Clemson tops Ohio State in Orange Bowl, 40-35
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Tajh Boyd went out in style. Sammy Watkins probably played his finale as well. And Clemson even got to take a little swipe at rival South Carolina.
Two years ago, the Tigers limped out of the Orange Bowl.
This time around, they were all smiles, and with good reason.
Boyd threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns, Watkins had a record-setting night with 16 catches for 227 yards and two scores, and No. 12 Clemson rallied to beat No. 7 Ohio State 40-35 on Friday in the Orange Bowl — a game the Tigers lost by 37 points just two years ago.
"Two years ago we got our butts kicked on this field," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. "And it has been a journey to get back. We're 22-4 since that night. And we are the first team from the state of South Carolina to ever win a BCS game."
Boyd's 5-yard pass to Stanton Seckinger with 6:16 remaining put the Tigers (11-2) ahead to stay, despite allowing 20 consecutive points in wasting an early 11-point lead. Watkins became Clemson's career receptions leader and set an Orange Bowl record for yardage, in what's expected to be his last game before turning pro. Martavis Bryant caught two more TD passes for the Tigers, who posted consecutive 11-win seasons for the first time in school history.
"It's a very special night," Boyd said. "Just the significance of this game, not for me particularly, not for this team particularly, but for this university ... I couldn't pick a better way to go out as a senior."
He likely wasn't thinking that after his final pass as a Tiger, one that was intercepted near midfield with 1:27 left. But Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller — who was shaken up in the fourth quarter, saying afterward he had a cracked rib and a shoulder issue — was picked off two plays later, and the Tigers ran out the clock.
Miller threw for 234 yards and Carlos Hyde ran for 113 more for Ohio State (12-2), which led 29-20 in the second half but wound up losing its second straight game — after having won each of its previous 24 under coach Urban Meyer, whose record in Bowl Championship Series games fell to 4-1. Corey Brown had 116 yards receiving for the Buckeyes.
"It's going to sting for a while, probably a long while because we didn't finish," Meyer said. "It was right there."
Ohio State wound up allowing 115 points in the season's final three games. The Buckeyes gave up exactly that many in the season's first six games.
"We're not a championship-caliber defense right now," Meyer said.
The Buckeyes took that 29-20 lead after Hyde picked up 31 yards on 4th-and-inches, then went airborne to break the plane of the goal line on the next play.
"I felt like the offense was starting to get clicking at that point," Hyde said. "I thought we could make it happen."
Then the mistakes started coming in bunches for Ohio State. A fumbled punt return and an interception led to touchdown grabs by Watkins and Bryant, putting the Tigers up entering the fourth.
Hyde caught a 14-yard scoring pass from Miller with 11:35 left, giving the Buckeyes a one-point lead, but Clemson and Boyd went on one last scoring march to give the Tigers the BCS win they've been seeking for years.
Boyd finished with 505 all-purpose yards, outgaining Ohio State by 78 yards himself.
"What a legacy," Swinney said. "He put an exclamation point on it tonight."
When Clemson played in the Orange Bowl two years ago, the Tigers gave up 21 points in the final 2:29 of the first half, letting a close game get blown wide open on the way to a 70-33 loss to West Virginia.
This time, the game didn't get away.
Boyd's 3-yard touchdown pass to Bryant had Ohio State facing a 20-9 deficit, but two scores in a 3½-minute span gave the Buckeyes a 22-20 halftime lead. Clemson left Jeff Heuerman wide open down the middle for a 57-yard touchdown pass from Miller, making it a one-score game. And on a drive aided by a 15-yard penalty against Clemson's Darius Robinson, Miller ran in from 3 yards with 12 seconds left to give the Buckeyes their first lead.
But the game changed again, and in the end, Boyd and the Tigers were standing tall.
"It just means we're one step closer to our ultimate goal," Swinney said, "and that's to be the best in the country."