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Clemson back in title game after blanking Ohio State in Fiesta Bowl

George Schroeder
Clemson  players celebrate a touchdown run by quarterback Deshaun Watson during the first quarter against Ohio State at the Fiesta Bowl.

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Breaking down No. 3 Clemson’s 31-0 win against No. 2 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday:

THE BIG PICTURE: Get ready for the rematch. It’s Alabama vs. Clemson, Part II – the first rematch of either the College Football Playoff or the Bowl Championship Series era. Clemson had little trouble with Ohio State. The dominating performance started on the defensive line, which stuffed Ohio State (10 tackles for loss, three sacks) – especially in the all-important first half, when the Buckeyes managed only 88 yards – but was fueled, as usual, by Deshaun Watson’s dynamic playmaking.

College Football Playoff title game: Two best teams, Alabama vs. Clemson

WHAT WE’LL BE TALKING ABOUT: Is this Clemson bunch – as some have suggested – built to beat Alabama? We saw last season what Watson did to the Crimson Tide, shredding them with his arms and legs in a 45-40 loss that turned in the fourth quarter when Alabama stole a possession with an onside kick. These are different teams, of course. Alabama’s defense is better. For much of the year, Clemson’s offense hasn’t been quite as good. But if anything, Watson has more weapons at his disposal this season, starting with junior wide receiver Mike Williams. Clemson’s defense, which was rebuilt in the offseason, was too much for Ohio State and should match up well with Alabama, too. We could be in for another fun one.

KEY PLAYS: With a 10-0 lead, Clemson hadn’t done much since the first quarter. But Deshaun Watson did what he does. On second-and-12, he took off around left end, then cut back all the way across the field, a 33-yard run that jolted life back into the attack. Two plays later, Watson dropped a perfect lob to fullback C.J. Fuller, who had a half-step on linebacker Jerome Baker on a wheel route. The 30-yard touchdown pass stretched the lead to 17-0 with 2:21 left in the first half.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: Dexter Lawrence has gotten most of the attention as a freshman making an impact on Clemson’s defensive line, and for good reason. But in the first half, Clelin Ferrell was the freshman terrorizing the Ohio State backfield. Ferrell, a 6-5, 265-pounder (unlike Lawrence, he’s a redshirt), had two tackles for loss in the critical first quarter: J.T. Barrett for a loss of 6 yards and Curtis Samuel for a loss of 8. Ohio State finished the first half with 88 total yards and three first downs. In the third quarter, he added a key third-down sack.

THE TWEET: Ohio State had not been shut out since 1993, a run of 295 games. It was the first time in Urban Meyer's head coaching career his team had not scored.