Nolan Turner listens to Dabo Swinney with the game on the line
|Sunday, January 5, 2020, 7:01 AM- -|
Facing a fourth-and-one with just under 12 minutes remaining, Turner was the safety responsible for covering Ohio State’s Chris Olave, who came free for a 23-yard touchdown to put the Buckeyes ahead 23-21.
Swinney has been around Turner – who is the son of a former Alabama teammate – for a long time so he knew the junior safety was disappointed in giving up the play.
“So proud of him, man. I love him like a son, and obviously great friends and teammates with his dad,” Swinney said after the Fiesta Bowl last week. “Actually, worked with his dad for the two years I was out of coaching in '01 and '02. His dad was actually a GA (graduate assistant) for me a little bit while I was the interim. So obviously deep relationship and just an unbelievable story. And to see him grow and develop and just to see his -- Listen, you go out there and it is fourth and two, and you give up a play like that. He was a little too far outside, no post help. (Justin) Fields made a great play. He was very disappointed in himself and felt like he let the team down. Unfortunately, they were going to score.”
While Turner was frustrated and upset, he knew there was more work to be done if Clemson was going to put together a win in the waning moments of the game.
“It was the ‘next play’ mentality,” Turner said. “I was pumping myself up a little bit. It's frustrating when you give up a play and I am my biggest critic, always. I was a little upset about it, but you have to let it go and move on to the next play. There was more time to be played so I had to move on.”
Clemson took just four plays to go 96 yards and take a 29-23 lead over Ohio State with just over a minute to play, and Swinney made sure Turner knew he believed in him.
“That's one thing I told him: ‘You gotta keep your head up. You're going to make a winning interception and just have to go to the next play.’” Swinney said. “So, it was just pretty amazing to watch it all play out. He's been a really good player for us and had a big interception in the Notre Dame last year in the Cotton Bowl. I don't even know if he was a one-star recruit, but he's really, really good. He's a really good player and was going against elite guys out there tonight. That was a huge play. Just happy to see him be able to have that moment and I know his dad is up in heaven smiling down on him. No doubt in my mind. Just really cool.”
Led by quarterback Justin Fields, the Buckeyes moved swiftly down the field using J.K. Dobbins in the passing game, but Turner and the Clemson defenders knew they needed just a couple of more stops to win the game.
“They were making play after play and driving on us,” Turner said. “We knew we had to make a couple of stops. Put a couple of stops together and get them in third down or third-and-long. They were really picking us apart there for a minute. We kind of got settled in there and made a couple of plays and they threw into coverage. You just have to keep playing and doing your job.”
With just 43 seconds remaining, Turner made Swinney’s words of wisdom come true when he picked off Fields as Olave went to the left and fell to the turf and Turner stayed locked on the post route.
“We were in a two-shell there. I had to read the first receiver and then get my eyes back inside,” Turner said. “I saw the quarterback looking at No. 2 and they were running a post route, but he (Olave) decided to shut it down because the pressure got to the quarterback. The quarterback tried to throw the post before the receiver shut it down and I was reading him and just made a play on the ball.”
For Turner, the play was redemption that ended with Tanner Muse keeping him in the endzone.
“Everything goes in slow motion on plays like that,” Turner said. “I kind of blocked everything out and made the play. My first thought was to take it out of the end zone but Tanner (Muse) tried to hold me back and he told me to take a knee. But that was fun. A fun play. We really left it on the line and guys were exhausted. Once we finished that play to seal the game it was a big sigh of relief. We all battled so hard all night.”