Ohio State’s targeting of Clemson QB sparked Tigers’ comeback
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Anyone wearing orange at State Farm Stadium stood silent for a moment.
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson’s all-everything quarterback, was laying on the ground late in the second quarter while grabbing at his left shoulder.
“Yeah, I just got a bad stinger, so it kind of scared me a little bit. I hadn’t gotten one in a while and couldn’t really move my arm for a second. That’s why I laid there,” Lawrence said following the Tigers’ dramatic 29-23 victory over No. 2 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl to advance to the national championship game.
Then, without really thinking, Lawrence just got up and jogged off the sideline.
“I just got kind of mad and popped up,” he said.
Lawrence was mad because he felt like Ohio State’s Sean Wade and Chase Young delivered a couple of cheap shots when Wade targeted his helmet and Young drove his shoulder into the ground.
He wasn’t the only one mad. It made Clemson’s offensive line mad, too. Left guard John Simpson said after the game it really made him mad because that was his quarterback laying on the ground and he wasn’t happy on how it all went down.
However, it turned out to be the best thing to happen to the second-ranked Tigers. To that point Clemson’s offense was stagnant at best and they trailed OSU, 16-0.
“I didn’t know it was targeting, either. I thought it was — I don’t know if it was a three and out. We would have had to punt. So, I was kind of pissed off,” Lawrence said.
Replay officials stopped the action and ruled Wade did target Lawrence on the play, ejecting one of the Buckeyes’ best players from the game in cornerback Sean Wade. The new life energized the Clemson sideline and after one play, Lawrence ran back on the field and finished off the Buckeyes.
Clemson scored a few plays later thanks to another Ohio State penalty, this time a pass interference on a ball thrown to Justyn Ross in the end zone, and then an 8-yard run by Lawrence. On third-and-two from the Ohio State 8-yard line, running back Travis Etienne finished off the drive by running to his right before throwing safety Jordan Fuller to the ground, cutting inside and barreling through the trash on his way to the end zone.
“We knew we had to score there,” Lawrence said. “The game was getting a little out of hand. Just had to put a drive together, and we can take anything we can get.”
The Tigers’ defense followed by getting the ball back to Lawrence a few plays later. Defensive tackle Tyler Davis stuffed Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins for a 2-yard loss on third-and-one.
On the ensuing possession, Lawrence found Ross for 16 yards on third-and-10 to move the ball to the Clemson 33. Two plays later, as Ohio State played a safety high and had no one in the middle of the field, Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott called a quarterback draw that opened up like the parting of the Red Sea.
Lawrence was 10 yards down the field before anyone came up to stop. He cut outside to avoid one tackle, then made another as he hit the near sideline and raced down the field untouched for a 67-yard touchdown.
“I don’t know what it was, it’s just football, but you could tell all the momentum shifted to our side of the field and it got us going,” Ross said.
Lawrence’s touchdown run was the longest of his career and cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 16-14 with 1:10 to play in the first half.
“That targeting call was huge. Being able to finish that drive and score and then the next drive put it in (the end zone) again really gave us some momentum going into halftime,” Lawrence said.
The Tigers carried that momentum into the second half and took its first lead of the game, 21-16, on a 53-yard Lawrence to Etienne touchdown. Clemson held its lead until the fourth, but Justin Fields hit Chris Olave for a 24-yard touchdown with 11:46 to play in the game. The touchdown pass came on a fourth-and-one call, as Fields faked the hand-off causing safety Nolan Turner to bite and leaving Olave open for the touchdown.
The Tigers (14-0) took a 29-23 lead with 1:49 to play in the game after quarterback Trevor Lawrence hit running back Travis Etienne with a jump pass, which the Jennings, Louisiana native took to the end zone for what turned out to be the game winning score.
Clemson started the drive at its own 6-yard line, but the Tigers needed just four plays to cover the 94 yards. Lawrence first hit Ross for 11 yards and then he ran for 11 more to move the ball to the 28-yard line.
On the next play, Lawrence looked off his initial receiver and found Amari Rodgers crossing the middle of the field where the speedster broke a tackle and took the ball 38 yards to the Buckeyes’ 34. On the next play, Lawrence faked like he was running the football on a quarterback run, a play they ran several times in the game, but instead he popped up and threw a pass to Etienne who ran to the end zone and carried a couple of Buckeyes with him to the end zone.
Lawrence finished the night completing 18-33 passes for 259 yards, while running for a career-high 107 yards.
With the win, Clemson will play No. 1 LSU on Jan. 13 at the Silverdome in New Orleans.
Clemson is going back to the national championship game after once again winning the Fiesta Bowl over Ohio State. Get your official Fiesta Bowl champs gear right here!