Clemson's defense makes key plays late to preserve Orange Bowl win
On a night highlighted by record-breaking performances from Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, it was the Clemson defense that came up big in the end to preserve an Orange Bowl victory.
Brett Venables takes a lot of pride in his defense.
And on a night when Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins were setting records on offense and hogging the spotlight, it was Venables' squad that ended up clinching Clemson’s first BCS bowl win and first Orange Bowl victory since 1982.
"When the game was on the line, we took the win," said the defensive coordinator, who has been with the team for two seasons. "We got better in the fourth quarter and came up with some huge plays. We made some critical mistakes against a good team earlier, but when we had an opportunity to make plays, we made game-changing plays."
Despite allowing 427 yards of offense and 35 points, Clemson recorded two huge turnovers in the final six minutes of the game.
Linebacker Spencer Shuey intercepted a pass after Bashaud Breeland hit Braxton Miller with 3:12 left and Stephone Anthony intercepted Miller with 1:27 remaining to seal the victory against Ohio State.
"It goes back to pretty much getting the stops when we needed them," said Anthony, who led the team with eight tackles. "They have great players. They’re going to make some plays. I just like the way we bounced back and kept responding to the adversity and getting the stops and two big turnovers at the end of the game."
The defense looked like it was going to be a liability early on as Miller and Carlos Hyde were able to run with ease on the Tigers, racking up 254 yards of offense by halftime.
Shades of 'uh-oh here we go again' were starting to become a reality. Remember, despite being ranked 22nd in the total defense, this is the same squad that allowed 545 yards to Georgia, 565 to Florida State and 440 to Georgia Tech.
"It was not so great hearing how it was going to be such a high-scoring game and blowout," said Shuey. "That definitely put a little chip on our shoulder and we definitely took a little offense to that."
So clinging to a slim lead midway through the fourth quarter, the defense knew it was time to step up or go home a loser.
It played its best in the final quarter, limiting Ohio State to just 18 yards rushing, while sacking Miller twice.
"Our goal was to get it to the fourth quarter. We felt like if we could get it to the fourth quarter and have the lead or be close, we could win," said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney.
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