It wasn’t just the victory, although that was impressive enough.
It wasn’t just the step, though that made a deep imprint, too.
No, for Clemson University, Saturday night’s win was the kind of performance that changes perceptions.
Clemson clobbered Ohio State in Saturday night’s Fiesta Bowl, winning 31-0 to advance to its second straight national championship game. Once again, Clemson will play against Alabama, which won a five-point game a year ago.
Yes, Alabama is likely to be favored.
But after a game like this, by how many points?
Clemson certainly played well enough to make you think twice about next week’s game in Tampa. Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw for 259 yards and ran for 57 more, accounting for three touchdowns. Running back Wayne Gallman ran for 85 yards. Mike Williams caught six passes for 96 yards.
But it was the Tigers’ defense that was the most impressive part of the Clemson effort. They shut out an Urban Meyer team for the first time in his career (194 games) and allowed only 215 yards on the day. Ohio State was snuffed so completely that even a Penn State fan had to grin.
Freshman Clelin Ferrell had three tackles for loss, including a sack, to lead the Clemson defense.
“It’s going to be a heck of a ballgame,” said coach Dabo Swinney. “Let’s get it on. Obviously, I have respect for Alabama. They’ve set the standard. When you get a first down, you better strike up the band. We’re excited. We’ve got a shot.”
Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett threw for only 127 yards and had two interceptions. The Buckeyes ran for only 88 yards.
So how big of a favorite will the Tide be? Oh, if the betters remember how Clemson had to struggle to get past N.C. State, and how it struggled against Auburn and Troy, perhaps some.
But remember, Watson had 405 yards yards passing (and 478 yards of total offense) in last year’s 45-40 loss.
That, and the statement made by the Tigers in their win over Ohio State, shows that the last two teams standing are the best two.