InsideTheACC: Previewing The Russell Athletic Bowl

Dabo Swinney and his Tigers (9-3) will take on Bob Stoops and the Sooners (8-4) in Orlando, who comes out on top?

Clemson Offense

  • Scoring offense: 30.1 PPG (58th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 257.1 YPG (43rd nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 153 YPG (80th nationally)
  • Total offense: 410.1 YPG (61st nationally)

Senior and career backup Cole Stoudt will be called on to spell freshman Deshaun Watson at quarterback in the Russell Athletic Bowl. Watson is recovering from ACL surgery, giving Stoudt his most meaningful opportunity in his tenure at Clemson. Stoudt fell out of favor early in the season, but managed to throw for 1,573 yards. His 6 touchdowns and 10 interceptions stands in stark contrast to Watson’s 7:1 touchdown to interception ratio.

The Clemson receiving corps is capable of making Stoudt look good in this one, especially against the 119th ranked Oklahoma pass defense. Sophomore Mike Williams and freshman Artavis Scott both had break out years for the Tigers this season. Williams hauled in 48 receptions for five touchdowns and a team high 918 receiving yards, while Scott lead the team in receptions with 68, and touchdowns with seven. Junior tight end Stanton Seckinger will miss the game with a knee injury, leaving sophomore Jordan Leggett as the teams most viable tight end option.

Stoudt might be able to do enough to exploit the questionable Sooners pass defense, but the Tigers will need to rely heavily on their rushing attack lead by freshman Wayne Gallman. Gallman lead the team in every major rushing category, including attempts (142), yards (714), while also adding four touchdowns. Stoudt is less mobile than Watson, who rushed for five touchdowns, meaning the Tigers will need to depend more heavily on their other rushing options. Junior C.J. Davidson and freshman Adam Choice combined for only 463 rushing yards in 2014, but may have their number called more in this game.

Clemson Defense and Special teams

  • Scoring defense: 17.6 PPG (6th nationally)
  • Passing defense: 161.9 YPG (3rd nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 97.7 YPG (7th nationally)
  • Total defense: 259.6 YPG (1st nationally)

To say the Clemson defense was good would be an understatement, as they were in fact the nation’s best defense. Clemson finished number one in total defense and top 10 in most other statistical categories, presenting an unenviable task for the Oklahoma offense.

The Clemson defense is evenly balanced as well, with talent across all positions, making them a tricky proposition to plan against. Standing out however, was lineman Vic Beasley who recorded 11 sacks to lead the team. The senior also had 29 tackles to had to his resume in his final season at Clemson. Joining Beasley up front was sophomore Shaq Lawson, who nearly matched his freshman totals, with 32 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Senior linebacker Stephone Anthony lead all Tigers in tackles with 73, while also adding 2.5 sacks and an interception. Fellow senior linebacker Tony Steward also caused offensive coordinators nightmares, with 54 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 2014.

The Clemson secondary was stellar this season, limiting opposing quarterbacks to only 161.9 passing yards per game. The unit was spearheaded by defensive backs Robert Smith and Jayron Kearse. The senior Smith lead all defensive backs in tackles, with 65 and had two interceptions. Kearse, a sophomore, had 57 tackles, a pair of picks, and was used frequently on the blitz, leading to three quarterback sacks.

Sophomore defensive back T.J. Green was used on kickoff return duties, netting 419 yards on 20 returns, for a touchback average (20.95). Senior receiver Adam Humphries had one touchdown on 28 punt returns, and a 6.2 average return. Ammon Lakip was perfect on extra point attempts, but missed six of his 25 field goal attempts. Punting duties were left on the capable foot of junior Bradley Pinion, who punted 70 times, finishing with a 42.5 average.

Oklahoma Offense

  • Scoring offense: 38.9 PPG (11th nationally)
  • Passing offense: 211.9 YPG (82nd nationally)
  • Rushing offense: 268.6 YPG (9th nationally)
  • Total offense: 480.5 YPG (20th nationally)

Samaje Perine. The Oklahoma Sooners offense revolves around the freshman wunderkind at running back. Perine rushed 240 times in 2014, finishing with 1,579 yards, 21 touchdowns, 131.6 yards per game and the NCAA single game rushing record with 427 yards against Kansas. The battle between Perine and the stellar Clemson defense makes this bowl can’t miss tv on its own. When Perine wasn’t running over opposing defenses, sophomore Alex Ross did a solid job, finishing with 564 yards on 86 carries and three scores.

Sophomore quarterback Trevor Knight proved his worth, not only with his arm, but with his legs. Knight finished with 340 ground yards and five scores this season. He had a solid, but not spectacular season through the air as well. Knight completed 58.1% of his passes for 2,197 yards and 14 touchdowns, but also threw nine interceptions.

A pair of junior receivers, Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal were called on frequently by Knight, finishing with 90 of the teams 193 total receptions. Shepard lead the team in receptions with 50, receiving yards with 957 and touchdowns, hauling in five. Neal had 40 receptions for 508 yards and 3 scores. Senior tight end Blake Bell is also an underrated threat for the receiving corps. Bell only had 15 receptions, but four of them went for touchdowns.

Oklahoma Defense and Special teams

  • Scoring defense: 24.8 PPG (46th nationally)
  • Passing defense: 272.7 YPG (119th nationally)
  • