GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- 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.
BOX SCORE: CLEMSON 31, OHIO STATE 0
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.
Ohio State: In a rebuilding year with only six returning starters, the Buckeyes reached the playoff. Hard to call that a disappointment, but Ohio State's issues on the offensive line and limitations in the passing game were badly exposed by a Clemson defensive line that features a bunch of future NFL players. Expect some Penn State fans to again start asking why Ohio State was picked for the playoff instead of the Big Ten champion Nittany Lions, who beat the Buckeyes in October.
Clemson: The Tigers seemed to spend much of the season trying to explain why they were not running roughshod over opponents. Expectations were so high after last season ended with a stinging 45-40 loss in a classic national championship game against Alabama.
There were close calls for Clemson early in the season against Auburn and Troy and they needed some luck to beat North Carolina State in overtime. Watson was throwing more picks and an offense that welcomed back star receiver Mike Williams was not quite the unstoppable juggernaut many expected.
But the best Clemson was the Clemson that showed Saturday. And that Clemson has always been the team best equipped to beat Alabama.
"If we play to the Clemson standard and play at a high level and focused and prepared and having a great mind-set and mentality, we can beat anybody in the country," linebacker Ben Boulware said.
Ohio State: The immediate concern for the Buckeyes is figuring out which underclassmen will jump to the NFL. The most notable players who have decisions to make in the next two weeks are: Barrett, who will be a fifth-year senior next season; H-back Curtis Samuel; linebacker Raekwon McMillan and defensive backs Malik Hooker and Gareon Conley.
"I didn't really give it that much though, but it will be really hard for me to walk away when we just lost 31-0," Barrett said.
Clemson: Watson put on an all-time performance with 478 total yards against Alabama last season. This Tide defense is even better, but Clemson brings something new to the fight in Williams, who missed most of last season because of an injury. The 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior had six catches for 96 yards against Ohio State.
Ohio State must do soul searching after passing game woes in Fiesta Bowl
GLENDALE, Ariz. – At the end of the 2013 season, a 40-35 Orange Bowl loss to Clemson convinced Ohio State coach Urban Meyer that the Buckeyes had to revamp the way they play defense.
Saturday night’s result against Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Fiesta Bowl was the final confirmation Meyer needed to realize he’s going to need to take a similar look at the Buckeyes’ passing game.
“We will become a good passing team,” Meyer said after a 31-0 loss to the Tigers, his first shutout as a head coach. “We will. Next year.”
On Saturday against Clemson, Ohio State averaged 3.8 yards per passing attempt. To put that in perspective, the team with the worst yards-per-attempt mark in the FBS this season, Rutgers, averaged 5.0.
Quarterback J.T. Barrett’s longest completion was 21 yards, he had another for 18, one for 16, and the next best went for nine. His longest pass that was caught went for 33 yards, but it ended up in the hands of Clemson safety Van Smith at the Tigers goal line.
And it wasn’t like Ohio State (11-2) wasn’t trying to throw. Two-thirds of its first-half play calls were passes – something Meyer said “was not the game plan” – and it looked deep repeatedly in the third quarter when it trailed 24-0.
“On offense, I truly believe that we got the best looks we could,” Barrett said. “I thought we had good plays. We just didn’t execute those plays, and that’s what happens.”
It happened frequently in 2016. Ohio State completed 46% of its pass attempts in the regular season’s final two games, with a yards-per-attempt average of 3.9. The Buckeyes passed for seven touchdowns in wins against Nebraska and Maryland on Nov. 5 and 12, but only had one after that.
Wide receiver Parris Campbell said he can’t pinpoint what went awry with the Buckeyes’ downfield passing game, that there is a series of issues. “If you don’t have anybody who can go vertical,” he said, “defenses can just sit on routes and then we don’t have any opportunity to open up our offense.
“We definitely make plays in practice, but practice is way different than a game. You have to make those plays when you are on the big stage.”
