The College Football Playoff is set and we get yet another Ohio State vs Clemson matchup. This pairing has only happened four times in history, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more contentious rivalry under five meetings. Every game was memorable and even infamous. Before these two meet on New Year’s Day, let’s take a stroll through memory lane and see why Ohio State vs Clemson is so heated.
Ohio State vs Clemson: A One-Sided, Contentious History
December 29, 1978, Clemson 17-15
Growing up in Ohio, I was always told that we hate Clemson for this game. I never understood, considering Clemson was pretty irrelevant for the first 20 years of my life. But when you look back to see they handed Ohio State its most infamous loss in program history, it makes sense.
Everyone knows the story. Two minutes left in the game, the Buckeyes were driving down the field to score the game-winner. Instead of firing to a wide-open Doug Donley in the endzone, Art Schlichter tried to force a ball to a check down. Clemson nose tackle Charlie Bauman got his hands up and intercepted the ball and was run out of bounds on the Ohio State sideline.
Head coach Woody Hayes took exception to how Bauman may have been show-boating and talking smack at the Ohio State sideline. This resulted in the punch heard ’round the world. At this point, the legendary coach had been with the Buckeyes for 28 years. He was fired the next day. Could you imagine this game today with all of social media?
Of these four Ohio State vs Clemson games, this one reflects terribly on the Buckeye-faithful. The one play took away from the fact that this was a hotly-contested game that could have been won by Ohio State. Alas, it’s all overshadowed.
January 3, 2014, Clemson 40-35
2013 was a massive letdown for Ohio State. Following the 12-0 mark in 2012, the Buckeyes won every regular-season game in 2013, but ultimately fell in the Big Ten Championship Game and then the subsequent Orange Bowl against Clemson.
This could be considered the beginning of Dabo Swinney‘s dominance with Clemson. Heading in, the Buckeyes were favored by 2.5 points but Clemson came out firing. Their first drive was capped off by a 48-yard touchdown run by quarterback Tajh Boyd. Boyd accounted for 378 yards and five touchdowns through the air and 127 yards and one touchdown on the ground. He absolutely tore up that OSU defense.
The biggest difference in this game was turnovers. Ohio State turned it over four times, Clemson only twice. Braxton Miller re-injured his shoulder in the fourth quarter off of a massive hit.
This game had everything: a muffed punt, a fake punt, a safety, a late interception nullified by another interception the next play to seal the game. It truly was a classic and Sammy Watkins dominated for Clemson.
This Ohio State vs Clemson matchup could have gone either way. It probably could have if Miller had not gotten injured or if Boyd misfired even once.
December 31, 2016, Clemson 31-0
The only game in this short series that was decided from the get-go was the 2016 CFP Semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl. The Ohio State offense could not get anything going. Deshaun Watson, despite two interceptions, played an amazing game and accounted for three touchdowns. This could be considered the most embarrassing loss of Urban Meyer‘s career
J.T. Barrett just could not do anything against a Clemson defense that limited him to 127 yards, no touchdowns through the air, and negative two yards on the ground. This loss seemingly set Ohio State and the Big Ten as a whole back a few years on the national stage. Considering this was the year Ohio State made the CFP without winning its division, it made sense.
Every conversation between the Buckeye and Tiger faithful eventually ends up here. It was total domination. It was ugly.
December 28, 2019, 29-23
Finally, round four took place just last year in the Fiesta Bowl…again. It was a game of runs. Ohio State jumped out to an early 16-0 lead thanks to a J.K. Dobbins touchdown and three field goals. But, as Ryan Day could tell you, you don’t beat a team like Clemson with field goals.
Clemson answered with its own 21-0 run. They traded touchdowns and Clemson finished on top. Trevor Lawrence was rattled a bit but showed why he’s a great player. Ohio State did not gameplan for his legs and he made them pay. Justin Fields threw two interceptions, though one was a miscommunication in the enzone that ended the game.
As controversial as the 1978 Gator Bowl was, this one might have it topped. A botched call took a touchdown off the board from Ohio State where the Clemson receiver caught the ball, took three steps, and was stripped. Lawrence was getting sacked, shrunk his 6’6″ frame a full seven inches to initiate a hit that resulted in Ohio State’s Shaun Wade to be ejected.
In all accounts, Ohio State outplayed Clemson on this day. But you can’t afford to give a team as good as the Tigers any wiggle room, and that’s what they did.
What Does Round Five Hold?
January 1, 2021, Ohio State vs Clemson, CFP Semifinal, Sugar Bowl. This game has all the makings of another classic. Though Clemson will be favored by about a touchdown, take the Buckeyes and the points.
Clemson is a great team, there is no denying. Lawrence will be the first-overall pick in 2021. Travis Etienne is a stud running back. The defense has solidified into a legit unit. They’ve been tested and came out on top.
Ohio State is now home to the two most controversial CFP selections. First, they didn’t win their division in 2016, now they only played six games. They’ve got the talent, but do they belong? Depends on who you ask, but it doesn’t matter anymore. They’re in.
The Buckeyes will be without Dobbins, who tore it up last year. But Trey Sermon could be the spark. The pass rush was able to get to Lawrence last year and are probably better as a unit in 2020, even without The Predator, Chase Young. Both secondaries have been carved up at times. This has the makings of another high-scoring affair.
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In back-to-back years, the Ohio State vs Clemson CFP semifinal is 2v3. Just like last year, it’s almost assumed that the winner will be met by an unstoppable freight train on the other side. Either way, this game will be a fun one to watch.
Even though they should not have to be motivated by outside forces for a game of this multitude, Dabo Swinney has provided the Buckeyes with plenty of bulletin board material. Ohio State will come into this game angry and yearning to prove itself. While I would not be surprised if Clemson wins this game, it will not be as easy as everyone thinks.