Four Downs: Boyd, Watkins star in Clemson’s Orange Bowl win
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fortunately for Watkins, everything worked out for his likely swan song in Clemson orange.