NEW ORLEANS – Justin Fields threw six touchdown passes to outshine Trevor Lawrence and No. 3 Ohio State avenged last season’s painful College Football Playoff loss to Clemson with a 49-28 victory in the Sugar Bowl semifinal Friday night.
The Buckeyes (7-0) head to the CFP title game for the first time since the inaugural playoff to face No. 1 Alabama on Jan. 11 at Hard Rock Stadium in South Florida. Ohio State beat the Crimson Tide in the semifinals on the way to the 2014 national championship.
In a matchup of quarterback prodigies from Georgia, Fields might have given the Jacksonville Jaguars something to think about what do to with that first pick in the NFL draft. Lawrence is the presumptive No. 1, but Fields outplayed him on this night, going 22 for 28 for 385 yards. He set a Sugar Bowl record for TD passes and did it playing more than half the game after taking a vicious shot the side that forced him to miss a play and spend time in the medical tent.
Lawrence was 33 for 48 for 400 yards and three total touchdowns in what is expected to be the junior’s final college game. His final pass was intercepted, but Clemson (10-2) went 34-2 in his starts and won a national title when he was a freshman.
The third meeting between Clemson and Ohio State in the playoff, and fourth bowl matchup since the 2013 season, was a game the Buckeyes had been pointing toward ever since a 29-23 loss to Tigers in the Fiesta Bowl last year.
That score was everywhere the Buckeyes turned in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus this year.
A chance for revenge was nearly derailed when the Big Ten cancelled fall football in August because of the pandemic. An abbreviated Big Ten season caused more headaches, with the Buckeyes having three games cancelled because of COVID-19 issues, including their own outbreak.
The playoff committee still liked Ohio State enough to put the Buckeyes in the final four, despite much griping from various parts of the country, including Clemson.
Ohio State coach Ryan Day talked all week about what a great story it would be for the Buckeyes to survive this rollercoaster of a season and still reach their goal.
Clemson took a 7-0 lead on the opening drive and then went up 14-7 with Lawrence and Etienne running for scores.
From there it was all Buckeyes. Fields threw touchdown passes to tight ends Luke Farrell and Jeremy Ruckert on consecutive drives to give Ohio State a 21-14 lead early in the second quarter.
Operating without offensive co-ordinator Tony Elliott, who did not make the trip while in COVID-19 protocols, the Clemson offence couldn’t respond. The Buckeyes kept rolling behind Field, though not without a major scare.
Field scrambled on a third-and-long and took a hard shot to the right side from Clemson linebacker James Skalski that put the Buckeyes star into a fetal position before rolling over onto his back in obvious pain.
The play was reviewed for a targeting foul that resulted in Clemson’s top linebacker being ejected and a first-and-goal for the Buckeyes.
Fields came out for one play and returned to immediately throw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Chris Olave that made it 28-14.
Fields went to the injury tent with Ohio State athletic trainers on Clemson’s next possession, which didn’t last long.
Fields was right back out there on the Buckeyes next drive. He took another hit on a scramble and slowly got up. After each play he moved gingerly, but with Trey Sermon running hard and the Buckeyes providing good protection, Fields continued to carve up the Tigers.
He hit Ruckert for a 12-yard score with 11 seconds left in the half.
A year after blowing 16-0 first-half lead in last year’s excruciating semifinal loss to Clemson, the Buckeyes handed the Tigers their largest halftime deficit (21) since the 2012 Orange Bowl against West Virginia (29 points).
The second half started with Clemson looking like it might have another comeback in it. Fields was intercepted in the Tigers’ end zone and Lawrence came back with an 80-yard touchdown drive to cut it to 35-21.
Nervous time for the Buckeyes? Not for long. Fields threw a perfectly placed bomb to Olave for a 56-yard touchdown pass that made it 42-21 with 4:55 left in the third quarter.
And if there was any doubt, Fields threw another rain-making TD pass to Jameson Williams that officially went into the books as a 46-yarder, but travelled over 50 in the air.
Ohio State: Sermon followed up his school-record 331-yard rushing Big Ten championship game with 193 on he ground and another 61 receiving. The Oklahoma transfer is having late-season breakout similar to Ezekiel Elliott’s in 2014.
Clemson: Coach Dabo Swinney complained Ohio State’s six-game schedule was too short to warrant a playoff spot and might even give the Buckeyes an unfair advantage. Yes, he said the Buckeyes were good enough to beat the Tigers, but he placed Ohio State 11th on his coaches’ poll ballot just the same. It was nothing personal, Swinney said, but the Buckeyes sure looked as if they took it that way, beating Clemson for the first time in five bowl meetings.
The Buckeyes were without second-leading rusher Master Teague, starting guard Harry Miller and two defensive ends in Tyler Friday and Zach Harrison. Ohio State did not give details of their absences but all four had played in the Big Ten championship two weeks ago.
Ohio State: The Buckeyes will make their second appearance in the College Football Playoff national championship game. They beat Oregon to win the 2014 title.
Clemson: The Tigers open next season with a doozy of a nonconference game against Georgia in Charlotte.
