Third-ranked Clemson got off to a slow start offensively with just 77 total yards in the first quarter against No. 2 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl and fell behind 16-0 midway through the second quarter.
The Tigers struggled to find an identity on that side of the ball after their primary weapon, Tee Higgins, exited the game on the first drive. Ohio State also managed to shut down Clemson’s run game with Travis Etienne.
The Buckeyes’ defensive talent forced Clemson to get creative on offense. Co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott knew Ohio State would limit the run game, so the Tigers schemed for it.
“They are built to stop the run and play an eight-man front on defense, so they had an extra defender on the defensive line,” Elliott said. “They are really really good on the defensive line at holding the point and we run a tight track on our inside zone. I knew that would open up some room for Trevor [Lawrence] to run the football.”
Lawrence finished the day with a career high 107 yards on 16 carries, while having another personal best with a 67-yard touchdown run that cut a second quarter Ohio State lead to 16-14 as the teams entered halftime.
The quarterback-run game forced the Buckeyes to cover the entire field and allowed the Tigers to get Etienne the ball in open space with screens.
Elliot told the junior tailback before the game he needed to be productive in order for Clemson to earn a trip to New Orleans and play for the national championship for a fourth time in five seasons.
“I told Travis before the game that at the end of the day he would be the reason for a victory. I didn’t know what it would be. He might have had to run us to New Orleans, or he may have had to catch the ball,” Elliott said. “It’s something he took pride in and he wasn’t going to be denied.”
Etienne finished the game as the leading receiver with three receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns including the game winning catch with 1:49 left in the game to give Clemson its 27-23 lead before Lawrence found Tee Higgins for a two-point conversion.
Higgins left the game in the first quarter and Justyn Ross missed time in the third quarter for minor injuries, so Etienne’s production proved vital to the Tigers’ success offensively.
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!