When last year’s national championship game ended, Ben Boulware, Clemson’s vicious linebacker, sat in the locker room and sobbed.
“Cried like a baby,” Boulware said. “And it still hurts.”
On Saturday, Boulware and his team marched from that same locker room at University of Phoenix Stadium, took the field against a favored Ohio State team, and won a shot at redemption.
For four quarters of the College Football Playoff semifinal at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl, Clemson annihilated the Buckeyes’ offensive line, tormented quarterback J.T. Barrett, scratched, clawed and grabbed in search of a way to get back to that championship game and get another shot at mighty Alabama.
As the clock ticked down on 2016, Clemson’s lone mission neared completion, redemption the reward for a 31-0 thrashing of a completely overmatched Ohio State. It was the Buckeyes’ first shutout loss since 1993.
Coaching his 194th game, Urban Meyer had never been shut out as a head coach. This is Ohio State’s worst loss since losing to No. 1 USC by 32 in 2008.
“We left with a bad taste in our mouth, but that was last year,” cornerback Cordrea Tankersley said. “It’s a new year.”
The day after last year’s title game, Boulware shaved — a cleansing routine — and began growing a beard he hasn’t trimmed since. It’s scraggly and unkempt, and after Saturday’s win made for a sweat-soaked magnet for confetti.
Throughout the winter and spring, Christian Wilkins, Clemson’s sophomore defensive lineman, corralled his teammates and led them onto the practice field, reminding each one that the road back to the mountaintop was steeper than the one they’d already climbed. On Saturday, the Clemson defensive line owned Ohio State, racking up one backfield tackle after another and stamping out any hope for a Buckeyes comeback with one punishing blow after another.
Fall camp opened at Clemson with a video, highlights of a brilliant 2015 season that ended with tough-to-take images of Alabama celebrating a national championship at the Tigers’ expense. The theme, which coaches and players have rehashed again and again in the months since, was finishing.
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SOURCE: ESPN, David M. Hale