Ohio State virtually owns a place on college football’s biggest stage. It has made two of three playoffs and entered Saturday as the only team with a perfect record in the event. But even with as many as 19 starters returning in 2017, it could struggle to get back there without changes. Meyer recognizes that, which is why he promised “a hard look at some things” upon the team’s return to Columbus.
“I think we have a bunch of good players, a bunch of good guys,” Meyer said. “And our anticipation is to get back here next year and take a good swing at it.
“Ohio State is not used to this. I’m not used to this, and we will not get used to this. That’s not going to happen again. So we’ll get things worked out.”
The Latest: Rematch! Clemson, Alabama to play for title
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (AP) — The Latest on the College Football Playoff Fiesta Bowl semifinal (all times local):
Clemson gets its rematch with Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game.
Deshaun Watson accounted for 316 yards and three touchdowns, and the Tigers manhandled Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl Saturday night.
Clemson (13-1) overpowered the Buckeyes (11-2) all night, shutting them out for the first time since 1993, a span of 295 games.
The Tigers held Ohio State to 208 yards to earn a spot in the title game on Jan. 9 in Tampa Bay.
Alabama beat Clemson 45-40 in last year’s title game.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is done for the night.
Watson was replaced be Nick Schuessler with five minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Tigers leading 31-0.
Watson threw for 259 yards and a touchdown on 23-of-36 passing with two interceptions. He also ran for 57 yards and two TDs on 15 carries.
SCORE ALERT: Clemson 31, Ohio State 0.
Wayne Gallman has scored on a 7-yard run, pushing Clemson’s lead to 31-0 in the fourth quarter.
Gallman scored two plays after Van Smith intercepted J.T. Barrett’s pass in the end zone and returned it 86 yards to Ohio State’s 14-yard line.
Clemson is one quarter away from a rematch with Alabama in the College Football Playoff championship game.
Clemson leads Ohio State 24-0 heading into the fourth quarter of the Fiesta Bowl.
The Tigers have a 365-111 advantage in total yards and have held the Buckeyes 25 yards rushing on 17 carries.
It keeps getting worse for Ohio State.
Just when the Buckeyes finally started moving the ball — thanks to a pair of pass interference calls on Clemson — J.T. Barrett had a pass intercepted at Clemson’s 1-yard line.
Barrett threw a little high to Curtis Samuel and the ball caromed off his fingertips to Clemson’s Cordrea Tankersly, who returned it to the 19.
SCORE ALERT: Clemson 24, Ohio State 0.
Clemson has taken a commanding 24-0 lead in the Fiesta Bowl after Deshaun Watson scored on a 7-yard run late in the third quarter, his second score of the night.
Ohio State is still struggling on offense, with 103 total yards. The last time the Buckeyes were shut out: 1993, against Michigan, a span of 295 games.
Clemson kicker Greg Huegel has missed a 31-yard field goal after Ohio State nearly jumped offside.
Huegel, who made a 45-yard kick in the first quarter, pulled his kick left after several players on the field thought the play would be blown dead for offside. The Buckeyes were in the neutral zone, but appeared to get back in time.
The missed kick came after Clemson recovered a fumble by Mike Weber at Ohio State’s 41-yard line.
The second half of the Fiesta Bowl is underway with Clemson leading Ohio State 17-0.
The Tigers have tied a team single-season record with 71 TDs with two in the Fiesta Bowl. Deshaun Watson is up to 110 for his career after a 1-yard run.
The Buckeyes are facing their largest deficit since trailing Michigan State 17-0 on Dec. 7, 2013.
Clemson and Ohio State are among the teams that use signs with seemingly random images to send in signals from the sideline.
The Tigers’ boards include images of Bart Simpson, Elvis, Tupac Shakur, the Olympic rings and Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games.”
The Buckeyes’ collection includes the Stay Pufft Marshmallow Man, a Gatorade bottle, the Nike logo and a basketball.
