Unlike the Peach Bowl earlier on Saturday, the Fiesta Bowl between No. 3 Clemson and No. 2 Ohio State was a thrilling game that went down to the wire.
Early on, it looked like Ohio State was going to romp to a blowout win, up 16-0 in the second quarter. Then, a controversial targeting ejection of Buckeyes safety Shaun Wade turned the momentum in favor of Clemson, which clawed its way back and went into halftime down 16-14.
The second half saw both teams surge ahead in a see-saw battle with big shifts in momentum. Ultimately, Travis Etienne came up with the game-winning touchdown and Justin Fields was intercepted in the end zone on the other end as Clemson stunned Ohio State with a 29-23 victory.
These were the biggest winners and losers from Clemson’s comeback win over Ohio State Saturday night.
Winner: Etienne was so clutch
Ohio State’s defense did a good job bottling up Travis Etienne on running plays, and he finished with just 36 yards on 10 carries. But when the Tigers needed a big play, it was often Etienne coming through in the clutch.
It started when he scored the first points of the game for the Clemson offense, shrugging off tacklers then powering into the end zone. Then in the third quarter, he took a pass Trevor Lawrence and romped 53 yards to the house. Finally, in the fourth quarter, down by two points with under two minutes on the clock, Etienne scored his third touchdown of the game.
This one was the go-ahead score, and it proved to be the game-winner. All told, Etienne had 134 yards and three touchdowns from scrimmage to send Clemson to the championship game.
Loser: Chase Young failed to make a big impact
Chase Young was the best defensive player in the nation during the 2019 regular season. He led the nation with 16.5 sacks, tallied 21 tackles for a loss and forced six fumbles. Yet when his team needed a dominant performance from the defensive end, he pulled a disappearing act.
Sure, Young did flash a couple of times, and he nearly got to Trevor Lawrence once or twice. But in the end, the future first-round NFL draft pick finished with just two tackles in the biggest game of the year.
Winner: Dobbins was a force
The first quarter belonged to J.K. Dobbins, who ripped off a lighting-in-a-bottle 68-yard touchdown and went into halftime with an incredible 142 yards on just nine carries.
Despite leaving the game right after halftime due to an ankle injury that was so sore he could barely walk off the field, Dobbins came back and gutted out a phenomenal performance. He would finish with 221 yards and a touchdown from scrimmage. Incredibly, Dobbins could have had even more of a positive impact, as he dropped two would-be touchdowns.
Loser: Justin Fields wasn’t particularly sharp
Credit goes to Clemson’s defense for rebounding after a poor start. After going into a 16-0 hole, the Tigers rebounded in a big way. One of the reasons they were able to come back is that Justin Fields, who threw just one interception all year long until Saturday night, threw two picks, including the game-sealing interception on a busted play late in the fourth quarter.
That pick isn’t necessarily on Fields, as he and Chris Olave weren’t on the same page. But that’s indicative of what happened for much of the final three quarters.
Fields had a phenomenal season for Ohio State. But in the Fiesta Bowl he wasn’t sharp, completing 30-of-46 passes with one touchdown and the two costly interceptions.
Winner: Jeff Okudah was phenomenal
Clemson has two dynamic receivers in Justyn Ross and Tee Higgins. Both of them dealt with minor injuries during the Fiesta Bowl, but when they were on the field it was tough sledding due to the smothering coverage they faced going against star Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah.
The future first-round pick was awesome in coverage, and he laid some wood with physical play as well.
Okudah could have arguably been credited with a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown, too. But a controversial review overturned the call on the field, wiping out the defensive score.