Fiesta Bowl grades: Ferrell, Boulware shine in Clemson’s shutout win

Highest-graded players and top takeaways from Clemson’s 31-0 win over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

| 5 months ago
Clelin Ferrell

(Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)

Fiesta Bowl grades: Ferrell, Boulware shine in Clemson’s shutout win

Clemson Tigers 31, Ohio State Buckeyes 0

Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from Clemson’s 31-0 win over Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Quarterback grade: J.T. Barrett, 65.9

With a final stat line that included 3.7 yards per attempt, including only 2.8 yards per attempt on unpressured throws, it looks bad for Barrett, though the lack of production wasn’t all on him. He was certainly inconsistent, with a number of misses and an interception on an overthrow (the other interception came on a fourth-down prayer), but when Barrett was throwing on target, his receivers were dropping the ball, including at least two that should have gone for first downs. It was a terrible all-around night for the offense, with Barrett just a small part of the bigger issues.

J.T. Barrett versus pressure in Fiesta Bowl

J.T. Barrett vs pressure

Top offensive grades

TE A.J. Alexander, 72.1

LG Michael Jordan, 68.8

QB J.T. Barrett, 65.9

WR Binjimen Victor, 65.7

WR Terry McLaurin, 51.5

Buckeyes’ offense has few bright spots

It’s difficult to find any positives on offense for Ohio State, so we’ll start and end with TE A.J. Alexander, who performed well in the run game. Beyond that, the Buckeyes couldn’t get anything going on the ground, and the pass game was marred by the aforementioned inconsistency at quarterback, combined with drops from the receivers. The offensive line struggled across the board in pass protection, though a hobbled Michael Jordan managed to avoid giving up any pressures on his 25 snaps in pass protection. The one big play for the offense was a 64-yard run by RB Curtis Samuel that came in the fourth quarter when the game was essentially out of reach.

Top defensive grades

CB Gareon Conley, 83.3

S Malik Hooker, 81.7

LB Jerome Baker, 81.1

ED Tyquan Lewis, 78.5

CB Marshon Lattimore, 75.6

Defense makes big plays, but it’s not enough in the end

The Ohio State defense did its best to keep the Buckeyes in the game, from a Gareon Conley early interception to Malik Hooker’s incredible pick that showed off his elite center-field range. It wasn’t enough, however, as Ohio State missed 11 tackles, and Clemson kept the Buckeyes off balance just enough with the running game. Conley and fellow corner Marshon Lattimore lived up to their hype—even with Lattimore missing a handful of plays—though fellow cornerback Denzel Ward got picked on, as he gave up 67 yards on three catches to WR Mike Williams. Overall, the defense didn’t do a bad job, they just had such a small margin for error with the struggling offense on the other side.

Clemson Tigers

Quarterback grade: Deshaun Watson, 68.0

For NFL evaluators, Watson continued to put doubt in their minds, with two interceptions, the first of which was an underthrow into the waiting arms of CB Gareon Conley, and the second a pass that floated a bit, but was picked off due to the incredible range of free safety Malik Hooker. However, as he’s done all season, Watson has the “amnesia” needed to move on from his mistakes, and he sprinkled in a number of key throws throughout the game while impressing as a runner, with 71 yards on 10 carries and two scores in the designed running game. Watson finished the game only 4-for-14 for 112 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions on passes thrown at least 10 yards in the air, though he was a perfect 19-for-19 on passes thrown up to 10 yards.

Deshuan Watson versus pressure in Fiesta Bowl

Deshaun Watson vs pressure

Deshaun Watson’s passing chart in Fiesta Bowl


Top offensive grades

C Jay Guillermo, 85.5

RG Tyrone Crowder, 80.4

WR Mike Williams, 80.3

RB Wayne Gallman, 72.1

RT Tremayne Anchrum, 70.7

Balanced attack fuels Clemson offense

Clemson’s star skill players did their part, starting with WR Mike Williams, who caught six of his nine targets for 96 yards. RB Wayne Gallman also had a fine game, forcing five missed tackles on his 18 carries, including a number of key runs to convert first downs and sustain drives for the Tigers. Up front, it was center Jay Guillermo stepping up his game, just as he did in the ACC Championship, leading the way with the No. 2 run-blocking grade in the game, at 82.1, while not surrendering a pressure. RG Tyrone Crowder had the top run-blocking grade, at 83.4, to go with his clean day in pass protection.

Top defensive grades

ED Clelin Ferrell, 84.1

LB Ben Boulware, 82.8

DI Carlos Watkins, 81.9

CB Cordrea Tankersley, 80.4

ED Christian Wilkins, 77.6

Defense dominates at all levels

Clemson’s defense set the tone early on when they shut down Ohio State’s all-everything running back/slot receiver Curtis Samuel. The Buckeyes were clearly looking to get their best playmaker involved early, but the Clemson defense was all over every play, limiting Samuel to 3 yards on five carries and 43 yards on nine receptions, though a 64-yard run improved the rushing numbers in the fourth quarter. Edge defender Clelin Ferrell was the star with a sack, QB hit, and two hurries to go with four total stops as he continued his strong play down the stretch. DI Carlos Watkins was right there with him as a pass-rusher, with two sacks, one QB hit, one hurry, and two batted passes. Christian Wilkins put together another fine game against the run. LB Ben Boulware led the team with five stops, and CB Cordrea Tankersley gave up only 20 yards on three targets while intercepting a pass. All of the biggest names on Clemson’s defense did their part, while up-and-comers like Ferrell have started to put their names on the map in an impressive all-around effort from the Tigers.

PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. 

| Senior Analyst

Steve is a senior analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has been featured on ESPN Insider, NBC Sports, and 120 Sports.

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