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January 3, 2014

Watkins, Clemson top Ohio State

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Ohio State simply had no answer for Sammy Watkins Friday night. As such, the Buckeyes might be plagued with poignant and recurring nightmares of the Clemson wide receiver this offseason.

Once the winners of 24-straight games, the seventh-ranked Buckeyes and "The Chase" ended in seemingly devastating back-to-back losses. Nearly a month after suffering its first defeat in two seasons in the Big Ten championship game, Ohio State fell to Clemson, 40-35, in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami, Fla.

"It'll just be another Ohio State season, we did our job. We posted a winning percentage, we kept on a winning tradition here," senior center Corey Linsley said.

"We won a lot more games than we lost but we didn't differentiate ourselves between us and any other Ohio State season that didn't or didn't win a bowl game. It's just an Ohio State season -- another good one but didn't finish."

Down, 40-35, in the game's waning minutes, junior quarterback Braxton Miller threw an interception to junior linebacker Stephone Anthony nine seconds after taking the field after Tigers quarterback Tajh Boyd through an interception to senior safety C.J. Barnett.

"Everybody just felt like, oh we know we about to win, we about to get it in and get this W," junior and All-American linebacker Ryan Shazier said.

Instead, the odd exchange all but sealed Ohio State's second loss under the direction of coach Urban Meyer after consecutive undefeated regular seasons.

"I hope the guys that are coming back feel the knot in their stomach like I do right now and are yearning to get back out there and fix the things that we gotta fix and make sure that we don't feel like this again," offensive coordinator Tom Herman said.

"The hunger after last year was a little bit different because we couldn't play in a bowl game and they were hungry to go prove to the country that we belonged and now this hunger will be a little bit different having been stunned here in the last couple of weeks."

Miller threw for 234 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions on 16-of-24 passing. Senior running back Carlos Hyde ran for 113 yards and one touchdown on 25 touches. Senior wide receiver Corey "Philly" Brown pulled in 116 yards on eight catches.

None of it was enough against a Clemson offense that amassed 576 total yards and toyed with a tattered and torn Ohio State defense playing without stars like junior cornerback Bradley Roby and sophomore defensive end Noah Spence.

"When adversity hits you gotta stop the bleeding and I think that's probably the biggest thing when you look at this team and this defense that I would say we're good enough to do those things," defensive coordinator Luke Fickell said.

"When adversity hit, when something happened, our offense had bailed us out so many times all year. When something hits, the defense has to go make a play." And the defense, for all its shortcomings, did make plays. It picked Boyd off twice in crucial moments. But it wasn't enough to atone for a miserable outing against the Tigers.

In particular, Watkins -- who was named the game's Most Valuable Player -- caught 227 yards and two touchdowns on 20 catches. In the process, he set an Orange Bowl and school record for yards in a single game. Clemson senior quarterback Tajh Boyd 378 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions on 31-of-40 attempts.

Despite falling behind by as many as 11 points and surrendering 362 total yards in the first half, Ohio State -- almost inexplicably -- surged into intermission behind 13 unanswered points and a 22-20 lead in tow. Such momentum carried over into the third quarter.

After Hyde ran the ball in for a one-yard score to seize a 29-20 lead, it looked like the Buckeyes had established a certain level of control in the contest, holding Clemson scoreless since the 6:16 mark of the second quarter. The Tigers, though, struck in a furious manner near the end of the period to retake the lead, 34-29. Of course, steering such a comeback were Boyd and Watkins.

Though Miller would find a wide-open Hyde in the front of the end zone for a 14-yard pass near the beginning of the fourth quarter, a muffed Ohio State punt gave Clemson the ball in Buckeye territory late in the fourth quarter.

"We lost momentum after that one play," Miller said. "It's kind of hard to bounce back from stuff like that just field position, how the guys come out and respond to it. You got to be a grown man about it, just gotta go out there and leave it all on the field and keep going."

And Miller -- who said he injured his shoulder at the beginning of the game but refused to come out -- played like a grown man. Unfortunately for the Buckeyes, so did his counterpart.

Boyd found sophomore tight end Stanton Seckinger for a touchdown on a throwback screen which would be the game-clinching score of a contest that lived up to its billing as a shootout.

"We came up one possession short there at the end we figured going into that fourth quarter, if we had the ball last we'd have a good chance to win," Herman said.

"And we didn't finish."

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