Buckeyes Fall Short Against Clemson
By Rob Ogden
MIAMI — Braxton Miller saw his most reliable receiver streaking open across the middle of the field. He didn't see Stephone Anthony.
The Clemson linebacker stepped in front of the Miller pass and sealed the Tigers' first BCS bowl victory as Clemson defeated Ohio State 40-35 Friday night at the Orange Bowl.
"I didn't see him," Miller said. "I thought I had my man wide open, and he jumped in front of it."
Two plays earlier, Ohio State senior safety C.J. Barnett picked off a Tajh Boyd pass to set the Buckeyes up inside Clemson territory with 1:27 to play.
"Game over. That's what I thought," Barnett said. "Nine out of 10 times our offense goes down and scores.
But not this time.
"I felt confident until that guy stepped in front of the ball. I didn't see him until the last second," Miler said.
Miller was 16-of-24 for 234 yards, two touchdowns and two interception for the evening.
He gained 84 yards on 18 carries and had two scores on the ground, including a 33-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 7 in the first quarter.
But Miller was out-shone by Boyd and Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, who connected 16 times for 227 yards and two scores. Watkins was the game's MVP, easily setting the bowl's receiving yards record.
Ohio State's offense, meanwhile, struggled to get much going until late in the first half.
The Buckeye defense forced a safety late in the first quarter, but Ohio State didn't get on the board again until 3:39 remained in the half.
Clemson (11-2) drove to Ohio State's 36-yard line on the ensuing drive, but was stopped on fourth down. Five plays later, the Buckeyes took the lead for the first time when Miller ran in for his second score of the game.
The Buckeyes (12-2) were out gained 362-to-254 in the first half, but somehow managed to take the lead into the locker room.
"If you ask me how I felt at halftime, I felt fantastic," Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said. "I realize we gave up some yards, but we also created some plays, got a safety, got some turnovers on defense."
The Buckeyes padded their lead with a 1-yard Carlos Hyde touchdown run, and were in position to get the ball back after stopping Clemson for a third-consecutive possession, but Corey "Philly" Brown muffed the ensuing punt and the Tigers recovered.
Watkins pulled the Tigers within two points with his second touchdown reception of the game, this time over junior Doran Grant.
Without All-Big Ten cornerback Bradley Roby, the Buckeyes had trouble containing Watkins.
Junior linebacker Ryan Shazier said Clemson possessed the best passing offense the Buckeyes have ever faced, and called Watkins the nation's top receiver.
Boyd generally had time to pick apart the Ohio State secondary. He was sacked twice.
The Buckeyes were also without defensive end Noah Spence, who was suspended three games by the Big Ten this week.
Shazier said the loss of those two players wasn't the reason for the unit's struggles.
"It's not an excuse," he said. "Everybody did their job, we just couldn't pull it out."
Freshman Vonn Bell got his first start of the season. There were a few rookie mistakes, but he showed his talent on a one-handed interception on Ohio State's goal line in the first half.
Meyer was hoping Bell would provide a boost to the struggling secondary, but it wasn't enough.
"If we want to be in the national championship conversation, we can't give up 40 points a game," Shazier said.
Friday's game marked the first time ever Ohio State scored 35 points in a game and lost.
As the Buckeyes' defense literally limped to the finish line, so too did Miller, who took a beating from Clemson's front seven.
Miller said after the game that he was bothered by his back and shoulder and wasn't 100 percent healthy.
"On a scale of one to 10, (the pain was) about a nine and a half," Miller said. "I think it affected my running."
He missed one play on a two-point conversion try in the fourth quarter, but offensive coordinator Tom Herman said they never considered taking Miller out other than that.
"If he could walk then he was gonna be out there," Herman said. "Can he stand up? Can he throw the football? Once we got yeses on those questions we sent him back out there."
After winning 24-consecutive games, Meyer and the Buckeyes have now lost two straight. It didn't finish the way they envisioned.
"It's not what I expected," Shazier said. "We had a bunch of ups and downs. We could have done a better job, but we didn't."
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