While much of the focus throughout this season has been on what Clemson's offense can do, it was the Tigers defense that smothered the Ohio State Buckeyes in a 31-0 win in the 2016 Fiesta Bowl.
The victory sends Clemson to the College Football Playoff National Championship against Alabama, which defeated Washington in the Peach Bowl, to determine a national champion.
Per USA Today's Paul Myerberg, this is the worst margin of defeat for a team with Urban Meyer as head coach:
Paul Myerberg @PaulMyerberg
If it holds, Clemson's 31-point margin would make this the worst loss of Urban Meyer's head coaching career (194 games).2017-1-1 03:09:15
Clemson came into the Fiesta Bowl ranked among the best defensive teams in the nation. The Tigers were eighth in yards allowed (313.9) and 11th in points allowed (18.4), ranking last among the four playoff teams in the latter category.
You would never know it based on what Clemson did Saturday, holding Ohio State to 215 total yards. Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports noted the Buckeyes' 22-year streak of not being shut out came to an end:
Dennis Dodd @dennisdoddcbs
Ohio St has not been shut out since 1993, a run of 295 games.2017-1-1 02:33:50
ESPN's Brett McMurphy put that streak in context:
Brett McMurphy @McMurphyESPN
Last time Ohio State was shutout 11-20-93 vs. Michigan. J.T. Barrett had not been born & Urban Meyer was 29-year old Colorado State WR coach2017-1-1 03:30:49
If there was a concern for Ohio State throughout this season, it was quarterback J.T. Barrett. He was held to a combined 210 passing yards in the last two regular-season games against Michigan State and Michigan, though he made up for it with 230 rushing yards.
Barrett's inability to get anything going in the passing game was again a story against Clemson. The junior threw for 127 yards and two interceptions, though Dave Biddle of 247Sports was pointing the finger at someone else:
Dave Biddle @davebiddle
Amazing how Barrett was really good when he had a real OC. I maintain he'd still be good with a real OC. #Buckeyes2017-1-1 01:43:06
There were some moments that fell on Barrett. After he was able to help generate two pass-interference penalties late in the third quarter on deep throws, he sailed a pass to Curtis Samuel that went off his outstretched fingers and fell right into the hands of Clemson cornerback Cordrea Tankersley.
Even though Clemson entered this game as the No. 2 team in the playoff rankings, the Buckeyes were still favored over the ACC champions to win the national title, according to OddsShark.
Saturday Tradition also noted Meyer has a stellar track record when he has time to prepare for an opponent:
Saturday Tradition @Tradition
What happens when you give Urban Meyer more than a week to prepare for a game? Nearly every time, a win. https://t.co/dmcXsKODNX2016-12-22 02:30:25
Yet nothing prepared Ohio State for Clemson's defense, particularly defensive lineman Carlos Watkins, who helped the Tigers' sack streak continue, per Scott Keepfer of the Greenville News:
Scott Keepfer @ScottKeepfer
Carlos Watkins with the sack, extending #Clemson's streak to 44 consecutive games with at least one sack.2017-1-1 01:20:22
Sports Illustrated's Pete Thamel noted one possible reason the Buckeyes were only able to gain 88 rushing yards on 23 carries:
Pete Thamel @SIPeteThamel
Look how close Clemson's defense is bunched to the line of scrimmage. There's no respect for deep threat. None.2017-1-1 02:17:49
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post took a more irreverent approach to analyzing whatever Ohio State was doing against Clemson:
Adam Kilgore @AdamKilgoreWP
I get what Christian McCaffrey did, but weird choice for Ohio State to skip the Fiesta Bowl.2017-1-1 03:08:54
All of the Big Ten haters have been given more ammunition, with ESPN.com's Dan Murphy noting the lack of playoff success for the conference dating back to last year's effort from Michigan State:
Dan Murphy @DanMurphyESPN
The Big Ten has been outscored 69-0 in the College Football Playoff in the last two years. Not great.2017-1-1 03:28:09
Looking ahead, Clemson might use a similar defensive formula against the Crimson Tide, which also has a run-heavy offense led by a dual-threat quarterback. Against Washington, Alabama basically tried to hide Jalen Hurts, who attempted only 14 passes for 57 yards.
The Crimson Tide got away with it because they ran for 269 yards, but they will be going against a much better defense in nine days and will have to get more than what Hurts offered them Saturday.
While defense ruled the day for Clemson, the offense wasn't exactly slacking. Deshaun Watson threw two interceptions early, but he settled down to finish with 259 passing yards, 57 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.
Even with those mistakes still popping up, Watson also showed he's capable of making spectacular throws, as this highlight from ESPN's College Gameday shows:
College GameDay @CollegeGameDay
Tigers close the half with another Deshaun Watson TD. @ClemsonFB leads 17-0 #SidelineCam https://t.co/9VDsP3qXap2017-1-1 01:56:56
More encouraging for Clemson than Watson's performance was Wayne Gallman's continued return to excellence. He hasn't been the same runner this season as he was in 2015, but the junior star is catching fire late with 417 rushing yards and five touchdowns in the last four games.
Gallman hasn't gone against a run defense as good as Alabama's, which is allowing two yards per carry and 63.4 rushing yards per game, but if Clemson can force the Crimson Tide to respect the ground game, it will open up things for Watson.
FS1's Skip Bayless was impressed by Clemson's offensive firepower:
Skip Bayless @RealSkipBayless
I'm starting to think Clemson has the firepower on both sides of the ball to beat Bama. Deshaun, Ferrell, Mike Williams, Gallman ...2017-1-1 03:08:21
This was the game from Clemson everyone has been waiting to see all year. The Tigers were always among the nation's elite in 2016, but the results didn't always look impressive. Their loss against Pittsburgh lit a necessary fire under them, culminating in a dominant win over a terrific Ohio State team.
Clemson came up five points short against Alabama in last year's championship game, but Saturday's win was a message that this team is not going to go down this time without a fight.
While trying to give Clemson credit, Meyer blamed this performance on his team more than anything the opposition was doing.
"I'm not being disrespectful to Clemson; that's a great football team," he said, per Gene Sapakoff of the Post and Courier. "But we just didn't execute."
Meyer did point out this is not something he expects to become a trend for the Buckeyes.
"I'm not used to this, Ohio State is not used to this and we're not going to get used to this," said Meyer, per Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer.
On the winning side, Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware said the next game is what this team has been working toward.
"This is the game we've been waiting to play for the last year," he said, per Stewart Mandel of Fox Sports.
Head coach Dabo Swinney noted his team is going to get the respect it deserves at some point.
"Sooner or later, people are going to realize that Clemson is an elite program," he said, per Clemson Football's official Twitter account.
Stats per NCAA.com unless otherwise noted.