Clemson’s signs — and its team — had the advantage in the first half. The Tigers led 17-0.
Clemson leads Ohio State 17-0 after a dominating performance in the first half of the Fiesta Bowl.
The Tigers have a 275-88 advantage in total yards and Deshaun Watson has thrown for 197 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
Ohio State has rushed for nine yards on 10 carries and kicker Tyler Durbin missed a pair of 47-yard field goals.
The Buckeyes were held scoreless in a first half for the first time since 2011 against Michigan State, the season before Urban Meyer became their coach.
SCORE ALERT: Clemson 17, Ohio State 0.
C.J. Fuller has caught a 30-yard touchdown pass to put Clemson up 17-0 at the Fiesta Bowl just before halftime.
Fuller ran past Ohio State cornerback C.J. Saunders to get open, but had to adjust when Deshaun Watson’s pass was slightly underthrown. Fuller fought off Saunders and caught the ball falling down to give the Tigers a commanding lead.
Deshaun Watson has thrown another interception, this one in the end zone.
Watson was trying to hit Hunter Renfrow on a deep pass against what appeared to be single coverage. Instead, Ohio State safety Malik Hooker closed quickly and appeared to come out of nowhere, snatching the ball from Renfrow just before falling out of bounds.
Clemson leads Ohio State 10-0 after one quarter of the Fiesta Bowl.
The Tigers have a 113-47 advantage in total yards and the Buckeyes face a fourth down near midfield to start the second quarter.
SCORE ALERT: Clemson 10, Ohio State 0
Deshaun Watson has scored on a 1-yard run to put Clemson up 10-0.
The score capped a 10-play, 70-yard drive that included a spectacular catch by Mike Williams over a defensive back.
Ohio State’s Tyler Durbin now has two missed 47-yard field goals — one on each side.
Durbin missed his first one wide right, then hooked the second one to the left.
Clemson leads 3-0 in the first quarter.
Ohio State freshman right guard Michael Jordan has returned to the field in the Fiesta Bowl.
Jordan was injured in the Buckeyes’ second drive and limped off favoring his right leg. He had his ankle taped on the sideline and was back out for Ohio State’s next series.
SCORE ALERT: Clemson 3, Ohio State 0
Clemson’s Greg Huegel has kicked a 45-yard field goal for the first points of the Fiesta Bowl. Receiver Mike Williams helped set up the kick with a 37-yard reception over the middle.
Ohio State senior kicker Tyler Durbin has missed a 47-yard field goal.
The Buckeyes had the ball at Clemson’s 33-yard line after an interception, but went backward on its drive. Durbin, who made 17 of 20 field goals during the regular season, pushed his kick wide right.
Deshaun Watson’s first pass has been intercepted by Ohio State.
Watson threw into coverage on Clemson’s second play from scrimmage and Buckeyes cornerback Gareon Conley came down with it at Clemson’s 33-yard line.
Ohio State freshman left guard Michael Jordan was injured on Ohio State’s first play after the interception and needed help to the sideline, barely putting any pressure on his right leg.
Clemson has won the coin toss at the Fiesta Bowl and deferred to Ohio State.
The Buckeyes will send out J.T. Barrett on the Buckeyes offense against Clemson’s stingy defense to start the game.
Ohio State fans traveled in big numbers for the Fiesta Bowl.
Red-clad Buckeyes fans filled close to three-quarters of University of Phoenix Stadium just before kickoff, leaving about eight sections of Clemson orange.
Clemson and Ohio State are back where their seasons ended a year ago, hoping to earn a chance to play another game.
The Tigers last played at University of Phoenix Stadium in the College Football Playoff championship game, losing 45-40 to Alabama.
The Buckeyes fell just short of the playoff final four and earned a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, where they rolled to a 45-28 victory over Notre Dame.
The winner Saturday night earns a trip to Tampa Bay for the national championship game against top-ranked Alabama on Jan. 9.