Clemson Loss for Buckeyes Adds to List of Painful Outings

Ryan Day Ohio State Buckeyes Head Coach

GLENDALE, Ariz. – If you are an Ohio State fan, there have been some tough losses over the years.

It just depends how far you want to go back.

The 1969 loss at Michigan when the Buckeyes were ranked No. 1 and headed for a second straight national title. The shocking 23-10 loss to UCLA in the 1976 Rose Bowl, costing them another title. The 17-16 loss to USC in the 1980 Rose Bowl. Ditto for another national title. The 1986, ’95 and ’86 losses to Michigan. The ’98 and 2015 losses to Michigan State, both when the Buckeyes were No. 1. The 2005 home loss to Texas, a game Ohio State had dominated, enabling the Longhorns to go on and win a national championship.

Is that one paragraph enough pain for you?

But what happened Saturday night at State Farm Stadium against defending national champion Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal may have just topped them all.

Heart-breaking. Gut-wrenching. Soul-crushing.

Pick one. Pick them all.

This 29-23 loss was a victory the Buckeyes had in their grasp for much of the night, only to let it slip through their fingers. They were one play away. They were one play away over and over and over again, and none of them went the Buckeyes’ way. Some were overturned after replay reviews. Some were inches one way or another. Some were just plain bad luck.

When it was all said and done, Ohio State had 99 more total yards, seven more first downs, 38 more rushing yards than Clemson — and a helluva lot more regrets and what-ifs.

Make no mistake about it, this was a game the Buckeyes not only could have but should have won.

And that’s what will hurt them the most.

Instead, they finish 13-1 to conclude a season in which they won every game by at least 11 points. But what they did from September through the Big Ten championship win over Wisconsin on Dec. 7 won’t be of any consolation since this spectacular season didn’t end in a national championship.

Some were calling this one of Ohio State’s best-ever teams. It may have been just that, but this ending with a loss will erase any historic greatness this team was due.

The Buckeyes not only came up on the short end on each of about seven huge plays, but if just one of those had gone their way Saturday, they would have walked out of here with an upset win a trip to New Orleans to take on LSU for the national championship.

Instead, it will be Clemson’s trip.

The ACC Tigers, who now have won 29 in a row, will face those other SEC Tigers from the Bayou. But don’t expect many Buckeyes to be watching on Jan. 13, unless it’s simply to pull for their former teammate Joe Burrow to put the dagger in the team they let slip away.

They say football is a game of inches. Let me tell you, all those inches added up to break Ohio State’s heart in this one.

“When two great teams get together, it always comes down to a few big plays,” first-year coach Ryan Day said. “We didn’t get any of them. It was a very strange game that way. I am very, very disappointed not to win this game.”

I am quite positive Ohio State has never gained 516 yards or more in its 130 years of football — and came away a loser.

“That hurts,” Day said. “Really hurts.”

Also, there were not just one or two, but several officiating calls by the SEC crew that went Clemson’s way. And they weren’t any little, five-yard types. They all were momentum-swinging, game-determining type of calls.

J.K Dobbins had caught a diving swing pass that would have given Ohio State a 17-0 lead in the second quarter. It was ruled a touchdown and then overturned by replay, forcing the Buckeyes to kick a field goal and take four points off the board.

In the third quarter, there was a scoop-and-score that would have given the Buckeyes the lead, that was overturned by replay again, as officials ruled a Clemson incompletion instead of a catch and a fumble.

“That overturn was huge,” Day said. “Huge.”

And then there was a second-quarter targeting call on cornerback Shaun Wade on a blitz, with Ohio State leading 16-0 in the second quarter. He had sacked Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence on third down, which forced yet another Tigers’ punt. Lawrence saw him coming and ducked his head, realizing the sack was coming. That move lowered his helmet just enough to collide with Wade’s, resulting in a targeting call – not called by the officials on the field but rather after a review.

That not only eliminated Wade from the game but gave Clemson a first down and they soon scored to cut the lead to 16-7. It also swung the momentum of the game.

“That targeting call swung it,” Day said.

Day didn’t want to make a general comment on the officiating.

