GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Chase Young knew what he was getting into. Ohio State’s All-American defensive end tried telling teammates, the media, anyone willing to listen.
“The thing about Trevor Lawrence,” Young said, “is his speed is deceiving.”
So at least one person on the indoor grass at State Farm Life Stadium wasn’t surprised Saturday night when the 6-foot-6 Clemson quarterback took off on a twisting 67-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter to give the Tigers serious Fiesta Bowl momentum.
Rallying its way into a fourth national championship game appearance in five years with a 29-23 victory over Ohio State will stand with the other great College Football Playoff wins of Clemson’s five-year run.
The star quarterback was Clemson’s leading rusher in this College Football Playoff semifinal.
Travis Etienne, the two-time ACC Player of the Year running back, was the leading receiver.
It also reflected the nature, passion and resolve of head coach Dabo Swinney. At 69-4 with two national titles over the last half-decade, he still transfers a wide-eyed, child-like appreciation for opportunity to face top opponents in big games.
It comes from Swinney’s role as a walk-on receiver on Alabama’s 1992 national championship team.
It fits playing to the “Clemson standard” that Swinney constantly gabs about.
Except when a team digs out of a 16-0 hole with a veteran player like linebacker Isaiah Simmons telling younger guys, "We can do this; we had to come back to beat Alabama."
And bounces back again in the fourth quarter before finally getting a Nolan Turner interception to save the night.
The joy/heartache contrast was sudden and will last. The game featured three second-half lead changes and controversial calls.
Swinney: "Is this fun or what?"
Ohio State head coach Ryan Day: "I'm proud, sad and certainly angry."
Chase Young blanked
Facing the ferocious Young, for instance, came across over the last few weeks as a welcome chance to shine against the best.
Clemson tackles got help but Jackson Carman, from Ohio of all places, did most of the heavy lifting.
No sacks for Young, who had 16.5 this season.
That’s 29 straight wins, and counting for the Tigers.
On to New Orleans, scene of Clemson’s last loss, which came against Alabama and quarterback Jalen Hurts at the Superdome in 2017.
Clemson in the national title game on Jan. 13 will face LSU, which just roared past Oklahoma and Hurts, 63-28.
No. 1 LSU is an early pointspread favorite against the team that had Aretha Franklin's "Respect" blaring in their locker room after the Fiesta Bowl.
Clemson appeared to get the benefit of a bad call. What was initially ruled a fumble by wide receiver Justyn Ross that resulted in an Ohio State touchdown was changed to an incomplete pass.
The Tigers survived J.K. Dobbins’ 142 yards rushing in the first half.
They also slowly roasted Ohio State with masterful balance.
Not satisfied last off-season with Lawrence’s play in playoff routs of Notre Dame and Alabama, Swinney wanted his quarterback to “make more plays with his legs.”
Etienne’s task this season: improve as a receiver. Ohio State bottled him up in the running game, but his 53-yard reception (mostly running) gave Clemson its first lead.
Ohio State and Clemson are likely on a collision course for more playoff meetings.
It wasn’t supposed to be easy for the Tigers this time. Ohio State, undefeated coming in, was last seen outscoring Wisconsin by 27 points in the second half to rally for a Big Ten Championship Game victory.
Ohio State, as it did in a 31-0 College Football Playoff semifinal loss to Clemson in 2016, had the fan advantage, perhaps 70 percent to 30. Many of the orange pom-poms left on seats were unclaimed.
And the Buckeyes had the support of basketball icon LeBron James, who gave each Ohio State player a $350 pair of Beats headphones and a little note that started with: “Best of luck men!”
Late Saturday though, the noise the Buckeyes heard walking off the field came from Clemson fans.
LeBron James, rich and talented as he is, couldn’t change that tune.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff