The last time it played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, there were not a lot of pleasant memories for second-ranked Clemson.
The Tigers ultimately blew a fourth-quarter lead and lost a game, and a national championship, to Alabama – a game they felt like they were the better team. And you can argue in a lot of way they were.
But not all the memories from last year’s national championship game were bad. For instance, Clemson wide receiver Hunter Renfrow had a career game with a team-high seven catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns.
The first touchdown was a 31-yard catch while falling back as two Alabama defenders covered, while the second was a diving catch in the back of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown that gave the Tigers a 14-7 lead on the last play of the first quarter.
“Yeah it’s definitely surreal that we’re going back,” Renfrow said.
But Renfrow will happily return those two touchdowns, the yards and the catches for a win in the desert this season, when the Tigers take on No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl as part of the College Football Playoff semifinals in Glendale.
“I know we’ve talked about that around here having that opportunity to celebrate in that locker room and not be so upset, and just try to give the seniors a win it that locker room would be pretty cool,” the sophomore said.
But first, the Tigers have to get past Ohio State and its second-ranked defense. The Buckeyes also have one of the best pass defenses in the country.
“Well we know the stage is not going to overwhelm us because we’ve been there and we know Ohio State is a great team and Oklahoma was a great team last year. So from that aspect it’s the same but just having that experience is huge and we’re ready,” Renfrow said.
It helps that Clemson’s offense has to go up against one of the best defenses and secondaries in the country as well every day in practice. Clemson is ranked ninth nationally in total defense and 19th in passing defense.
“We have good players and we have to beat them before we beat Ohio State,” Renfrow said. “That’s my mentality. I know if I can beat them, and I believe we have the best DBs in the nation, then I will be able to go out there and play and not be overwhelmed.”