NEW ORLEANS — Ohio State booked its passage to the College Football Playoff (CFP) championship game and silenced critics who thought the Buckeyes didn’t deserve to be in the playoffs thanks to a 49-28 victory over Clemson on New Year’s Day in the Sugar Bowl.
The win avenged the No. 3 Buckeyes’ 29-23 loss to the Tigers in last season’s CFP semifinals and set the stage for a match-up with No. 1 Alabama (12-0) on Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. The Crimson Tide knocked off No. 4 Notre Dame 31-14 in Friday’s other semifinal game.
“Clemson is a championship team so to come out here and play the way we did against them was huge,’’ Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I think today showed our character. They’ve been through so much this year. So many people doubted us going into this game. And these guys stuck together. They wanted a chance to come back and play. And who would have imagined the journey to come back to right here to play Clemson again in the same (semifinal) game. Now we have an opportunity to go win the whole game and maybe write one of the best stories ever in college football history.’’
Quarterback Justin Fields, the game’s offensive MVP, overcame a first-half injury to throw for 385 yards and six touchdowns for Ohio State (7-0). Fields took a heavy hit to his right side from Clemson linebacker James Skalski in the second quarter and had to leave the field for one play. After a video review of the play, Skalski was called for targeting and ejected from the game.
Following a visit to the injury tent, Fields returned to throw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Chris Olave that gave OSU a 28-14 lead and the Buckeyes never looked back. Olave caught eight passes for 132 yards and two scores. Jeremy Ruckert also caught two scoring passes from Fields.
On the heels of his school-record 331-yard performance in the Big Ten championship game, running back Trey Sermon rushed for 193 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries. He also caught four passes for 61 yards. Ohio State racked up 639 total yards, including 254 yards rushing.
Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence threw for 400 yards and two touchdowns, but the Buckeyes held the Tigers usually potent rushing game in check. Clemson (10-2) finished with just 44 yards rushing.
Buckeyes linebacker Tuf Borland was named the game’s defensive MVP. He finished with eight tackles, including four solo stops. OSU sacked Lawrence twice.
Rose Bowl: Alabama 31, Notre Dame 14
ARLINGTON, Texas — No. 1 Alabama (12-0) will make its fifth appearance in the CFP championship game after eliminating No. 4 Notre Dame 31-14 in the Rose Bowl.
The Crimson Tide won the 2015 and 2017 CFP titles, defeating Clemson (45-40) and Georgia (26-20), respectively.
Against the Fighting Irish, Alabama quarterback Mac Jones threw for 297 yards and four touchdowns and running back Najee Harris rushed for 125 yards. Wide receiver DeVonta Smith, a Heisman Trophy finalist along with Jones, caught seven passes for 133 yards and three touchdowns and was named the offensive MVP. Crimson Tide cornerback Patrick Surtain II was voted the game’s defensive MVP.
Quarterback Ian Book threw for 229 yards and rushed for 55 yards and a touchdown to lead Notre Dame (10-2). Running back Kyren Williams rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown.
The Rose Bowl was moved to Arlington, Texas, from its traditional home in Pasadena, California, due to COVID-19 restrictions that would have prevented any fans from attending the game if it had been played in California. Under Texas regulations, a crowd of 18,373 spectators was allowed into AT&T Stadium to watch the game.