The storylines were aplenty. The rematch of last season’s beatdown at the Russell Athletic Bowl, Brent Venables vs. his former team (again), and Baker Mayfield’s magic against Deshaun Watson’s NFL speed.
But in the end, the Clemson Tigers, appropriately dressed head-to-toe in their patented orange garb, put on an Orange Bowl performance for the ages on a memorable New Year’s Eve in South Florida.
Dabo Swinney’s club blew out Oklahoma, again, this time in 37-17 and on a much bigger stage than it did last season. The Tigers are on to the title game. Oklahoma is headed home.
It actually started quite well for the Sooners. Clemson deferred to the second half and kicked it off to Oklahoma. The Sooners said “thank you very much.”
Led by Semaje Perine, OU marched right down the field and punched the Tigers right in the mouth. Perine ran five times for 33 yards including a 1-yard touchdown to put the Sooners on top 7-0 early.
The Sooner contingent, about 20 percent of Sun Life Stadium, went bananas. It was the worst case scenario for a Tiger team that wanted to avoid any run-ins with “Sooner Magic.”
Clemson’s offense got off to a slow start, punting on its first drive, but its defense helped stop the bleeding. The Tigers dropped the Sooners for a loss of 13 yards and a 3-and-out, getting the ball back to Watson and the offense. Clemson, however, lost All-American defensive end Shaq Lawson with a knee injury on the drive and he never returned.
Watson and Co. found some rhythm on their next try and got three points on the board with Greg Huegel's 26-yarder. The Tigers’ D continued to swarm, forcing another Sooner punt. On the ensuing drive, Watson got going. Watson scrambled for 46 yards on the first play from scrimmage to get out to midfield. Four plays later, on 4th-and-four from the OU 44, Clemson pulled a rabbit out of the hat. Punter Andy Teasdall faked the kick and threw a beauty to Christian Wilkins for 31 yards to the OU 13. Two plays after that, Watson kept it from five yards away and put the Tigers up 10-7.
Late in the half, with Clemson now up 16-10, Mayfield opened things up. Mayfield launched one deep to Dede Westbrook for a 42-yard gain to the Clemson 11. Mayfield then hit tight end Mark Andrews for an 11-yard touchdown on the very next play and OU surged ahead, 17-16.
Clemson had a golden opportunity to get the lead back at the end of the half, but Zack Sanchez intercepted Watson in the end zone with just seconds remaining.
Mayfield ended the half with 226 passing yards, while Watson threw for 115 plus another 119 on the ground.
The second half was a much different story. The undefeated Tigers escaped their cage and unleashed pain on the Sooners. Clemson marched right down on 12 plays and scored on its opening drive. OU couldn’t stop the combo of Watson and running back Wayne Gallman, mostly due to a severe mismatch up front.
Two possessions later, Clemson scored again when Watson found Hunter Renfrow for a 35-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 30-17.
OU’s next two drives ended with interceptions as the Tigers pulled away.
Gallman torched the Sooners for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Watson threw for just 72 yards in the second half and finished with 145 rushing yards. But most importantly, the Clemson D held OU to zero second half points.
Mayfield threw for 311 yards but was forced to heave it 41 times. Mayfield spent most of the day scrambling for his life as the Clemson pass rush showed no mercy. Perine finished with 58 yards and was limited in the second half with an ankle injury. Joe Mixon gained just four yards on three carries before leaving the game in the second half with an injury.
Clemson is 14-0 and will get its shot at perfection against the winner of Alabama vs. Michigan State. OU finishes the season at 11-2.
News 9 will have full coverage from the Orange Bowl, so keep it right here.