En route to Dabo's mountaintop goal, Tigers break new ground in Orange Bowl win

'You don't luck up and get to BCS games. You earn your way there. And you don't luck up and win them'

Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Dabo Swinney at trophy presentation after a 40-35 Orange Bowl win over Ohio State at the Discover Orange Bowl in Sun Life Stadium Miami, Florida.

Photo by Ken Ruinard

Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Dabo Swinney at trophy presentation after a 40-35 Orange Bowl win over Ohio State at the Discover Orange Bowl in Sun Life Stadium Miami, Florida.

Two hundred and eighty times in a storied 123-year football history that includes seven national championships and 36 conference titles, Ohio State had scored 35 points or more.

Until Friday night, the Buckeyes had never done it and lost.

Tajh Boyd's fourth-quarter throwback pass to tight end Stanton Seckinger for a touchdown that put Clemson ahead 40-35 proved to be an unprecedented footnote to Buckeyes history.

For the Tigers, a team likely bound for a second straight top-10 finish, it was another game-changing step.

That it took two late-game defensive takeaways to seal the Tigers' victory was a fitting reminder that even for two teams on the cutting edge of offensive innovation, defense still matters in a big way.

For a lot of reasons, Clemson's Orange Bowl victory could hardly have been more satisfying.

The Tigers exorcized the demons lingering from their last trip to Miami by going toe-to-toe for four quarters with a team that missed a national championship date with Florida State by the most narrow of margins.

They sent Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins out with performances appropriate to their accomplishments over the past three seasons, and they made program history by claiming Clemson's first BCS bowl victory and first back-to-back 11-win seasons ever.

They did it Dabo Swinney's way, with a complete, all-phases winning effort, as they propelled themselves into the next season's cycle, and, Swinney is convinced, toward an even brighter future.

The Tigers' dramatic Orange Bowl victory "means we're one step closer to our goal, which is to be the best in the country," Swinney said. "You don't luck up and get to BCS games. You earn your way there. And you don't luck up and win them. You've got to earn it on the field.

"I'm proud of our guys, proud of our team, our staff. We had great preparation. Everybody was ready. Individuals don't win. Teams win. It was a great team win against a great Ohio State team."

For Ohio State's Urban Meyer it was another near-miss for a team that entered December poised to finish a second straight unbeaten season with a shot at the national title.

"Clemson played really hard," said Meyer. "It was a great game - we just didn't finish the job...If you ask me how I felt at halftime, I felt fantastic, like we're going to be in a great ball game here.

'"We played a good team in the Orange Bowl, and it was a high scoring game with a lot of great plays. Again, we just didn't finish it."

The Buckeyes had their hands full all night with Boyd and Watkins. Playing in his final game in a Clemson uniform, Boyd rolled up 505 yards of total offense and accounted for six touchdowns. Watkins was the Tigers' playmaking workhorse, with school and Orange Bowl record totals of 16 catches and 227 yards that earned him MVP honors.

"Whenever you have a guy that has that much vertical speed, it creates a cushion, and then you just keep flipping those bubbles to him, that's tough to defend," said Meyer. "Obviously, we didn't do a good job, but I don't want to take anything away - I don't know all the receivers in the country, but I can't imagine any better than that guy."

For Swinney, the victory completed a gratifying two-year run that includes two bowl victories over top-10, national title contenders.

"Two years ago, it was probably unthinkable for a lot of people when I sat at this same podium, I guess, after that butt whipping that we took, that we would be 22 4 since that night," Swinney said. "We talked that last trip that it wouldn't be 30 years before we got back. We're back, and we found a way to win.

"That was our motto all week: just find a way to win the game. We had enough mistakes to probably lose it, some critical errors, but our guys showed a lot of heart, and they got it done.

"So it's another tombstone going back to Clemson, and we're excited about that, but most of all, our seniors. I just can't say enough about them."

Swinney said that the Tigers' senior class - most of them part of his first 12-man recruiting class in 2009 - has "changed Clemson."

"How do you measure people or their legacy? How do they impact the people there? How do they impact the place that they were at?" Swinney said. "They've changed this place. We didn't quite get to the top of the mountain like we wanted, but we can see it.

"Tonight we took another step forward, and I'm just so proud of these guys. They're our winningest senior class since 1991, and they've set a standard here that everybody will be measured up against as we continue to move forward."

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Comments » 2

tigerrob44#291802 writes:

'You don't luck up and get to BCS games'. Those are Dabo's words not mine. Sorry Dabo but, I have to disagree with you. Anybody that thinks Auburn is not very lucky to be where they are needs to have their brain examined. They are the luckiest team I have ever seen to be playing in a BCS game and especially the one they are playing in.

lhaselden writes:

I agree that there were some plays where the ball bounced Auburn's way, but that field goal return for six points was not luck, it was a well coached team giving it their best shot. Malzahn looked at the distance attempted and put in the return team not the team to block the kick, the kicker made a great run and the blockers did their part.

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