Buckeyes on his way to an Orange Bowl-record 16 receptions and 227 receiving yards. Watkins also hauled in two receiving touchdowns against the Buckeyes' helpless secondary.
The combination of speed and size Watkins possesses will make him a valuable NFL receiver, but against the Buckeyes, it made him unstoppable.
Bradley Roby and Noah Spence Wouldn't Have Done Much to Stop Clemson
Bradley Roby and Noah Spence, two of Ohio State's best defenders, didn't play against the Tigers. Roby was hampered with a knee injury, while Spence was serving the first of a three-game suspension for violating a Big Ten rule.
Even if Ohio State had those two players at its disposal, Clemson still would have had success against this defense.
The issues this unit had this year weren't based on personnel. Fundamentally, this defense struggled with tackling playmakers in space. Defenders were easily blocked on the perimeter. Opposing quarterbacks found wide-open holes in the zone with ease.
Those issues have been consistent all year, even with the Buckeyes at full strength. Against Clemson, all of those deficiencies arose, there were just two new faces trying to overcome them.
In the end, the Buckeyes surrendered 576 yards and 40 points. Roby and Spence's presence may have made a small difference, but their absence was the least of the defensive issues.
Clemson Followed Michigan State's Blueprint Defensively
Stack the box, stop the run and force Miller to pass.
That's exactly what Michigan State did to hand Meyer's Ohio State Buckeyes their first loss in two seasons.
The Clemson Tigers followed that same strategy.
If not for an unsportsmanlike conduct flag against Vic Beasley and a converted fake punt to extend Ohio State's opening drive, which was capped by a spectacular touchdown run from Miller, the Buckeyes wouldn't have scored until the late stages of the first half.
That's because the Tigers loaded the box to stop the run. Meyer and offensive coordinator Tom Herman stubbornly ran Carlos Hyde up the middle for much of the first half, with little success. Midway through the second quarter, Miller had completed just three of six passes for 33 yards.
The Buckeyes opened up a bit and started attacking the perimeter, but their bread and butter—the power run game—was shut down by an active and loaded front seven.
The Tigers Knocked the Buckeyes off Their Game
When Miller found Hyde wide open for a 14-yard touchdown pass with 11 minutes and 35 seconds to go in the fourth quarter, it gave Ohio State a 35-34 lead.
The Buckeyes finally had their ground game working after a shaky first half as Hyde had 25 carries for 113 yards and a touchdown.
From that moment on, Hyde didn't touch the ball once.
That's a credit to Clemson's defense, which rattled the Buckeyes with an active defensive front. But when Meyer and the coaching staff watch the game film, they'll probably be kicking themselves for not getting the ball to their best playmaker down the stretch, especially with Miller hobbled.
Vic Beasley Abused Ohio State's Vaunted Offensive Line
When asked about his matchup with Ohio State left tackle Jack Mewhort, who was voted by ESPN as a first-team All-American, defensive end Vic Beasley got defensive, according to Bill Rabinowitz of The Columbus Dispatch.
"All the (reporters) ask me about Jack Malone or whatever and how does it feel to go against great tackle," Beasley said. "But I’m a great end, too. I think I deserve some respect, too."
After Friday night's Orange Bowl performance, it's safe to say that Beasley has Ohio State's respect.
The 6'2", 235-pound defensive end wreaked havoc on Ohio State's offensive line. Beasley established himself early, sacking Miller on Ohio State's first drive. From there, he consistently got into the Buckeyes' backfield, not only as a pass-rusher, but also as a constant thorn in Ohio State's rushing attack.
Beasley's performance was pivotal in limiting the Buckeyes' explosive offense.
Ohio State's Young Defenders Have a Bright Future
While the game produced another defensive disappointment, two freshmen shined for the Buckeyes.
First it was Joey Bosa, seemingly the only lineman generating a pass rush for the Buckeyes. It was Bosa who broke free and forced an intentional grounding call that resulted in a safety when Clemson was pinned at its 1-yard line in the first quarter. He later got rolled up on and injured his ankle, but he came back to pace Ohio State's defensive front.
Safety Vonn Bell, making his debut as a major contributor in Ohio State's secondary, shook off an early lapse when he let Watkins break free for a touchdown to play a solid game. His best play came in the second quarter with Clemson threatening inside Ohio State's 10-yard line. Boyd tried to flip the ball to Watkins, who was wide open in the end zone, but Bell made an incredible play, leaping for an interception to temporarily save the Buckeyes.
Ohio State has a lot of issues to fix with this defense during the offseason, but with young players as talented as Bosa and Bell, that challenge becomes a little easier.
These Two Teams Gave Us One Heck of a Show
Most fans and media were expecting a shootout, and needless to say, these two teams delivered.
This back-and-forth affair featured five lead changes and plenty of drama. After Clemson built a 20-9 lead late in the second quarter, Ohio State scored 20 unanswered points to take control of the game.
Leading 29-20, the Buckeyes defense had come up with another uncharacteristic stop to force a Clemson punt. Corey Brown, however, fumbled the ball trying to set up a return. Clemson capitalized, going 33 yards in three plays to draw within two.
The Tigers and the Buckeyes traded touchdowns down the stretch, but it was Clemson who scored with 6:16 left to play to gain a 40-35 lead it wouldn't surrender. Both teams produced turnovers late, but again, it was the Tigers who made the right plays at the right time.
One Last Booth Review Wouldn't Have Hurt
Trailing by five points with about 80 seconds remaining in the game, Ohio State had a great opportunity after C.J. Barnett picked off a Boyd pass and returned it to the Clemson 48-yard line.
After nearly throwing an interception of his own on first down, Miller came back on second down and looked to connect with one of his receivers down the middle of the field. Miller never saw Stephone Anthony, who snatched the pass out of the air and went to the ground with the ball in his hands.
Replay, though, showed that Anthony was juggling the ball as he went down. Clemson's offense was on the field quickly, but instead of reviewing whether it was an interception or an incomplete pass, the Tigers iced the game.
Whether it was an interception or not—the official who was part of the broadcast team said that the play would have stood—it's hard to understand why such a pivotal play wasn't given a second glance.
Fittingly, it was the Tigers who outplayed the Buckeyes for much of the night, and in the end, it was Swinney and Clemson lifting the trophy filled with oranges.
All stats via NCAA.com.
David Regimbal is the Ohio State Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report.
Follow him on Twitter @davidreg412.