A preview of the Orange Bowl featuring the Clemson Tigers and Oklahoma Sooners.
If you think Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney’s Tigers are content with the top seed in this year’s College Football Playoff, think again. Despite Clemson’s No. 1 ranking, the Tigers will enter Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. as the underdog to the 4th-ranked Sooners. With most of the hype surrounding Oklahoma, which in some circles has portrayed the Sooners as possibly this year’s Ohio State Buckeyes (won National Championship last season), the Tigers should be fueled to earn the respect they inexplicably have yet to garner from naysayers.
There will be no shortage of motivation for the Sooners, led by former walk-on quarterback Baker Mayfield. Mayfield walked on at Texas Tech and won the starting job as a true freshman. After transferring and walking on at Oklahoma, Mayfield beat out 2014 Sugar Bowl MVP Trevor Knight, who had just defeated the third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide in that Sugar Bowl. In order to punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff National Championship in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 11, the Sooners will look to harness the emotion and energy that Mayfield plays with.
Keys to the game
While the Tiger’s high-flying offense receives the bulk of the praise — and deservedly so — it will be Clemson’s defense that ultimately decides if the Tigers can come out on top. A season ago, a number of NFL prospects led Clemson’s defense, most notably current Atlanta Falcons defensive end Vic Beasley. Last year, fourth and fifth year seniors composed much of the Tigers defense. Coming into this season, most predicted the Tigers’ inexperienced defense would be the team’s downfall. However, according to NCAA.com, Clemson finished second in the FBS this season in opponent third down conversion rate at 24.8 percent. Getting off the field on third down will be vital for the Tigers defense, not only to give Clemson’s offense as many possessions as possible, but to slow down the Sooners’ two-headed monster at the running back position, Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon.
Player to watch: Tigers defensive end Shaq Lawson
The Sooners need to establish exactly what Clemson will be trying to stop, a consistent running game. While Mayfield’s improvisational skills in the pocket are terrific, he’s not former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. In order for Oklahoma’s passing game to be successful, the Sooners likely need to average at least 4-5 yards per carry on the ground. A solid running game will make Mayfield’s job, both as a passer and rusher, that much easier. If the Tigers defense commits to shutting down Oklahoma’s rushing attack, there will be plenty of one-on-one matchups for the Sooners to exploit in the passing game.
Player to watch: Sooners wide receiver Sterling Shepard