Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller stayed down on the ground and clutched his right shoulder, a grimace of pain visible through his face mask.
A jarring hit had just caused Miller to lose a fumble, one of four turnovers by the Buckeyes in the final 20 minutes of the Orange Bowl, and they all hurt. Clemson took advantage in a game with four lead changes and won 40-35 Friday night.
The Buckeyes' final turnover was the most costly. They took over at midfield with 1:27 to go trailing by five points, and on second down Miller threw his second interception to seal the defeat.
"We just didn't finish," coach Urban Meyer said. "It was right there to finish."
No. 7 Ohio State (12-2) lost its second game in a row after winning its first 24 under Meyer. No. 12 Clemson (11-2) achieved back-to-back 11-win seasons for the first time.
The Buckeyes totalled 27 first downs and 427 yards, and they had a six-minute edge in time of possession. They rallied from a 20-9 deficit against the high-powered Tigers and scored 20 consecutive points before the flurry of turnovers began when Corey Brown fumbled a punt return to set up a Clemson touchdown.
On the next series, Miller threw his first interception, and Clemson had to drive only 38 yards to score and lead 34-29.
The Buckeyes regained the lead when Miller led a 75-yard drive and capped it with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Carlos Hyde. Miller was shaken up when he was hit on the final play of the drive and came out of the game for the two-point conversion, which was unsuccessful.
After Clemson mounted a 75-yard touchdown drive and took the lead for good with 6 minutes left, Ohio State had two chances to rally. Miller fumbled when sacked and was again shaken up, but the Buckeyes got the ball back on an interception by C.J. Barnett.
On second down, Miller threw an ill-advised pass over the middle directly to linebacker Stephone Anthony, sealing the defeat. The intended receiver, Brown, was more than 10 yards farther downfield.
Such mistakes were uncharacteristic of Miller and the Buckeyes. He threw only five interceptions during the regular season, and Ohio State had only 15 turnovers.
Meyer said Miller played with a sore shoulder for much of the second half.
"He's a fighter," Meyer said. "He fought through it. I asked him and he said, 'I'm fine.' He's a warrior."
The loss was the first for Meyer in five BCS games, but his second defeat in a row after the Buckeyes were beaten by Michigan State in the Big Ten title game.
Porous pass defence — a season-long problem — hurt the Buckeyes. Clemson's Tajh Boyd threw for 378 yards and five touchdowns, and ran for 127 yards and one score. Sammy Watkins had 16 catches for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
The Buckeyes gave up 576 yards and 24 first downs, but managed to keep up with Clemson most of the night. Miller went 16 for 24 for 234 yards, Brown caught eight passes for 116 yards, and Hyde ran for 113 yards.