No. 3 Ohio State defeated No. 2 Clemson 49-28 in the Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans on Friday.
With the victory, the Buckeyes (7-0) advance to the Playoff college football championship game, where they will face No. 1 Alabama on January 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida.
Ohio State avenged last year’s semifinal loss to Clemson with a brave performance from Justin Fields, who burned the Tigers’ defense by completing 22 of 28 passes for 385 yards and six touchdowns. The Buckeyes had 35 points and 394 yards in the first half.
MORE: Clemson-Ohio State Updates, CFP Semifinal Highlights
With that, a look at three takeaways from the Sugar Bowl semi-final:
Justin Fields was unstoppable
Fields was shot by Clemson’s linebacker James Sealskin with 5:57 remaining in the first half. Sealskin was sent off for aiming, but Fields played through him in a remarkable performance against the Tigers.
Fields returned to the game and threw a 9-yard touchdown to Chris Olave two players later. Fields’ 12-yard touchdown to Jeremy Rocket with 11 seconds left in the first half opened up a 35-14 lead at halftime. Fields threw an interception on the first drive of the second half, but helped end the game with a 56-yard touchdown pass to Olave on the next drive with a perfect shot down a post route.
A 45-yard touchdown pass to Jameson Williams with 14:03 left in the fourth quarter served as the exclamation point.
Fields edged out Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, who fell behind after the Tigers had three empty possessions in the first half. The Clemson quarterback completed 33 of 48 passes for 400 yards and two touchdowns on an interception, missing just the second start of his career. The competition between quarterbacks started in high school, but Fields evened the score in their college matchups. These should be the first two quarterbacks selected in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Trey Sermon still
Clemson jumped to a 7-0 lead, but Sermon set the tone in the next series with two great plays that showed the difference in the game. Sermon caught a 34-yard pass and then scored on a 32-yard touchdown on the next play.
Sermon built on a 331-yard performance in the Big Ten championship game with another dominant performance in the running game that evoked the shadows of Ezekiel Elliott in the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship race.
Sermon finished with 31 carries for 193 yards, adding four receptions for 61 yards. The 215-pound transfer from Oklahoma makes the difference that will give Alabama something to think about in the CFP championship game.
Meanwhile, Clemson had just 14 rushing yards in the first half. Travis Etienne, who finished with 96 total yards, did not match his Ohio State counterpart. That made a huge difference throughout the game.
Clemson Defense Implosion
Dabo Swinney is going to get a bit of heat after placing Ohio State at No. 11 in his latest coaches poll, but the real talking point should be the Tigers defense.
The Tigers allowed 518 yards in a 47-40 overtime double loss to Notre Dame in November. The Buckeyes exploited that defense in the first half. Clemson was missing safety Nolan Turner, who was sent off for targeting in the second half of the ACC championship game against Notre Dame. Sealskin’s expulsion didn’t help.
Did that matter? After going off three in his first drive, Ohio State scored on his next five first-half possessions.
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables has some talented pieces coming back to the front, but the Tigers will have to answer for the last two defensive implosions in the playoff stage.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.