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Browns (12-5) at Chiefs (14-2)
LINE: KANSAS CITY by 10
Suddenly, the Browns are a hot ticket for bettors. According to sources that track betting information, it is Cleveland receiving the majority of wagers placed on this contest. It seems that a lot of weight is being put on last week’s 48-37 win over Pittsburgh. While it is a huge monkey off of Cleveland’s back, having won a playoff game for the first time in a quarter-century, it was against a team that was reeling in the final quarter of the season and one that offered up five turnovers to their division rival. The same won’t happen here. Kansas City is well-rested after sitting a bunch of front liners in a meaningless Week 17 of the regular season and then having last week off as the AFC’s top seed. Now, the defending Super Bowl champs return to the field with added time to study the 22nd ranked pass defence in the NFL. Somewhat surprisingly, Cleveland ranked even lower with its passing game when placing 24th overall. Should the Browns fall behind, as most expect they will, their strong running tandem of Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb is suddenly negated. We also can’t ignore that the Browns were -11 in point differential this season while the Chiefs were +111. Reigning MVP, Patrick Mahomes threw for 4,740 yards, 38 touchdowns and just six interceptions this season when guiding the league’s top offence in both yardage and passing yards. The Chiefs also expected elusive rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire back in action after missing a couple of weeks with an ankle injury. A big number, yes. But a big discrepancy in capability as well.
TAKING: CHIEFS –10
KOSHAN: Maple Leafs fall with ugly effort against Senators – Toronto Sun
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Morgan Rielly was on the ice for all three of those Ottawa goals. Auston Matthews, Joe Thornton and Brodie were on for two.
“I just sensed that we stopped playing,” Keefe said. “Scoring that (Kerfoot) goal, for us, if we want to be a team that’s going to accomplish anything, the game should be over from there.”
Some 11 months ago, Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas used the words “Jekyll and Hyde” to describe the team’s inconsistencies. The term continues to ring true, even after the off-season additions and belief that the core would grow.
Oh, two games is a small sample size, sure. Still, it shouldn’t be happening.
“Being hard on pucks,” was Zach Hyman’s answer to a question about the strides the team can make defensively.
“We have all the tools. We just need to do it every shift. I don’t think that we’re good enough to take shifts off and that goes for all lines. I think everyone can be better defensively.”
The first period featured a goal from both sides, and the Leafs were bitten after taking a bench minor for the second time in as many games.
Ottawa’s young stud defenceman, Thomas Chabot, tied the game in the final minute of the opening period on a two-man Sens advantage, the second Toronto penalty coming for too many men.
Hyman, whose wife Alannah recently gave birth to the couple’s first child, son Theo, got the Leafs on the board at 9:59. Hyman’s goal came on a Toronto power play and resulted when Hyman bunted the puck out of the air and past Murray. After a review for a possible high stick, the goal stood.
Keefe indicated on Friday morning that Jack Campbell will be in goal on Saturday.
Connor McDavid lights up the lacklustre Canucks in Edmonton – Vancouver Is Awesome
The second game of the Canucks season saw the long-awaited return of two much-beloved voices in Vancouver: John Shorthouse and John Garrett. It had been ten long months since John and John had called a Canucks game and it was wonderful to hear their dulcet tones once more.
There was just one problem: Shorthouse’s play-by-play, normally right on top of the action, if not a step ahead with his excellent anticipation, was delayed by 2-3 seconds. His commentary was completely out of sync with what viewers saw on the screen.
Travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic meant Shorthouse and Garrett were calling the game from Vancouver rather than live in Edmonton, which meant a several second delay. Frequently, Shorthouse would excitedly describe a developing scoring chance that fans had already seen saved and turned up ice by the opposition. It was discombobulating.
Unfortunately, much like John and John’s commentary, the Canucks seemed a few seconds behind the play all game.
The Edmonton Oilers bounced back from their opening night loss to the Canucks and evened up the season series. Or rather, Connor McDavid bounced back. He bounced back like he was made of Flubber.
McDavid looked unstoppable. He had a game-high 12 shot attempts, 9 shots on goal, and scored a hattrick while dominating puck possession. The Canucks simply had no response.
“He was exceptional,” said Canucks head coach Travis Green. “He’s one of the best players in the world, so he definitely played well tonight.”
Defenceman Nate Schmidt pointed out that there’s only so much you can do to prepare to play against star players.
“You can scrimmage, you can do those types of things, but real games aren’t mimicked until you get out there and you have McDavid and [Leon] Draisaitl flying around and their D activating, making plays,” said Schmidt. “Those things, you can’t mimic in practice.”
You can’t mimic watching a game in practice either. My eyes weren’t quite up to game speed when I watched this game.
- Thatcher Demko made his first start of the season and immediately faced 46 shots on goal. That means in four of his last five starts, he’s faced more than 40 shots. Every time he’s in the net he gets more shots than a Bachelorette party at the Roxy.
- To the Canucks’ credit, they also had 40 shots on goal. It seems like it might not be the best idea to get into a run-and-gun firefight against a team boasting McDavid and Draisaitl, but maybe that’s just me.
