GLENDALE, Ariz. — In a return trip to the desert, Clemson found redemption through utter domination.
Part I of Dabo and Deshaun’s make-good tour is done. Now comes the really hard part: A rematch against Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game.
Deshaun Watson ran for two touchdowns and threw another and No. 3 Clemson crushed No. 2 Ohio State 31-0 Saturday night in the Fiesta Bowl.
Tigers coach Dabo Swinney had sold his players on getting to celebrate at the same site where they lost to Alabama in the national title game last season. This time they got the confetti shower and the trophy at the University of Phoenix Stadium.
With that taken care of, it is on to Tampa, Florida, for the Tigers (13-1), where they will face the top-ranked Crimson Tide on Jan. 9. The teams that started the season ranked Nos. 1 and 2 will most certainly end it that way, too.
“If you’re going to be the best, you’ve got to beat’em,” Swinney said.
In what figures to be Watson’s final college game, he will try to lead Clemson to its first national title since 1981. The junior and Heisman Trophy runner-up passed for 259 yards and ran for 57 against the Buckeyes (11-2), who could not keep Clemson’s big and quick defensive line out of their backfield.
Redshirt freshman Clelin Ferrell had a sack among his three tackles for loss and Clemson allowed only 215 yards and nine first downs.
“We definitely expected to come out here and dominate because we grinded, but shoot! A shutout?” Ferrell said. “I don’t think anybody expected that.”
The Buckeyes were blanked for the first time since 1993 against Michigan and Urban Meyer had one of his teams held scoreless for the first time in 194 games as a head coach.
“I’m not used to it. We’re not used it. It’s not going to happen again,” Meyer said.
Watson made it 24-0 with 2:06 left in the third quarter when he faked a pitch, cut through a hole and into the end zone from 7 yards out. He hopped through the back of the end zone and did what he called a “little LeBron thing” in front of the Ohio State section, a bit of a shoutout to his idol and Buckeyes fan LeBron James.
“Just having a little fun,” Watson said.
The rest was a formality.
Much the way Alabama’s defense suffocated Washington in the day’s first semifinal, Clemson gave Ohio State no options. The Buckeyes came in averaging 258 yards rushing per game and finished with 88. J.T. Barrett threw for 127 yards and was intercepted twice.
The sellout crowd of 71,279 had far more Ohio State scarlet than Clemson orange at kickoff, but halfway through the fourth quarter Tigers fans mostly had the place to themselves.