GLENDALE, Ariz. — Ohio State made it to the College Football Playoff without winning the Big Ten championship, and on Saturday night did very little to show it deserved to be there.
The Buckeyes’ 31-0 loss to Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl ranks as the most celebrated pratfall in a big game for one of college football’s most prestigious programs in many, many years.
Ohio State (11-2), which entered the game a slight favorite over the ACC champion Tigers, was shut out for the first time in 23 years as Clemson marched into a rematch with Alabama for the national championship.
The Buckeyes’ Urban Meyer was shut out for the first time in his illustrious head coaching career.
“Ohio State is not used to this. I am not used to this,” a somber Meyer said. “That’s not going to happen again. So we’ll get things worked out.”
Meyer said it was frustrating that this was the same team that went to Oklahoma and won, went to Wisconsin and won and beat Michigan in two overtimes.
“And we got beat (on Saturday),” Meyer said. “So we’re going to move on quickly, and my respect for the football player, our team has not changed. Identify things that have to get better, and we will. That’s what we do.”
There were questions about why Ohio State ran the ball only eight times in the first half (for 11 yards) and passed 19 times (completing 12 for 80 yards).
“That was not our game plan at all,” Meyer said. “I think we kind of got taken out of the game plan a little bit. But no, that was our plan, to be balanced. We didn’t follow it.”
An Ohio State offense that averaged 479.5 yards per game managed just 215. The Buckeyes’ ground game, ranked ninth nationally (258 yards per game), struggled to get 88 — and 64 came on All-American Curtis Samuel’s run to the Clemson 16 early in the fourth quarter.
It was the deepest penetration for the Buckeyes into Tigers’ territory all night.
And the sequence that followed that rarest of big Ohio State plays says all that needs to be said about the magnitude of this monumental flop.
A false start penalty moved the Buckeyes back 5 yards. J.T. Barrett threw incomplete. Barrett lost 2 yards. Barrett was sacked for a 10-yard loss. And, finally, on fourth down, Vance Smith intercepted a desperation pass and returned it the length of the field to set up the final Clemson touchdown.
Overall, Clemson gained 470 yards to Ohio State’s 208. The Buckeyes had a season-low seven first downs in an ugly performance that left the Buckeyes’ fans, who vastly outnumbered their Tigers counterparts in the crowd of 71,279, in stunned silence after they were so boisterous at the start.
And Barrett’s failed miserably in his effort to finally earn a national title as a starting quarterback in another late-season example of Ohio State passing woes .
He defended the game plan.
“You could have everything on the grease board, but you still gotta play the game and execute the plays we have. And we didn’t do that. … I mean this was unexpected, didn’t see this coming by any means.”
Barrett was the Ohio State quarterback throughout the 2014 regular season but was injured in the finale. Cardale Jones took over and led the Buckeyes to three victories and the national championship.
This was Barrett’s chance to do it on his own.
The junior completed 19 of 33 passes for 127 yards, was intercepted twice and sacked three times. He carried 11 times for minus-2 yards.
It was only the fourth loss for Barrett in his 30 college starts. He has a year left of eligibility but already has earned his degree. He was asked if he would be back.
“My main focus was to focus on this year,” Barrett said. “I didn’t really give it that much thought, but it will be really hard for me to walk away when we just lost 31-0.”
And way back at the beginning of the night, Ohio State did have two chances to score.
Tyler Durbin , who memorably missed two field goals before making a critical one in the two-overtime win over Michigan, attempted a pair of 47-yarders early in the game. One missed right, the other left.
It was an omen of the kind of night that lay ahead for the Buckeyes.
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