- While Demko gave up five goals, it’s hard to put too much blame on him. Early on, he was sharper than a carefully-honed candy cane, making a stunning glove save early on Zack Kassian then recovering to kick aside a rebound chance from McDavid.
- Demko couldn’t stop them all and the Oilers opened the scoring on the power play. The penalty-killing unit of Brandon Sutter, Antoine Roussel, Travis Hamonic, and Alex Edler got stuck on the ice for a long shift while the Oilers’ top unit ran them ragged. Eventually, Draisaitl found some space and beat Demko under the arm, only to hit the post. Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, however, was first to the puck and tucked it home like Porkchop.
- I don’t know why, but this little head fake from Nate Schmidt made me smile. So now I’m showing it to you.
- There were a couple of moments that could be termed turning points. One came at the end of the first period when McDavid, with less than a second on the clock, swatted in a rebound to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead. It came off a faceoff with only 1.7 seconds remaining in the period, so perhaps the Canucks let their guard down for a moment, but as anyone who has played Wii Sports Resort Swordplay knows, you can never let your guard down, even for a moment.
- “That’s on me,” said Schmidt. “At the end of the period, you’ve got to know the most dangerous player is out there. Shot comes, you freeze for a second to try and see if you can see where it goes. You can’t freeze for a second when you know you’ve got a guy barreling down on the backside. That’s really all it comes down to, I have to have that play.”
- Schmidt made up for his error with his first goal as a Canuck. It was a low screamer of a slap shot through multiple layers of screens, including Brandon Sutter parked in front of the net. “It feels a lot better when you win,” said Schmidt about scoring. “It does feel good to get that goose egg off the scoresheet… We needed more of that tonight, our D didn’t do a particularly great job of getting pucks through.”
- The Oilers struck again on the power play thanks to McDavid’s speed. He burned rubber through the neutral zone and caught the entire Canucks’ penalty kill standing still or, at least, they looked like they were standing still compared to McDavid. As soon as Alex Edler’s skates turned to the outside to try to keep pace, McDavid immediately cut inside and unleashed a shot past Demko’s blocker.
- Special teams made a big difference on Thursday. All five Canucks goals on Wednesday night came at even-strength, which was seen as a positive — they didn’t need the power play to score. On Thursday, the power play went 0-for-5 and they gave up two power play goals. Obviously, we must immediately panic, crack each other’s heads open, and feast on the goo inside.
- The Canucks got one back off the stick of Tyler Motte. Quinn Hughes made a great pinch down the boards to win a puck battle with Jesse Puljujarvi, then fed Travis Hamonic at the point. He spotted Motte heading to the slot and sent a low slap-pass that Motte neatly tipped over Mikko Koskinen’s right pad.
- That’s the last goal the Canucks would get and Green hit the Line Blender 4000X™ to try to get things going again. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Jake Virtanen was struggling against the McDavid line, so Green shuffled Virtanen off the line and tried some other wingers.
- “The line just wasn’t doing anything, they weren’t playing very well,” said Green bluntly. “We couldn’t get away from the matchup that easy. McDavid’s line spent a lot of time in our zone so we tried to change it up a little bit.”
- First, Green tried Motte with Pettersson and Boeser, then Nils Höglander got a shift in the third period, Tanner Pearson took a couple shifts, and even Adam Gaudette got bumped to the wing on the top line. In the offseason, I suggested Gaudette might fit on the wing in the top-six, but on Bo Horvat’s line. It was unexpected to see him skate with the top line, but the Canucks had limited options.
- “There’s always potential to try Gauds on the wing,” said Green. “I’ve thought about it. We haven’t done it yet, but I thought tonight was a good time to try it a couple times. I also thought the Beagle, Motte, Sutter line has had two pretty good games. So it’s a give and take. If you move Gaudette off the other line now you’re breaking up pretty well three lines then.”
- When asked if one of those combinations on the top line might start next game, Green said, “I’ll go back and watch the tape and take a look at it tomorrow and give our guys a day off and we’ll see what we come up with.”
- If the last second goal in the first period wasn’t the turning point, Hughes taking a penalty on a second-period power play was. He took exception to a high hit from Nugent-Hopkins on Boeser and broke his stick on him with a crosscheck. That took the Canucks off the power play and, when Hughes got out of the box, he missed his defensive assignment, which was McDavid. Which is bad, because McDavid is good.
- So, instead of a chance to score on the power play and tied the game, McDavid scored the 4-2 goal. But some fans will like that Hughes stepped up to defend his teammate.
- In the third period, Höglander looked like a rookie for the first time in his young career. He was the last man back and he tried to force a puck uup the middle of the ice, tuurning the puck over to Nugent-Hopkins. He got the puck back and immediately gave it away again with a bank pass that was picked off by Kailer Yamamoto. To top it off, Höglander couldn’t tie up Nugent-Hopkins’s stick in front and he deflected in Yamamoto’s centring pass.
- It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad shift for Höglander, but those happen. On the bench, Hamonic gave his helmet a tousle and Pettersson gave him a little, “Head up, kid,” chin rub. It was adorable. Everything’s going to be okay.
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