Ohio State's Olave savors redemption that was a year in the making
It was a simple mistake. A misunderstanding.
But to Chris Olave, it would replay in his mind for a whole year. To him, he blew the game. He was the reason for the loss.
Of course, that wasn’t entirely true. It was a miscommunication that could’ve happened to any player.
Down 29-23 in last year’s College Football Playoff semifinal Fiesta Bowl game against Clemson, Olave was running his route — what could have been the game-winner for the Buckeyes — when he thought he saw quarterback Justin Fields start to scramble. So Olave broke off his route to follow his quarterback and try to make a play.
The only problem? As we all know, Fields actually stood tall in the pocket and let loose a dart to the end zone, right to the spot where Olave would have been had he followed through with the route. Instead, Fields’ pass fell into the waiting hands of Clemson’s Nolan Turner, who made the game-clinching interception.
— ACC Network (@accnetwork) December 29, 2019
Game over. Clemson won, 29-23, and advanced to the national championship. Ohio State went home.
Olave made a mistake. It happens to everyone.
It was just unfortunate it happened at that moment. And Olave had a whole calendar year to think about it.
But life’s funny sometimes, isn’t it? In the crazy world we’ve seen over the last 12 months, maybe it all just resulted in the perfect sequel — Ohio State and Clemson were matched up this year in the exact same game. And it would give Olave a chance at redemption.
Of course, he almost didn’t get the chance to play at all.
‘It just made them sick’
“We were really nervous when he went down with COVID, we weren’t going to get (Olave) back,” Ohio State head coach Ryan Day told the media. “He practiced, didn’t really practice fully. So it was a little dicey going into the week.”
The junior was one of 20 Buckeyes who had to miss the B1G championship victory over Northwestern because of a COVID-19 outbreak. And boy, was Olave missed. Even though Ohio State won, 22-10, the team’s passing game struggled, and the Buckeyes had to rely on Trey Sermon’s otherworldly running performance to win.
Then, the B1G had to again change its rules — which the conference had already done when officials allowed Ohio State to play in the conference title game with just 5 games played. This time, the conference reduced the number of days players have to wait to play after testing positive for COVID-19 from 21 to 17.
So Olave got the okay to return, and he worked hard to get back into game shape. After all, Clemson was next, as was his shot at redemption.
“That (previous Clemson) game didn’t sit well with him, the way he came off that field,” Day said. “You know, how many times did he have to watch that play? He and Justin watch that play over and over again, the kid Turner getting the (interception) at the end of the game. It just made them sick. They’re such great competitors that they were hungry. They wanted to come back and win.”
‘I’m just blessed’
This year against Clemson, Olave quickly made his presence felt.
After the Buckeyes had a quick three-and-out on their first possession, Olave caught Fields’ first pass on their second possession. It was obvious how much Fields appreciated having his teammate back in the fold. Then Olave really broke out in the Buckeyes’ backbreaking second quarter.
He scored on a 9-yard catch — a nice grab in the corner of the end zone — to put Ohio State up 28-14 with 4:25 to play in the half. It was part of a 21-0 second quarter run that put Ohio State up for good.
Of course, he wasn’t finished. Olave had what may have been the play of the game. In the third quarter, he burned his defender and hauled in a 56-yard touchdown bomb to really put the nail in the coffin, giving OSU a 42-21 lead. It was just an example of how, throughout the contest, he consistently won his battles against the Clemson secondary and got open for his team. Of course, none of that was a surprise.
DEEP BALL 🎯
— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 2, 2021
He finished with 6 catches for 132 yards and 2 scores in the Buckeyes’ 49-28 victory.
Ohio State will now advance to the national championship. Clemson will go home.
“It’s been a tough year. But (we) just had to fight through adversity, and luckily I came out in the end and had a huge game today,” Olave said. “I was trying to train all year just to be in this position. And we finally got here and just being able to beat these guys and have fun with my teammates, I’m just blessed and proud to be here.”
Fields was definitely happy to have him back, and said so after the Sugar Bowl victory.
“I’m very comfortable with Chris out there,” the quarterback said. “Of course, he had a hell of a game. We were just talking about all week how this game can make an ever-lasting impact. And this game controls our legacy. So we stayed out at practice and threw routes on that one roll-out touchdown. We probably went over that about 20 times in practice one day. So we knew that was a call that we were going to get into the red zone. And we executed it well. So I’m just proud of Chris and the way he played tonight.”
The performance was just another in a historical career, Day said after the game.
“One of the more clutch players, I think, as a receiver in maybe the history of Ohio State football when you think back on it,” Day said. “Wow, what a player he is.”
In the end, Olave thought back to just how difficult it was to get back to this game.
“It means a lot,” he said. “I just thank God first of all. I’m just blessed. Love my teammates, love my coaches and it’s all glory to God.”