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Fiesta Bowl 2019: Highlights and Comments from Clemson vs. Ohio State

Jake RillSenior Analyst IDecember 29, 2019

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney celebrates with quarterback Trevor Lawrence after Clemson defeated Ohio State 29-23 in 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

Despite facing a 16-point deficit early in the second quarter of its most challenging game of the season, Clemson never panicked in Saturday's Fiesta Bowl.

Of course, the Tigers had been there before. They're in the College Football Playoff for the fifth consecutive year, so they knew what was needed to come back against Ohio State. And that's exactly what they executed in the Playoff semifinal matchup.

Clemson scored a go-ahead touchdown and forced a game-sealing turnover in the final minutes to beat Ohio State 29-23 and advance to the CFP National Championship, where the Tigers will look to win their third national title in four seasons when they face LSU on Jan. 13.

But first, the ACC champions demonstrated why they're consistently one of the top programs in the country.

After getting blanked for the first 27 minutes, 15 seconds by Ohio State, Clemson got on the board with 2:45 to go in the first half on Travis Etienne's eight-yard touchdown run to cut its deficit to 16-7. That wouldn't be the Tigers' last big play of the second quarter, though.

With 1:10 until halftime, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence broke off a huge 67-yard touchdown run that trimmed Ohio State's lead to two at the break.

ESPN @espn

TREVOR LAWRENCE TURNS ON THE BURNERS #CFBPlayoff https://t.co/x5FrKRjYqt

"This guy can move, man," Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said at the postgame press conference (h/t CBS Sports). "People don't really realize that, and I think that's one of the things that's changed his game, is he's gotten as much confidence in his legs now as he does his arm. And he picks his spots. We don't win the game tonight if we didn't have his legs."

It wouldn't be the last big play of the night for Lawrence and the Tigers.

In the third quarter, Clemson took its first lead of the game on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Lawrence to Etienne that put the Tigers ahead 21-16.

ESPN @espn

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

However, Ohio State came back early in the fourth quarter. The Buckeyes took a 23-21 lead on a 23-yard touchdown pass from Justin Fields to Chris Olave with 11:46 to go.

It took resiliency from Clemson to come back again. And it was Lawrence and Etienne that again combined for a big play for the Tigers, as the duo connected on a 34-yard touchdown pass with 1:49 remaining that put them ahead 29-23 following a successful two-point conversion.

SportsCenter @SportsCenter

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

"I wasn't a big fan of the play in practice, because it's just tough if the defense doesn't really bite on it," Lawrence said at the postgame press conference. "I felt like it was good just because of how well we set it up throughout the game, and I thought it was going to work then."

And it did. Then, as Ohio State tried to answer back with a game-winning drive, Fields was intercepted by Clemson safety Nolan Turner to seal the Tigers' 29th consecutive win and their fourth CFP National Championship appearance.

ESPN @espn

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

It doesn't come as a surprise to Swinney that Clemson is having this much sustained success.

"I said in 2010 after a six-win season, I said, 'We're fixing to have the winningest decade in Clemson history,'" Swinney said at the postgame press conference. "I dream big. Actually, we're a little short, I dreamed of a little bit bigger, we missed a couple. But we've had a great run, it's been an unbelievable decade."

If the Tigers are going to end their season by celebrating another national title, they'll have to take down the No. 1 team in the country, LSU, to do so.

After playing a light ACC schedule, some critics doubted whether Clemson could topple a team like Ohio State. Now that the Tigers have proved themselves once again, they'll try to overcome the odds yet again.