Four Downs: Boyd, Watkins star in Clemson's Orange Bowl win
Talk about a game for the ages! No. 12 Clemson rallied from a nine-point deficit in the second half to post a 40-35 upset of No. 7 Ohio State -- the Tigers' first major bowl victory during the BCS era.
Clemson QB Tajh Boyd accounted for six total touchdowns (five passing) and an Orange Bowl record for total yards by a quarterback (505).
Robert Mayer / USA TODAY Sports
By Jay Clemons
Here are four things we gleaned from No. 12 Clemson's 40-35 upset of No. 7 Ohio State on Friday, detailing one of the most epic Orange Bowls in history:
1. It's weird to say, but the defense deserves credit for Clemson's first-ever BCS bowl victory
Forget that Ohio State racked up 427 total yards, 27 first downs and 35 points for the night; and for a brief moment, mis-remember that Buckeyes QB Braxton Miller accounted for 269 total yards (234 passing) and an Al Bundy-friendly outing of four touchdowns.
When Clemson's resilient pack of defensive linemen and linebackers needed a sack, QB pressure, fumble recovery or interception in the waning moments of this classic ... they came up clutch every time.
That includes Stephone Anthony's game-clinching pick on Ohio State's final offensive play -- even though replays showed that Anthony may have not "completed the process" when hauling in Miller's pass.
Luckily for the Tigers, the play never got a thorough review from the replay officials. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables was also fortunate: On Miller's interception, there wasn't any up-the-middle safety help on the play.
(At least that's how it appeared on ESPN replays.)
If the Ohio State quarterback had waited a split-second before releasing the ball, he might have found a receiver or two wide-open near the end zone, requiring a rainbow pass with a little more air time.
But not of the #SammyPass variety (more on that later).
Back to the defense: Around the 3:30 mark of the fourth quarter, with the Buckeyes trailing by five and crossing into Clemson territory, Tigers defensive back Bashaud Breeland beat his blocker cleanly and then crushed Miller on a pass attempt.
On that 3rd and 13 play, the ball got jarred loose from Miller and into the waiting arms of Clemson's Spencer Shuey, who recovered the ball with 3:12 left.
At the time, it looked like the game-clinching sequence for Clemson, which hadn't won an Orange Bowl since 1982 (when the Tigers tripped Nebraska and captured a national championship).
However, a third-down interception from Clemson QB Tajh Boyd momentarily revived Ohio State's chances of pulling out a hellacious victory.
But only for two more plays.
2. You can't beat the finishing kicks for either Sammy Watkins or Tajh Boyd
Let's see if we've got a firm hold on the Tigers' offensive records from Friday:
**Most single-game receptions in Clemson history (Watkins -- 16). **Most single-game catches in Orange Bowl history (Watkins). **Most single-game receiving yards in Clemson history (Watkins -- 227). **Most single-game receiving yards in Orange Bowl history (Watkins). **Most single-game total yards from a quarterback (Boyd -- 505).
And who knows, if the game goes into overtime ... perhaps Watkins equals Tavon Austin's Orange Bowl record of four receiving touchdowns (2012). And maybe Boyd (six combined TDs) ties Geno Smith's Orange Bowl record for touchdown passes (six -- 2012).
But there's always next year for Watkins -- a draft-eligible junior who will likely be a top- 10 pick in the upcoming NFL draft -- if he throws everyone for a loop and returns to Clemson for his senior season. (Not likely.)
(The senior Boyd could be a top-three draft prospect, among quarterbacks.)
In his three years with Clemson, Watkins boasts a pair of 80-catch campaigns, two 1,200-yard seasons and 25 receiving touchdowns -- including two against the Buckeyes.
His second TD reception -- an acrobatic, in-traffic 30-yarder -- was a major turning point in the game, ending Ohio State's run of 20 consecutive points and trimming the OSU deficit to two (29-27) in the third quarter.
For good measure, Clemson receiver Martavis Bryant (three catches, 28 yards) also caught two touchdowns, with the latter coming on a twice-tipped, toe-tapping reception near the end of the third quarter.
3. Something seems amiss when glancing at Braxton Miller's box-score line
It's hard to believe Miller finished with only 35 rushing yards, especially since his 33-yard touchdown run in the first quarter (knotting the score at 7) was a thing of beauty.
On the play, Miller evaded a pass rush and sprinted down the left sideline, before doing a Walter Payton-esque high-step move, freezing the opposing defenders long enough to make an unfettered sprint to the goal line.
On a night of big plays and absurdly athletic moves, Miller's TD crossing might have been the gold-standard highlight.
For Miller's other 17 runs, he collected just two more yards overall -- although one carry included a 3-yard TD scamper just before halftime, giving Ohio State a 22-20 lead at the break.
On the passing end, Miller (234 yards, two TDs) had his moments. But his last two throws of the night -- one knocked-down incompletion, one interception -- were quite shaky.
4. Watkins was simultaneously trending twice late in the game
The Tigers star got plenty of Twitter love during his record-breaking night on the receiving end -- for obvious reasons.
But his second brush with social media was more infamous in tone, with the hashtag of #SammyPass collecting buzz, after the receiver aimlessly lofted a pass to the QB Boyd on a two- point conversion in the fourth quarter.
In hindsight, Clemson didn't need the two-pointer to clinch its victory over Ohio State, doing enough to earn the five-point win. At the time, though, it was viewed as a golden opportunity squandered for the Tigers, who could have boosted their lead to seven with 6:16 left.
On the conversion attempt, Watkins fielded an end-around pitch and then had plenty of room and time to hit Boyd in the end zone. Any accurate pass with a reasonable amount of mustard would have been enough to secure the two points.
Instead, the ball floated and fluttered in the air for an interminable amount of time ... affording Ohio State the chances to deflect the pass and preserve its chance of pulling out a last-second win -- with a subsequent touchdown -- without any real possibility of overtime.
But alas, that never happened. Clemson thwarted Ohio State in the end.
Fortunately for Watkins, everything worked out for his likely swan song in Clemson orange.