The beautiful thing about football is that one player's effort on a single first-quarter play can change the complexion of an entire game and, in turn, an entire season.
The admirable thing about Dabo Swinney's program is his players always seem to make those efforts.
Trailing 10-0 with 20 seconds left in the first quarter, Clemson was in deep, deep trouble. JK Dobbins, already the owner of one untouched 68-yard touchdown run, was well on his way to another, even longer run. The Ohio State running back took the ball behind the line of scrimmage, busted through the line and sprinted to daylight. A 72-yard touchdown and a 17-0 Buckeyes lead seemed certain to everyone except Clemson safety Tanner Muse.
Muse slid up to a linebacker position before the snap, aligning to the offense's left, while Dobbins charged through the hole between the right guard and tackle. Dobbins quickly accelerates to full speed, while Muse has to change direction and then begin his chase. As Dobbins bends his run to the left to avoid traffic to his right, Muse is a full four yards behind him.
He gains two yards on Dobbins as the running back avoids a tackle attempt by one of Muse's teammates, and by the time Dobbins reaches the 20 Muse is close that he might be able to get Dobbins down with a swipe of his feet. Muse makes contact between the 19 and the 18, and Dobbins finally stumbles to the turf a full 10 yards later.
Muse could have simply given a token effort to chase down Dobbins and no one would have blamed him, singled him out as solely responsible for allowing the touchdown, but Muse gave every ounce he had, and that choice saved Clemson's season.
Ohio State settled for a field goal on that drive, and those four points proved to be the difference. Aside from the psychological difference of trailing 17-0 instead of 13-0, Justin Fields never throws the game-ending interception in the game's final minute because Ohio State is not throwing, period, with a 29-27 deficit and the ball at Clemson's 23 with 43 seconds to play.
But because of Muse's effort on that first quarter play, Ohio State needed a touchdown.
"That one play is the epitome of our program," Swinney said. "Tanner's effort, his fight, his giving all he had was awesome. That was the biggest play of the game."