MIAMI -- Since the moment the pairing was announced, we thought the Discover Orange Bowl could feature a wild and entertaining shootout between No. 7 Ohio State and No. 12 Clemson.
And that's just what we got in Clemson's 40-35 win Friday before an announced crowd of 72,008 at Sun Life Stadium. Here's quick rundown of how this one went down in South Florida:
It was over when: Clemson's Stephone Anthony intercepted a Braxton Miller pass over the middle with 1 minutes, 18 seconds remaining, capping a crazy series of events. Miller had fumbled on Ohio State's previous possession after he was slammed into by Bashaud Breeland with 3:12 left. But the Tigers gave the ball right back when Tajh Boyd threw a pick of his own to C.J. Barnett on a puzzling third-and-13 call. Miller was battered and bruised throughout the game and appeared to be favoring his arm early on. All those hits might have taken their toll in the end.
Game ball goes to: Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins and Boyd. Playing in what was in all likelihood his final college game, Watkins broke the Orange Bowl receiving record before the third quarter was even over. Going up against a young and injury-decimated Ohio State secondary, the junior was just too good to handle as he finished with a career-high 16 catches for 227 yards, plus two touchdowns. His 16 catches also set an Orange Bowl and school record. Boyd completed 31 of 40 passes for 378 yards and five touchdowns while running for 127 yards and another score.
Stat of the game: The two teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offense, though Clemson offset some of its major yardage advantage with a whopping 15 penalties for 144 yards. But the stat that mattered in the end was turnovers. The Tigers committed 10 turnovers in their two losses (Florida State and South Carolina) this season, while the Buckeyes have been mostly solid on ball security all year. Yet it was Ohio State that gave the ball away four times, including three in the second half, versus two for Clemson. In a game where every possession loomed large, that made the difference.
Best call: Carlos Hyde wasn't happy that he didn't get the ball on a crucial fourth-and-2 late in the Buckeyes' Big Ten title-game loss to Michigan State. Well, Hyde got his revenge in this one. Ohio State faced a fourth-and-1 from the Clemson 32-yard line in the third quarter and decided to go with their workhorse back this time around. Hyde, who only had 62 yards on 18 carries to that point, ripped off a 31-yard run and punched it in for the touchdown one play later for a 29-20 Buckeyes lead.
Second-guessing: Ohio State led 29-20 and had forced a stop late in the third quarter. But Philly Brown was indecisive on fielding a punt return and opted not to call for a fair catch. He fumbled the return, setting the Tigers up at the Ohio State 33-yard line. Clemson quickly scored on a Boyd pass to Watkins, and it was able to reverse all the momentum the Buckeyes had gained starting late in the second quarter. Brown had a terrific game otherwise, catching eight passes for 116 yards, but that turnover helped turn the tide.
What it means: Clemson finished off an 11-win season for the second consecutive year. That's the first time in school history that Tigers have posted back-to-back 11-win campaigns. Maybe more importantly, they won their first BCS game just before the end of the BCS era and helped redeem themselves from the 2012 Orange Bowl disaster against West Virginia. Losing Boyd and Watkins will be tough to overcome, but this program has established itself as a legitimate national power under Dabo Swinney. Ohio State won its first 24 games under Urban Meyer, but went 0-2 when it really mattered in the Big Ten championship game and on Friday night. Meyer lost for the first time in five tries in BCS games, and Ohio State will have to fix a defense that sprung all kinds of leaks late in the season to be taken seriously as a championship contender in 2014.