By Will Vandervort
Prior to pregame warm ups Friday night for the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl, Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris gathered his players and asked them to raise their hand if they were a part of what happened two years ago in the Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia.
“I told them it wasn’t any fun. Ten minutes into the third quarter it wasn’t any fun. It was a bad taste, but we have a chance to go out there and do something about it,” Morris said. “Coach (Dabo) Swinney talked about, ‘We’re going to be back. We’re going to be back.’ And we got back.
“To see our guys do what they did, it was great.”
What the Tigers did was rally from a nine-point third-quarter deficit to beat No. 7 Ohio State, 40-35.
It happened pretty fast to. Clemson scored two touchdowns in a two minute and 15 second span to grab a 34-29 lead with 32 seconds to play in the third quarter. And it all started with a change of possession, just like the free-fall in the game against West Virginia did two years ago.
In front 29-20 with a little under four minutes to go in the third quarter, Ohio State wide receiver Corey Brown went back to field a Bradley Pinion punt at his own 37, but he took his eye off the ball just long enough to drop it, allowing the Tigers’ Robert Smith to fall on the ball at the OSU 33.
Three plays later from the 30-yard line, quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins made them pay as Watkins leaped and snagged the ball over the head of Ohio State’s Doran Grant for the touchdown.
On the Buckeyes’ next possession, while scrambling to avoid a sack from defensive end Vic Beasley, quarterback Braxton Miller rolled to his left and tried to throw the ball to a receiver along the Clemson sideline, instead Tiger safety Jayron Kearse snagged the ball and the Tigers were in business again, this time at the Ohio State 38.
Four plays later, highlighted by a 15-yard run by Boyd, the Clemson quarterback threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Martavis Bryant, who made an acrobatic catch while getting two feet in bounds to give the Tigers a 34-29 lead with 32 seconds left in the quarter.
“Two years ago we were a very young team. We had won games but we did not understand success and what came with it,” Boyd said. “For us it was all about the transition and continuing to move forward. You see the accumulation of it in what we are now, just a driven team that knows how to win games in the clutch.”
Clemson (11-2) did it in coming from 11-points down in beating LSU last year in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and did it again in the season-opener against Georgia. Those experiences came up big for the Tigers in the final moments of this Orange Bowl Classic.
After the Buckeyes rallied to take the lead on a Miller to Carlos Hyde 14-yard touchdown with 11:35 to play, the Tigers responded with a 10-play, 75-yard drive, capped when Boyd threw his fifth touchdown pass of the night – a five-yard throw back to tight end Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 to play.
“We had enough mistakes to probably lose it, some critical errors, but our guys showed lot of heart and they got it done,” Swinney said.
Ohio State had two more chances to win the game, but Clemson’s defense forced a Miller fumble and then an interception from linebacker Stephone Anthony on its final two possessions to win the game.
And suddenly, in that moment, the memories of the 2012 Orange Bowl were finally in the past and Clemson was once again an Orange Bowl Champion.
“It means we are one step closer to our goal, which is to be the best team in the country,” Swinney said.