The Orange Bowl: 9 Takeaways From Clemson’s Triumph

The Clemson Tigers won their first major bowl game since 1981, beating Ohio State 40-35 in last night’s Orange Bowl. Here’s the Notebook Nine, our important takeaways from the game…

*Ohio State was strategically unprepared on the defensive side. Sammy Watkins is clearly Clemson’s best receiver, the one you target in coverage. Yet Watkins rolled up 227 yards receiving on 16 catches, and most of them he didn’t have to work for the catch. How many times were we going to watch Watkins catch a simple swing pass on the left flank and bolt up the field before Ohio State adjusted?

*Ohio State was strategically unprepared on the offensive side. Clemson’s defense isn’t as bad as the unit that gave up 70 points to West Virginia on this stage two years ago, but nor are the Tigers the ACC version of Michigan State. Yet Clemson was attacking Braxton Miller from the start, getting pressure and not allowing him to run. Miller was never allowed to get comfortable and rarely had a real chance to make plays.

*The running game from Ohio State, was relatively speaking, not a factor. It’s important to emphasize the “relatively speaking” part of this statement. The Buckeyes did have 193 yards on the ground and running back Carlos Hyde, a physical, tough back who would make a great goal-line runner in the NFL, went for 113 yards. But Ohio State routinely went into the high 200s all year, and often even higher. If you’d have told me at the start of the game that Clemson would hold the Buckeyes to less than 200, we’d have known the winner in advance.

*Tajh Boyd may have had the worst good game I can recall seeing. The Clemson quarterback was 31/40 for 378 yards and threw five touchdown passes. But he threw two of the most hideous interceptions you can imagine. In the first half he had a receiver all alone and got too cute, trying to float it over the head of the defensive back and it got intercepted. Even worse, with a minute and a half left and Clemson trying to kill the clock, Boyd threw another pick.

*Whatever mistakes Boyd made in the passing game, his running was crucial. The quarterback, while mobile, is not usually a running threat. With Ohio State keying on Roderick McDowell in the backfield, Boyd ran for 127 yards.

*This was a fun game to watch, as were all of the major bowl games this season, but fun and exciting does not equate to well-played. Clemson committed 15 penalties, had the two mammoth interceptions and still won the game. That tells you what you need to know.

*There was an officiating blunder that still irks me this morning. After a pass play was over, a Clemson receiver was clearly knocked over by an Ohio State defender, right in front of an official and no flag was thrown. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney correctly went ballistic. Sitting in my living room, I was tentatively rooting for Ohio State, a combination of Big Ten loyalty and the interests of my bowl pool. After that play, reminded of the shady stuff that tends to happen in Ohio State’s Big Ten games, I immediately switched my rooting interest to Clemson. It’s worth nothing that later in the game, the officials did notice a roughing the passer penalty on Clemson.

*It’s been a tough end of the season for our modern-day legends. In late November it looked like we might get Urban Meyer and Nick Saban going head-to-head for a national title. Instead, both teams lost at the end of the season, and with Ohio State’s loss last night, both Meyer and Saban lost major bowls they were expected to win.

*And on our closing note, I have to ask this—why do we have to listen to Matt Millen broadcast games? The man’s performance as GM of the Detroit Lions was so horrendous that it should deny him credibility, and it’s an insult to Lion fans. I know TV is filled with coaches and GMs who had rough stints, but Millen got eight years in Motown and turned Detroit into an 0-16 laughingstock in 2008. If Millen wants to work local games at Penn State or with the Raiders, places for whom he was a good linebacker, fine. But somewhere along the line, there has to be a point when you lose all credibility with a national audience.