The seventh-ranked Buckeyes (12-2) struggled to stop an opponent's offense with regularity for the second straight game, allowing No. 12 Clemson to rally from an eight-point second-half deficit. The Tigers posted 562 yards of total offense, led by quarterback Tajh Boyd and wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
Boyd, a former OSU recruiting target, had a hand in six touchdowns and finished with 505 yards of total offense. Watkins set an Orange Bowl record with 227 yards receiving to go with a pair of TD receptions on 16 catches.
Despite those figures, the Buckeyes were able to trade punches with Clemson for much of the night. In the end, however, Braxton Miller and company were unable to keep up with the Tigers.
Clemson opened the scoring on the first offensive possession of the game, converting a pair of third downs – including a third-and-2 that ended with a 48-yard touchdown run by Boyd.
The longest run of the Clemson QB's career saw him go untouched up the middle of the Ohio State defense. With the extra point, the Tigers took a 7-0 lead 2:10 into the first quarter.
Miller answered with a dazzling run of his own to tie the game on OSU's first drive. The junior quarterback capped a 13-yard, 75-yard march that included an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Tigers that negated a sack on a third-down play and a fake punt run for a first down by Jeff Heuerman near midfield. Miller's 33-yard scoring run featured an impressive Walter Payton-esque stutter-step that slowed a pursuing Clemson defender near the goal line, and Drew Basil's PAT tied the game with 5:44 left in the opening quarter.
It took the Tigers only four plays – all completed passes – to break the tie. Boyd completed three of those throws to Watkins for 67 yards, the last going 34 yards for a touchdown. Watkins easily beat OSU freshman Vonn Bell – making his first collegiate start at nickel and who would later intercept a Boyd pass in the second quarter – for the TD, one that gave Clemson a 14-7 lead with 4:56 remaining in the opening stanza.
The much-maligned Buckeye defense got a small bit of revenge to provide the game's next points late in the game's first 15 minutes. The Ohio State offense was forced to punt near midfield, but Armani Reeves downed it at the Clemson 1-yard-line. On the first play of the ensuing drive, OSU linebacker Joshua Perry and defensive lineman Joey Bosa pressured Boyd up the middle, forcing Boyd to throw the ball away. No receiver was nearby, drawing an intentional grounding flag that gave the Buckeyes a pair of points via a safety with 2:25 on the clock.
The Tigers built on their lead in the second quarter on a 3-yard touchdown pass from Boyd to Martavis Bryant. It closed a seven-play, 77-yard drive and gave Clemson a 20-9 lead after the extra-point attempt by Chandler Catanzaro clanked off the left upright with 6:16 left before halftime.
From there, Ohio State took the momentum – and eventually the lead – into halftime.
The Buckeyes got a much-needed boost with a touchdown on their next offensive possession following the Bryant TD catch. Miller led a five-play, 85-yard march that ended with a 57-yard TD connection to a wide-open Jeff Heuerman. The junior tight end took advantage of a blown coverage by the CU defense, catching a pass at the Clemson 30 and outracing a pair of Tiger defenders to the end zone.
Basil's PAT was blocked, however, keeping the score at 20-15 with 3:39 left in the second quarter.
The Buckeyes took their first lead in the final seconds of the first half. Miller called his own number on a read-option play with 12 seconds left before the break. The 3-yard TD run capped a drive that began after the OSU defense stopped Clemson on downs in Buckeye territory. The OSU scoring march went 64 yards in five plays, and the Basil PAT gave the Buckeyes a 22-20 lead they took into halftime.
A key fourth-down run by Carlos Hyde highlighted the first scoring drive of the second half. Hyde's 31-yard run on a fourth-and-1 play at the CU 32 was the biggest play of a nine-play, 87-yard march that Hyde himself capped with a 1-yard dive into the end zone. It gave OSU a 29-20 lead with 5:50 left in the third quarter after Basil's PAT.
Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, the game then turned on the first turnover of the contest late in the third quarter. Corey "Philly" Brown muffed a punt at the OSU 37, which was recovered by the Tigers at the 33. It took only three plays for Clemson to reach the end zone, scoring on a 30-yard TD strike from Boyd to Watkins. The PAT made it 29-27 OSU with 2:47 left in the quarter.
The Tigers took the lead for good on their next drive, thanks again to an Ohio State turnover. An interception of a Miller pass by Jayron Kearse set up a four-play, 38-yard drive that ended on an athletic 3-yard touchdown reception by Bryant in the corner of the end zone. The PAT gave Clemson a 34-29 advantage
Ohio State took its final lead of the game early in the fourth quarter on a 14-yard TD pass from Miller to Hyde. The Buckeyes held a narrow 35-34 lead after a two-point pass by backup QB Kenny Guiton – who entered the game when Miller was banged up taking a hit on the throwing score – was batted down.
Clemson closed the scoring with their fourth TD drive of 75 yards or more. Stanton Seckinger caught Boyd's fifth scoring pass of the night on a throwback screen on a third-and-goal play from the OSU 5. CU's two-point pass play failed, but the five-point advantage held up thanks in part to a two Miller interceptions in the final minutes – including a game-sealer with 1:18 remaining.
The contest produced some gaudy offensive numbers. The teams combined for 1,003 yards and 51 first downs. Boyd completed 31 of 40 passes for 378 yards with five touchdowns and an interception. He also rushed for 127 yards on 20 carries with another score.
Miller concluded his junior season – possibly his last as a college quarterback – with 234 yards on 16-of-24 passes with two TDs and a pair of interceptions. Hyde ended his collegiate career with 113 yards and a score on 25 carries, while fellow senior Brown caught eight passes for 116 yards.
Bell and C.J. Barnett both intercepted passes to pace the OSU defense.