Prior to Clemson’s win over Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, Dabo Swinney told his team Ohio State would make some big plays and they would make some big plays. However, just because big plays are made it does not mean someone has scored. More than likely the outcome of the game will be decided by who executes best in the red zone.
And though the Tigers were out played by Ohio State in almost every statistical category last Saturday, the Tigers ability to turn its one red zone opportunity into a touchdown, and Ohio State’s inability to convert its three chances were the difference in the game.
“We’ve got to be great on red zone offense, and just because you give up a big play, that doesn’t mean they score, because we’re going to be great on red zone defense,” Swinney said. “I felt like how both teams played in those areas would be a real critical factor. But we take a lot of pride in it. And again, you don’t have as much space to cover. It’s hard to score against good teams in the red zone. You don’t have a vertical threat, so it just comes down to being able to run the ball. Your quarterback usually has to make some plays for you, and then it’s match-ups and being able to win the match-ups.”
Clemson has one of the best red zone offenses and red zone defenses in the country, and that has proven to be true all season.
In 65 red zone attempts this year, the Tigers have scored 49 touchdowns (75.4 percent). The 49 touchdowns rank fourth nationally and their touchdown percentage ranks ninth.
On the defensive side of the ball, Clemson is even better. The Tigers have allowed just 21 red zone scores all year, which ranks third nationally and only 10 of those were converted into touchdowns, which leads the country.
Opponents have converted just 35.7 of their 28 attempts into touchdowns, which ranks second nationally.
“Our guys have done a great job there all year, and again, it was the difference in the game last (Saturday) because again, obviously, we did not start off very well,” Swinney said. “We gave up some … gave up a couple poor really big plays where we just didn’t do our job.”
But the Tigers buckled down in the red zone. Though Ohio State leads the nation in red zone touchdowns with 59 and still ranks 4th nationally in touchdown percentage in the red zone, it went 0-3 against Clemson in the Fiesta Bowl.
The biggest play was when safety Tanner Muse chased Buckeyes’ running back J.K. Dobbins down from behind on a 64-yard run. Muse was able to trip Dobbins up at the Clemson 8. The Tigers then held Ohio State to just three yards on the next three plays, as the Buckeyes’ settled for a short field goal.
Instead of being down 17-0 at the time, it was just 13-0.
“I’ll tell you, the play by Tanner Muse was probably as big a play as there was in the game because of his effort, and I think that one play is the epitome of our program, and just his effort and fight to go and just give it all he’s got to try to get Dobbins down,” Swinney said. “On that one long run there was awesome, because that gave us a chance to play red zone defense, and we held them to a field goal, which obviously at the end there changes things if they only need a field goal as opposed to a touchdown to win it.”
Clemson got another stop in the red zone the next time Ohio State got the football after the Buckeyes got to the Tigers’ 11.
“So just really proud of our guys, and again, their poise, and did not panic or anything like that,” Swinney said. “Just kind of stayed the course, and then our offense got it going, made some big plays ourselves, and were able to finish when we got down there.
“That’s really it. Just details and guys doing their job.”
They’ll have to do it one more time against LSU in the College Football Playoff National Championship. The SEC’s Tigers rank second nationally in red zone touchdowns (55) and fifth in touchdown percentage (78.5).
However, defensively, LSU has struggled to stop opponents in the red zone. The opposition has scored 24 touchdowns on 29 attempts. The touchdowns allowed rank 40th nationally and the 63.2 percent average ranks 84th.
Clemson and LSU will meet in New Orleans on Jan. 13 in the CFP National Championship from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome at 8 p.m., ET.
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