“It’s too close (to the end of the game) right now,” he said. “It’s too emotional to talk about right now. I’ll watch the tape on all those big calls and see what happened.”

After Lawrence ran 67 yards on a quarterback draw to cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 16-14 at the half, Day had to wonder what happened.

“We had 300 yards of offense in the first half and had a 16-14 lead,” he said.

On the second series of the third quarter, Ohio State stopped Clemson again and Cameron Brown was inches from blocking a punt, but he was called for roughing the punter. One play later, Travis Etienne collected a screen pass and raced 53 yards to give the Tigers a 21-16 lead.

“That was huge,” Day said. “They were all huge.”

Ohio State had a 23-21 lead and Clemson backed up at its own 6-yard line with only 3:07 remaining. That came on a punt after Day chose not to go for it on fourth-and-four from Clemson’s 39.

“I wanted to pin them inside their 10 and I had confidence in our defense,” he said.

Three plays earlier, caught a short pass and cut to his right with nothing but open space in front of him. A touchdown there would have given Ohio State a two-score lead with less than four minutes remaining, but Clemson’s Isiah Simmons just got enough of his ankle to trip him up.

“I was gone,” Dobbins said on the sideline. “That was the ballgame.”

After the ensuing punt, all Lawrence needed was an 11-yard scramble and three completions of 73 yards – all totaling 78 seconds – to put the Tigers into the end zone and with a two-point conversion, a 29-23 lead.

The game on the line and 1:49 remaining, Fields then drove the Buckeyes 52 to Clemson’s 23 in the final seconds with four completions. On second-and-seven with 37 seconds remaining, Day wanted sophomore Chris Olave on a post pattern, which the Buckeyes had hit earlier in the fourth quarter to re-take the lead.

But Olave, the breakout star in the 62-39 win over Michigan a year ago, broke the route off to the corner, apparently thinking Fields was in scramble mode. Fields, however, had already let the pass go and Clemson safety Nolan Turner intercepted it to essentially end the game.

“Chris is very upset in the locker room right now,” Day said. “It was just a miscommunication on the route. Nobody feels worse than he does right now.”

“There’s nothing we can do about it now,” Fields said.

Fields’ final pass ended a historic breakout season. He had entered Saturday’s game with an unprecedented 40-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio, something never done in NCAA history, but threw two picks on the night. Still, he gutted out a brilliant effort on a gimpy knee, passing for 320 yards on 30-of-46.

What Day, who suffered his first loss as a head coach. left behind in the locker room when he met with the media also added to his pain.

“A lot of tears, a lot of anger, a lot of thrown helmets,” he said. “They can’t believe it’s over.”

It’s not just the fact that it’s over for Ohio State. It’s just the way it ended that makes it so crushing.

Believe me, that 41-14 whipping administered by Florida in this building 13 years ago in the BCS championship game hurt Buckeye Nation much, much less than this one, simply because they lost to a better team in Urban Meyer’s Gators. They had 81 total yards that night, were outmatched and were never in it to win it. They weren’t the better team.

This time, they had 435 more yards, talent across the board, depth, motivation and all the ingredients of a better team.

However, the better team somehow, some way walked out of here a loser.

And they will have to live with that fact for a lifetime.


Jeff Snook, a 1982 Ohio State graduate, has written 13 books about college football. His columns can be read at

18 Responses

  1. Ohio won the BIG GAME 165 years ago, the Civil War !
    President. US Grant from Ohio and General William
    Ulysses Simpson also from Ohio who Destroyed
    Atlanta and many other military men !

  2. Time to cheer for our local young hero from The Plains, Joe Burrow, as he will embarrass this same Clemson team in a couple of weeks instead of his old team, Ohio State. It’s destiny. Now we can cheer for our former Buckeye and fellow Ohioan without mixed emotions. Don’t worry, LSU will handle this job.

  3. The best 2 QB’s are in the finals and great effort by the Bucks but did not have the 2014 talent needed to win. Justin had his chances-no Joe B or Trevor. Should be happy with Big Ten championships for awhile

  4. When we got inside the 10 Day got too cute on first downs passing instead of running. He was wasting 1st down in the red zone. As good as we ran the ball last night, Day never trusted the run when we needed it most.

    With 3 min left in the 4th qtr up 2 points on their 40 that was game winning time. Couldn’t give them the ball back. On 3rd and 4 that should have been four down territory with 2 run plays…yet we passed on third and punted on 4th. Ball game!

  5. As upset as I am about an unfair loss, I had no blood on the field, no skin left in the crevice of a helmet, no ankle that is bent up, finger broken – no injuries at all. I didn’t spend countless hours in a weight room, film room, practice field so how I feel does not hold a candle to how the courageous players and coaches of The Ohio State Buckeyes feel.

    I want to say thank you to every player. Thank you to every coach. In my mind there is no doubt that you put together the best season in 2019 NCAA football. This game was decided by the 12 player – the referees, not targeting Wade, broken pass route Chris, or roughing the kicker. Be proud of what you accomplished, cherish the brotherhood that you and only you can claim and share, and go out and make your millions in the NFL and sock enough of it away in safe investments that when it is all over you can do whatever you want whenever you want, and if I ever see any of you in public please sign your autograph!

  6. In the end it was great season. They needed one little thing to go their way… and it never happened. The penalties…. the inability to punch it in in the red zone. The last pass. I wish for those guys they would have won it. It’s college football. For a lot of these guys, there Is no second chance, there is no next year. And it’s unlikely they will be as good next year. A real blown opportunity. But as everyone noted, the three top teams were very close in talent and ability. Two of them have to lose. They deserved a shot and they got it. The other team avoided costly penalties. The Bucks didn’t. That’s pretty much what I came down to in my mind. Mental lapses. Plays where you end up thinking “you really didn’t think the refs wouldn’t see that did you.” Against lesser competition it doesn’t matter. Last night it did.

  7. They need to eliminate targeting. What was our player to do, when the quarterback lowered his head right at contact. This is bull shit!!!!!

  8. Hell no I’m not rooting for Burrow F LSU!!!!!!!!!! Quite frankly to avoid another loss to a southern team in CFP, I hope they beat TTUN, but get their asses kicked by another B1G foe every year. Living south of the Mason Dixie Line, and having to put up with these 1st cousin marrying inbreed southerners is too much. 0-6 against teams from South Carolina is too much. Horrible corrupt officiating, but worse red zone play calling cost us the game. Bowl game record vs SEC, ACC 2-12, Arkansas vacated, alabama is OLD news, ancient history. OU and OSU should NEVER play in another CFP game again!

    1. Alabama will be back in the final 4 next year because Burrow will be in the NFL. OSU will be back next year too.

    2. I’m with you. The entire cfp process is hopelessly corrupt and has only succeeded in destroying the conferences and traditions. It’s just a waste of time and resources to bother and the best teams don’t necessarily get a chance. Beat UM and win the conference and screw ESPN’s corrupt dog and pony show. I’d be glad to avoid having to listen to Herbstreit’s diarrhea mouth running constantly. The guy never shuts the f up.

      1. P.S. Except I am rooting for Joe Burrow, LSU, and Joe Orgoron just for this time.

    3. Not sure what OU has in common with OSU when it comes to the CFP.
      Pretty absurd to lump them together.

  9. It’s time to root for Ohio State graduate and native Ohioan Joe Burrow to win the National Championship. It would have been great to see OSU finally beat Clemson, but remember this team still had a great season (13-1) with a new head coach, new defensive coaches, and a new quarterback. This team wasn’t even picked to win the east division. This was Clemson’s fifth straight year in the CFP and they are the defending national champions. Hopefully the buckeyes will learn from this game and make a run at it again in 2020.

  10. Why should the officials come from the SEC to Ref a southern team? Officials from the west coast should ref games involving southern teams, not refs from the south.

  11. In public, stand tall and silently look them all in the eye…

    grieve with your brothers in private.

    You shed your blood and went for us to the very end.

    There is no greater love on this earth.

  12. “I am quite positive Ohio State has never gained 516 yards or more in its 130 years of football — and came away a loser.”

    They had 546 total yards in last year’s Purdue blowout loss.

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