GLENDALE, Ariz. – Nolan Turner does not feel like he had his best overall performance on Saturday night in the Fiesta Bowl.
But it was the Clemson safety who made one of the game’s biggest plays in the final seconds, sealing the third-ranked Tigers’ 29-23 victory over No. 2 Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal with an interception of Justin Fields in the end zone.
“It was great, just to kind of do my one-eleven and make a play,” Turner said. “That’s what we’re out there to do, do our job, play with cohesion, togetherness, and that’s what we did for most of the night to hold them to 23 points and come out with a win.”
After Clemson took a six-point lead with a touchdown pass from Trevor Lawrence to Travis Etienne and an ensuing two-point conversion, Ohio State took possession with 1:49 remaining in regulation and needed just seven plays to go 52 yards and get the ball to the Tigers’ 23-yard line.
However, the scoring threat ended one play later when Fields dropped back and fired a pass over the middle intended for Chris Olave but threw it right into the hands of Tuner for the game-clinching pick with 37 seconds left.
Olave broke off his route and ran the other way as Fields released the ball, as he thought Fields was in scramble mode on the long-developing play.
“We were in a little two-shell (coverage), and I think they tried to run a little post-dig, post-curl,” Turner said. “I think the receiver saw me on top of it and tried to sit it down (on the route), but the quarterback’s already making the throw there and the pressure got to him a little bit. So, I was reading off the quarterback, the ball’s in the air and just went and made a play.”
Prior to that play, Turner admittedly did not play as well as he wanted. The redshirt junior from Vestavia Hills, Alabama, missed an open-field tackle on third-and-14 in the first quarter that resulted in a first down, and later got beat over the middle on a then-go-ahead touchdown pass from Fields to Olave in the fourth quarter.
Turner made amends for his miscues, though, when he snagged the interception and sent the Tigers to the Jan. 13 national championship game against LSU in New Orleans.
“I think you have to be the biggest critic of yourself, and I don’t think I played a great game (Saturday night),” Turner said. “I think that play might overshadow some of my performance tonight. But there’s a few tackles I missed. That one play in the end zone, little post route, had bad leverage, got beat. But mistakes happen. We’re going to get them corrected and get it right for New Orleans.”
Similar to Turner, the Clemson team as a whole struggled early in the game before stepping up to make the plays they needed to in order to pull out the win.
After allowing 16 points in the first quarter and a half, the Tigers allowed just one touchdown the rest of the way.
“We changed up our scheme a little bit, had to adjust to some of the stuff they were doing,” Turner said. “But a lot of fight, made stops in the red zone. I think we held them to three field goals in the red zone. We don’t do that, they probably blow us out early. But just a lot of fight to this team, to come back from that adversity and the offense to kind of pull us together and the defense to get some stops going, and then we just kind of started rolling off of that momentum.”
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!