Trevor Lawrence, Clemson Rally Past Ohio State to Reach CFP Title Game vs. LSU

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorDecember 29, 2019

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence runs in for a touchdown against Ohio State during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA college football playoff semifinal Saturday, Dec. 28, 2019, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

Clemson overcame a 16-0 first-half deficit to win its 29th straight contest and advance to its fourth College Football Playoff National Championship Game in five years with a 29-23 win over Ohio State in the semifinal on Saturday in Glendale, Arizona.

A 34-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Trevor Lawrence to running back Travis Etienne with 1:49 left proved to be the Fiesta Bowl's winning score.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

A championship drive from the defending champs. Clemson takes the lead back! #CFBPlayoff https://t.co/3woohduQtt

Clemson drove 94 yards in just four plays after it started its drive on its 6-yard line. A two-point conversion to wideout Tee Higgins made the score 29-23.

Ohio State got the ball back and drove to the Clemson 23-yard line, but Nolan Turner picked off quarterback Justin Fields on 2nd-and-7 with 37 seconds left to seal the win. 

Ohio State took a 16-0 first-half lead off three Blake Haubeil field goals and a 68-yard J.K. Dobbins touchdown run.

ESPN @espn

J.K. Dobbins 68 yards to the 🏠 #CFBPlayoff https://t.co/YBrIbSCzRA

Dobbins, who also cracked off a 64-yard run, had 141 first-quarter rushing yards. His yardage total is the most in a single quarter in CFP history.

However, Clemson rolled off 21 unanswered points thanks to an Etienne eight-yard run, a Lawrence 67-yard run and an Etienne 53-yard reception. The latter score capped a 99-yard drive.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

CLEMSON ON THE BOARD! Travis Etienne would not be denied 🐅 https://t.co/qeqGiLeOJf

ESPN @espn


ESPN @espn

7 plays. 99 yards. 💨 Clemson scores 21 unanswered to take the lead! #CFBPlayoff https://t.co/HGgtad23L6

Undeterred, Ohio State responded with a Fields 23-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave on 4th-and-2:

ESPN @espn

What's the call on 4th down? A 23-yard TD to put the Buckeyes ahead! #CFBPlayoff https://t.co/TGtmzCmVZu

But the Lawrence-Etienne combo was too strong in the end.

The 14-0 Tigers now have the opportunity to win their fourth national title, with the others occurring in 1981, 2016 and 2018.

The Buckeyes fell to 13-1 in defeat.


Notable Performances

Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence: 18-of-33, 259 passing yards, 2 TD; 16 carries, 107 rushing yards, 1 TD

Clemson RB Travis Etienne: 10 carries, 36 rushing yards, 1 TD; 3 catches, 98 receiving yards, 2 TD

Ohio State QB Justin Fields: 30-of-46, 320 passing yards, 1 TD, 2 INT

Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins: 18 carries, 174 rushing yards, 1 TD; 6 catches, 47 receiving yards

Ohio State WR Chris Olave: 3 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD


Lawrence, Etienne Dominate on a Field of Future NFL Talent

This game featured a host of players who should make names for themselves on Sundays soon, with Ohio State's Chase Young and Jeff Okudah and Clemson's Isaiah Simmons potentially going among the top 10 in this year's NFL draft.

Of note, Bleacher Report's Matt Miller has Young and Okudah first and fourth on his latest draft big board, respectively. Those two co-led a defense that finished third in the nation in scoring.

And that makes what the Clemson duo of Lawrence and Etienne did so special.

They'll be on NFL fields someday too, but the pair dominated on this night, which felt like a semi-professional game rather than an NCAA contest given the incredible talent on display.

Etienne had 134 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns. Lawrence withstood a nasty hit in the first half, stayed in the game and reeled off a 67-yard touchdown run in addition to a couple of touchdown passes.

Most importantly, the two were clutch when the team needed them most, connecting for a 34-yard touchdown to give Clemson a late 27-23 lead.

The Tigers were left for dead when they went down 16-0, but the Lawrence-Etienne combination wouldn't let Clemson lose.

A few notable names gave much-deserved praise to the two, including Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram II and ex-NFL safety Ryan Clark:

Mark Ingram II @markingram21

Big boy Etienne 💪🏾💯

Ryan Clark @Realrclark25

Trevor Lawrence and the Clemson Tigers did exactly what you have to do. Defense held OSU to field goals early. Lawrence made gritty plays all night and Etienne proved to be a star. This is the best they’ve played and they needed every bit of it. Well done!

Clemson will face another team with future NFL pros in LSU for the national title, and Lawrence and Etienne should encounter the tough task of keeping pace with quarterback Joe Burrow and the nation's best aerial attack.

However, Lawrence and Etienne passed their first big test Saturday, and they may well be up for another big night in two weeks.


Ohio State Left Wondering What Might Have Been

The toughest game for any sports fan to play is the "What if?" game.

It's an apt exercise for Ohio State after a brutal loss that saw the Buckeyes on the wrong end of pivotal moments.

Three of them occurred in this one.

The first happened in the second quarter, when Dobbins dropped a screen pass that would have resulted in a walk-in touchdown to give OSU a 20-0 second-quarter lead.

For the record, Dobbins was phenomenal, and no football player is immune to drops. It's not Dobbins' fault that OSU lost a hard-fought game that could have gone either way.

Ohio State also took a 16-0 lead anyway off a field goal, and that edge looked like it would stand more likely than not at the time.

However, Clemson went on its charge and scored 21 unanswered points.

The second occurred in the third quarter, with a reversal of a call that initially credited Ohio State with a scoop-and-score for a touchdown off a fumble from Clemson wideout Justyn Ross:

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

This was originally called a catch and fumble return TD, but was overturned as an incomplete pass. #CFBPlayoff https://t.co/3RxiGYTvCv

OSU would have taken a 22-21 lead if the call stood, but Clemson stayed ahead 21-16 after the review.

Granted, the Buckeyes took the lead anyway later in the game off the Olave touchdown, but would the result have gone a different way if Ohio State wrested momentum at that point?

The third and final "What if?" moment happened in the fourth quarter, when Fields and Olave seemingly weren't in sync on a late, potentially game-winning drive in Clemson territory. Fields ended up throwing to a wide-open space occupied by Turner, and the Tiger picked off the pass to seal the win.

ESPN @espn

INTERCEPTED! What a finish! #CFBPlayoff https://t.co/7u8sU3d2IA

We'll never know what would have happened if Dobbins caught the pass, the reversal never occurred or if Fields didn't throw the pick.

However, there's no reason for any Buckeye to hang his head after a phenomenal effort. It was an instant classic game that should be remembered years from now for the sheer amount of NFL talent it produced.

For now, however, it's natural to wonder "What if?"


What's Next?

Clemson will face LSU in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game on January 13. The contest will take place at 8 p.m. ET in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, with ESPN providing the broadcast.