Instead of rivaling the 1968 and 2014 squads (among others) that got the job done, the ’19 Buckeyes’ peers will be the teams of ’69, ’73, 2015 and more than a dozen others that came up just short.
“Tough to go into a locker room with such a great team who played their hearts out and not be able to celebrate a victory, but our guys played hard,” head coach Ryan Day said. “Certainly feeling a range of emotions right now: Proud, sad, and certainly angry.”
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Part of the way the game played out called to mind another final game flameout: The 2007 team had a 10-0 lead over LSU in the BCS National Championship game before mistakes mounted and the Tigers won 38-24.
“That makes it 10 times worse, to be honest with you, but hats off to them,” defensive tackle Robert “BB” Landers said. “We knew coming in they were the type of team that little mistakes will add up. If we don’t capitalize and execute at a high level, they would take advantage of our mishaps and they did so kudos to them, hats off to them.”
The Buckeyes led Clemson 16-0 in the second quarter and had a massive yardage advantage, but they settled for field goals on three red zone possessions, one of which included a dropped screen pass by J.K. Dobbins that could have gone the distance if he caught it.
A targeting penalty on Shaun Wade kept one Clemson touchdown drive alive, and another was extended by a roughing-the-punter personal foul on reserve defensive back Cam Brown.
Tigers running back Travis Etienne broke multiple tackles on Clemson’s first touchdown of the night and their last, leaving the Buckeyes wondering what might have been.
“I just know when two great teams get together, it comes down to a few plays, and it did again tonight,” Day said. “But this was a very strange game. I thought our guys played really well. I thought we played well.
“Clemson, give them credit. They have a really good team, and the defending national champs. They do a great job. (Quarterback Trevor) Lawrence came down and had a great drive at the end of the game, and they did a good job on defense. But again, I’m very, very disappointed we weren’t able to win this game.”
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Center Josh Myers confirmed the feeling this was one that got away.
“Just heartbreaking,” he said. “Everybody in this room wanted that win so bad. I’m almost lost for words.
“I feel like that was a game that we could have won and we should have won. And if we would have executed better, we would have won.”
Eight penalties were marked off against the Buckeyes for 77 yards, and they missed more tackles than usual during a 13-0 start to the season.
The most damaging error came at the end as Chris Olave broke outside when he thought he saw quarterback Justin Fields scrambling.
Fields, who stepped up in the pocket but never left it, fired a pass toward the goalpost expecting Olave to be there, but the ball landed in the arms of Clemson safety Nolan Turner instead.
“I actually saw the safety run over there,” a sullen Olave explained in front of his locker after the game. “I thought I was working the second part of my route, so I thought I was going to be open, but I slipped at the end.”
Asked if he felt like the Buckeyes had accomplished something by making it back to the College Football Playoff after a two-year absence, Landers said no.
“It ain’t so much as taking a second step as either you get there you don’t,” he said. “We didn’t get there. They did, so blessings to them and I wish them the best.”
The senior from Wayne High School has played his last game for the Buckeyes, but Myers figures to be one of the team’s leaders next season in year No. 2 with Day as the full-time head coach.
“Sometimes things just don’t go to plan and that’s life,” said Myers, a Miamisburg product. “That’s just the way it goes sometimes. All we can do, for the ones of us who are still staying, is get back in the weight room and get ready for next season.”
Landers, whose brother Trey is a senior on the Dayton Flyers basketball team, said his advice to the players returning will be to make the most of every moment.
“God gives you 24 hours and you gotta take advantage every 24 hours,” Landers said. “At the end of the day, you don’t know what’s gonna happen the next day, what’s gonna happen in the game, and the game is only guaranteed one snap at a time. You never know what’s gonna happen, so take every 24 hours every rep, every step, every day one at a time. Don’t look ahead, don’t look behind.
“I’m think it’s more frustrating that we didn’t execute at a high level. That was our biggest issue. It came down to our lack of execution and you can make excuses and you can blame it on certain play calls or bad calls and no calls, but at the end of the day you gotta execute. It’s one thing I tell my brother in basketball, once the call is made, you can’t get it back.It is what it is, next play. And I feel like sometimes we didn’t bounce back like we needed to and sometimes we did. They just executed at a high level and came out on top.”