There are a lot of reasons why Clemson found a way to beat Ohio State last Saturday in the Fiesta Bowl.
Of course, there was quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who guided the Tigers on the game-winning drive in the final two minutes, as well as played one of the gutsiest games in Clemson history. There was running back Travis Etienne, who despite being shut down in the running game, found a way to contribute with two touchdown receptions, including the game-winner.
There was safety Nolan Turner, who after giving up the go-ahead touchdown earlier in the fourth quarter, came up with the game-sealing interception in the end zone with 37 seconds to play. These are great stories and have been told over and over again in so many different ways since the Tigers’ 29-23 victory over Ohio State.
However, a story that has not been told is that of safety Tanner Muse. After the game Dabo Swinney talked about the heart of a champion and how Clemson displayed that throughout the game. No one displayed that heart of a champion more than Muse when Buckeyes’ running back J.K. Dobbins broke into the open field for a second time and galloped towards the Clemson end zone in the first quarter.
Ohio State already had a 10-0 lead thanks to Dobbins’ 68-yard run for a touchdown earlier in the quarter. On third-and-two from his own 28, the junior took a handoff and raced 64 yards on the last play of the first quarter.
It looked like an easy score for the All-American running back. But out of nowhere, Muse caught up with the speedster, and in one last effort to save a touchdown, he dove and clipped the back ankle of Dobbins, who fell to the ground at the Clemson 8-yard line.
At the time, the play seemed insignificant. However, the Tigers eventually held Ohio State out of the end zone, keeping the game at two scores, 13-0. As the game went on, Muse’s hustle turned out to be bigger than anyone expected.
“White boy has burners, I guess,” Muse said jokingly after the game. “I got to show off my speed a little bit. It was good just to get him down. The drive ended with a field goal. Points are very valuable in these playoff games, so anything you can take away is a bonus.”
The bonus in this situation was a 22-yard Blake Haubeil field goal that gave the Buckeyes a 13-0 lead with 14:11 to play in the first half. Replay overturned what was called a 5-yard Dobbin’s touchdown reception on the field. However, replay correctly overturned the call after its showed the Ohio State running back used the ground to secure the catch.
Haubeil later added a 33-yard field goal following another red zone stop by the Tigers and the Buckeyes had a 16-0 lead with 7:20 to play in the first half.
“The goal is to keep them out of the end zone and from scoring touchdowns,” Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables said. “At the end of the day, that is really what saved us. We could not have played worse than that in the first half, but those red zone responses were huge and at the end of the game was the difference in the game.”
Ohio State journeyed into the Clemson red zone three times in the Fiesta Bowl and all three times ended with Haubeil field goals. He started the scoring with a 21-yard field goal after the Buckeyes first drive ended at the Clemson 4-yard line.
“We got the heart of a champion. That is what they showed out there (Saturday night),” Venables said. “That is how you overcome the countless mistakes.”
And Muse is an example that hustle does not go unnoticed or unrewarded.
Clemson is going back to the national championship game after once again winning the Fiesta Bowl over Ohio State. Get your official national championship and Fiesta Bowl champs gear right here!