By Will Vandervort
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was a little miffed earlier this week when a reporter asked if the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl matchup with seventh-ranked Ohio State was going to be a shootout.
And that’s exactly what it was. Clemson and Ohio State combined for 1,003 yards and 75 points as quarterbacks Tajh Boyd and Braxton Miller traded blow-for-blow with long touchdown runs and passes, while wide receiver Sammy Watkins shattered Clemson and Orange Bowl records. It was truly a night for the offenses, until the end.
Despite all the yards, big plays and points, it was Venables’ defense that stepped up and won the 80th Orange Bowl Classic when Stephone Anthony picked off a Braxton Miller pass at the Clemson 38 with 1:18 to play, sealing the 12th-ranked Tigers’ 40-35 victory over Ohio State.
“It was fun,” Venables said after the game. “You want to win no matter what, but you want to watch those guys go out and execute how you draw it up, sort of speak, and make it right. Getting turnovers on back-to-back series there was pretty special.”
Anthony’s interception could not have come at better time. Two plays earlier his quarterback, Tajh Boyd, made a horrific error on third down as the Tigers were trying to run out the clock. Boyd’s pass to Germone Hopper was picked by Ohio State’s C.J. Barnett at the Clemson 48.
“I told Tajh not to throw the ball there no matter what, but he didn’t listen. He was sick when he came over to the sideline,” Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris said.
Boyd was not sick for too long. His defense rose to the occasion and had his back.
“We told him not worry about it. We are going to have his back,” defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “Turnovers happen in a game, but you have to get them back and we did tonight.”
The Tigers (11-2) forced four turnovers and sacked Miller five times. Ohio State had not allowed more than two sacks in a game since the season opener and only 17 all season coming in.
“We got stops when we needed them,” Anthony said, “and huge plays in the game that turned it around for us and sealed it.”
The defense came up big on the Buckeyes’ previous drive, too. In a seesaw battle, the Tigers grabbed the lead when Boyd threw a six-yard touchdown pass to tight end Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 to play.
Miller, who was 16 of 24 for 234 yards, had the Buckeyes driving again, but on third-down-and 13 from the Clemson 46, Bashaud Breeland sacked Miller for an eight-yard loss, knocking the ball into the air, which linebacker Spencer Shuey plucked for a turnover.
“They have a lot of pride and they have worked incredibly hard and we feel like we have been a pretty solid unit all year and have gotten better,” Venables said. “We certainly have not been perfect, but at the right time we made the perfect plays at the end of the game.
“I’m just so happy for those guys and certainly for our team.”