While both the Clemson Tigers and Ohio State Buckeyes had their offenses get off to strong starts in Friday’s Sugar Bowl, some of that was about defensive struggles. And that was particularly true on the Clemson end, where several Buckeyes’ big plays and touchdowns came off blown coverage assignments or defenders who weren’t ready when the ball was snapped. And even when the Tigers were set for an apparent stop, with linebacker James Skalski bringing down Ohio State QB Justin Fields after 11 yards on a third-and-13 run, Skalski led with his helmet on that play and was called for targeting. That led to his ejection, and to an automatic first down for the Buckeyes. Here’s that hit:
James Skalski was called for targeting and ejected after this hit on Justin Fields. pic.twitter.com/0oqTQCTEDi
— ESPN (@espn) January 2, 2021
Fields stayed down for a while after that hit and then came out for one play. He came in on second down and threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to Trey Sermon:
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 2, 2021
But Fields was still in pain after that, and received injury attention in Ohio State’s tent. He did continue in the game, though. Meanwhile, the Tigers’ defense is now without Skalski, a fifth-year senior and team captain. Skalski was also ejected for targeting in last year’s national championship game after a hit on LSU receiver Justin Jefferson.
On Friday, the Clemson defense was also without starting safety Nolan Turner for the first half of the Sugar Bowl thanks to a suspension Turner received after a targeting call in the second half of the ACC championship game. So these penalties have come up quite a bit for the Tigers. We’ll see how the Clemson defense does without Skalski, and how well Fields is able to deal with the aftereffects of this hit.
[ESPN; photo from Derick E. Hingle/USA Today Sports]