Clemson gets its chance for a do-over against Alabama for the national championship.
A season removed from a 45-40 loss to the Crimson Tide, the Tigers dominated third-seeded Ohio State Saturday 31-0 to advance to a second consecutive title game. The Tigers (13-1) won this one at University of Phoenix Stadium, the same facility that hosted the 2016 championship game.
The Crimson Tide advanced to the title game with a 24-7 victory against Washington earlier Saturday in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
Running back Wayne Gallman eliminated any doubt in this one, running 7 yards into the end zone with just under nine minutes left, for the 31-point lead. Clemson safety Van Smith set up Gallman’s score, returning an end zone interception 86 yards.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson controlled this game both with his running and his throwing. Watson was intercepted twice, but he moved the Tigers’ offense with a variety of intermediate passes and ran the ball efficiently to pick up first downs. Ohio State co-defensive coordinator Greg Schiano had said earlier in the week that it was imperative the Buckeyes contain Watson’s running, because he was sure to be more aggressive on the ground in a game with these stakes.
Watson finished completing 23 of 36 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 57 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries.
Alabama coach Nick Saban paid huge praise to Watson after last season’s title game, calling him the toughest quarterback in college football since the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton was at Auburn.
The title game is Jan. 9 in Tampa at 8 p.m.
Three who mattered
Mike Williams: By halftime he had two long catches and a spectacular one-handed reception along the sideline to keep Clemson picking up first downs.
Watson: His nearly sideline-to-sideline run gained 33 yards. His actual foot traffic was far more, gashing Ohio State’s defense.
Carlos Watkins: Clemson’s defensive tackle was either batting down passes or blowing up the Buckeyes’ running game.
▪ Ohio State should have led, or at minimum scored, in the first half, but kicker Tyler Durbin missed two first-quarter field-goal attempts. His first was way wide right. His second was slightly wide left.
▪ Clemson committed just one penalty in the first half – a hold by wide receiver Artavis Scott that cost the Tigers 10 yards
▪ Ohio State safety Malik Hooker is all he’s been billed. He has exceptional closing speed, which allows him to cover huge areas of the field. His end-zone interception of Watson was a good example.
▪ By halftime, the Tigers had run only 13 more plays than the Buckeyes, but had outgained Ohio State 275 yards to 88.
▪ Clemson punter Andy Teasdall got a crazy and fortuitous bounce-and-roll that led to a career-best 67-yard punt in the first half.
▪ Clemson’s 73 touchdowns this season set a program record.
▪ Ohio State got away with what looked like offsides on a missed field-goal try by Clemson in the third quarter.
▪ Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell had a big sack on Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett for a 12-yard loss in the third quarter.
Rick Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell