Missed Opportunities Haunt Buckeyes In Loss

Chris Olave Fiesta Bowl interception

For 60 minutes, the Ohio State Buckeyes went toe-to-toe with defending national champion Clemson.

At times in the first half, they looked like they were on the verge of blowing the Tigers right out of the building and earning a spot in the national championship game against LSU.

But the Buckeyes, who had been so clean, so precise, and so mistake-free for most of the season, suddenly started making crucial errors.

It started innocuously enough with a series of small, but crucial red zone failures.

The Bucks took the opening kickoff and marched right down the field, going from their own 25 to the Clemson 5 in just six plays. But the drive stalled and OSU settled for a field goal.

On Clemson’s opening possession, Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence very clearly didn’t see OSU linebacker Tuf Borland sitting in coverage. Borland stepped in front of a pass, got his hands on it, but couldn’t bring it in. If he had, there was nothing but green grass ahead of him.

The Buckeyes scored on a 68-yard touchdown run by J.K. Dobbins to make it 10-0, and then the junior running back ripped off another 64-yarder down to the Clemson 8. Only a desperate dive by a Clemson defender was enough to knock him off balance.

Three plays later, Dobbins was initially ruled to have scored a touchdown on an 8-yard pass, but the play was overturned on review and the Buckeyes settled for another field goal.

After a Clemson three-and-out, OSU once again seemed to be on the verge of driving in a dagger. They went on a methodical 14-play, 70-yard drive. On 2nd-and-15 from the Clemson 16, Fields dumped off a screen pass for Dobbins, who had a caravan of blockers in front of him. But he couldn’t hang on. Yet again, they settled for three instead of six.

Three first-half red zone trips, zero touchdowns.

OSU still seemed to be in control after Clemson took over. On a 3rd-and-5 play, cornerback Shaun Wade came on a blitz and drilled Lawrence, who crumpled to the turf. For a moment it looked like the Buckeyes would get the ball back with a 16-0 lead and 4:47 left in the first half.

But the replay official buzzed the referees on the field to instigate a replay review for targeting. Lawrence had ducked as Wade approached, and Wade appeared to dip his head just enough that the crown of his helmet hit Lawrence.

That not only gave the Tigers a first down at the OSU 30, but also meant that Wade was ejected, leaving them without a key defender for the final 35 minutes.

“We had all of the momentum. Then when we got the sack, and then the penalty was called on Shaun. The momentum swung right there,” Day said.

It didn’t take long for Clemson to start building that momentum. They immediately threw at sophomore cornerback Amir Riep, who had replaced Wade, drawing a pass interference call that pushed the ball to the OSU 16. Two plays later, running back Travis Etienne appeared to be stopped for a loss, but broke a couple tackles to scored and cut the lead to 16-7.

OSU failed to convert a 3rd-and-1 play on the ensuing drive, and Clemson cashed in again. First, Lawrence connected with Justyn Ross for a 16-yard gain on 3rd-and-10.

Two plays later, Lawrence took a simple quarterback draw, juked safety Josh Proctor who slipped on the wet turf, and ran 67 yards to cut it to 16-14.

Less than four minutes after they appeared to be getting the ball back with a 16-point lead, it was now down to just two.

The teams traded punts to start the third quarter, and the Buckeye defense forced another from the Clemson 15.

Ryan Day called for a block and both Chris Olave and Cameron Brown came in clean and seemed certain to make the play. But the ball somehow slipped between their hands. That meant that when Brown crashed into Clemson punter Will Speiers, it was a 15-yard penalty that gave the Tigers a first down.

“We were trying to be aggressive,” Day said after the game. “We thought we could get after the punt, and we’ve done a good job of staying off the punter and being aggressive.”

Once again, the Tigers took advantage. Lawrence found Etienne for a 53-yard touchdown to give Clemson its first lead of the night at 21-16. Again, the Buckeyes got hands on Etienne, but couldn’t bring him down.

OSU appeared to have taken the lead back when Ross grabbed a pass and took several steps before Jeff Okudah stripped the ball out. Senior safety Jordan Fuller was there to scoop the ball up and run it back for an apparent touchdown. But the replay official ruled that the pass was incomplete, wiping the touchdown off the board.

“During the play, I just saw the receiver catch the ball the ball, and then I saw the ball on the ground, there was no whistle, so I picked it up and tried to do something with it,” Fuller said.

After the game, referee Ken Williamson told a pool reporter that Ross was juggling the ball and never had control.

“After the video, instant replay in the stadium as well as back at the video center, they both looked at it slow and fast and they determined when he moved, the ball was becoming loose in his hands and he did not complete the process of the catch,” Williamson said.

“I know there were some plays that were called on the field and then overturned, and when they overturn it, there has to be indisputable evidence. If that’s what they deemed it was, it’s going to be something we’ll have to take a look at,” Day said.

The Bucks would overcome that to put together a 13-play, 84-yard drive to take the lead back, 23-21. Even here there was a missed opportunity. Day chose to kick the PAT instead of attempting a 2-point conversion that would have given them a 3-point lead.

They had a chance to ice the game when they got the ball back, but Day opted to punt on 4th-and-4 from the Clemson 39. Would he have gambled and gone for it if they were up 3 and a Clemson field goal would have only tied it instead of won the game?

Yet again, the Tigers quickly took advantage. Just four plays later, they had gone 94 yards to take a 29-23 lead.

OSU had one final chance. They started their final drive at their own 25 with 1:49 left on the clock and two timeouts.

Seven plays later, they were down to the Clemson 23 with 0:43 left on the clock. But when Fields tried to connect with Olave in the end zone, there was a miscommunication. Olave broke left, Fields threw right, and Clemson safety Nolan Turner was the only player there to catch it. That interception ended the game, and the Buckeyes’ season.

After the game, Olave said he broke off his route because he thought Fields was scrambling.

“I was supposed to run a post, but I thought he scrambled out of the pocket so I turned around to try and get open for him,” Olave said. “But he ended up throwing the ball to the post. It was my mistake.”

It was one Buckeye mistake in a game filled with them.

“That one play does not define the game,” said Fields. “Of course it was a big play, but he did not lose us the game.”

It was a game between two nearly evenly-matched teams decided by a matter of inches, over and over again.

If the Clemson defender had been just a few inches further behind and not been able to grab Dobbins’ ankle on the 64-yard run.

If the first throw to Dobbins was just a couple inches closer.

If Dobbins hadn’t turned his head a fraction of a second too early to look upfield on the second throw.

If Shaun Wade’s face was just looking a couple inches higher.

If Olave and Brown had been over by just a few inches and tipped the punt instead of missing it.

If the replay official had felt Ross the ball moved by a few inches less.

If, if, if.

On day filled with what-ifs, there is only one thing certain: The Buckeyes have a long offseason ahead to ponder just how close they came to winning that game.

8 Responses

  1. It’s good to see that objective and even minded Buckeye fans are not effected by their biases, lol. Someone please explain why the referees would conspire to cheat Ohio State. Is it because they don’t like northerners? Are they still upset about the Civil War? Are they jealous because they don’t have snow? Jealous because our football is so much better? They have to eat okra and we don’t? Is it because as everybody knows, southerners (and the northerners who go down there to work) cheat all the time? The South just naturally attracts cheaters. Yeah, that’s it. Warm climates do that. I like the implication that goobers are naturally liars and cheaters. Everybody must really hate Ohio State to conspire against us all the time. Honestly some folks need to get out of their trailer park occasionally.

    1. So the guy(?) who uses a twisted form of “rat’s ass” as an ID is lecturing fans on conspiracy while insulting those same fans? That joke writes itself…
      Now on to actual reality. You see, “Rat”, field officials are paid to perform a task that they claim to have proficiency in. The on field people are supplemented by replay people who are not subject to fatigue, the elements, coach and fan pressure, etc. Much has been made about OSU not being a perfect machine that scores every time it touches the ball, as the reason OSU lost- even though the reality is OSU held Clemson to 17 points less than their season average while scoring enough to win a properly officiated game. You see, players are subject to fatigue and, frankly, their opponents being quite good. This is why good basketball teams shoot 50% from the floor, not 100%.
      So, the fumble (and it WAS a fumble) and score scenario lends itself to complaint because it was obviously bungled by replay officials who had zero legitimate reason to bungle it. The explanation by the head on- field official is clearly a poorly disguised lie to excuse a blatant, game deciding screw up by the replay guys. I did not use or imply “conspiracy” in my earlier remarks and, frankly, I don’t care. At best those replay folks should be financially punished and not permitted to work OSU again. This level of fan/team frustration happens when a group of people work their tails off and become excellent, only to be derailed by a bunch of clowns at a distant location, who screw it up despite having every advantage to get it right. Are we clear? Good.

  2. Ross caught the ball away from his body and pulled it to his side without a bobble at that point it was stripped and picked up for six points. Where was the video evidence showing a bobble to overturn the call? It is not there! Two points for future coaching that would have won the game: 1- receivers who have to dive for a pass must practice rotating their body as they catch to keep the ball from hitting the ground. 2- all tacklers especially those with clean shots to a quarterback must practice keeping their helmets below the QB’s shoulder level.

  3. Did you notice that the game ended the same way as the one that got Woody fired? Ohio State poised to score and take the win then getting intercepted to end the game. Ryan Day did not punch the Clemson player to his credit.

  4. Absolutely the better team lost. But blaming the refs is as pathetic as going 1 for 4 in the red zone. 1 bad call, the scoop and score, should not be a factor in a game you are in complete control of leading 16-0. I hate targeting as much as the next guy but it’s a rule, and that was absolutely targeting. The better team by far lost, stop making it worse by putting the blame on the refs.

  5. Sometimes the best team loses. You can get on the refs if you want, but SEC refs are just terrible year in year out. They also are ranked team homers. But, the level of refereeing in the BiG this year has been nothing special. So you can only complain so much. It’s a tough job.

    Ohio State was so much better than Clemson, the only way they were going to lose would be if they beat themselves. And they did, Tuff Borland and J.K. Dobbins dropped touchdowns. The targeting call and the mouthed punt block cost us touchdowns.

    You can argue all you want, but those four plays, take away one, and we win. And there were a lot more chances to win. It ended up a 6 point game. From my perspective, Justing Fields made some rookie mistakes, the most glaring of which was protecting his injured knee, going down instead of going for yardage. There was abig difference there. No rushing QB touchdowns for this team was a disaster.

    First down at the 5, how about four quarterback sneeks? Or go under centre for quick hitters. Honestly, messing around on the 5 yard line with first and 20 doesn’t make any sense.

    Lot’s of blame to go around, but, in the end, at least in my opinion, was lack of experience at to many of the skill positions, especially fields. But the whole team was sluggish start of the first half. The offence didn’t play the third quarter. Every good team has a few bad games once or twice a year.

    It was just unlucky, this year it happened against Clemson… but then, it always seems to happen against Clemson.

  6. Todd- seems like we are on the same sheet of music here. I am objective enough to point out my team’s flaws and poor outings (Purdue, Iowa the past couple years for example). The frustrating thing is when the team plays well enough to win and the game is taken away by an outside force- the refs. People who keep harping that the Buckeyes “should have scored touchdowns” in the first quarter are conveniently ignoring the reality that OSU was whipping Clemson up and down the field. If OSU was “bad” for only kicking FGs while scoring one TD, what adjective describes Clemson’s ZERO points? The way I will remember the game is this. The team that played better actually lost. Clemson needed the officials to guide the win, while OSU didn’t “need” outside help of any kind. This one was stolen, not lost.

  7. all of the above makes this possibly the most frustrating loss in history…it is at least tied with the 1998 and 2015 msu games and maybe even worse, which I didn’t think was least in those 2 games it wasn’t the was turnovers and bad this game it was missed opportunities AND the piss poor officiating…great season , great OSU team that feels so deflated but love our Buckeyes and they ARE the better and more deserving team than clemson

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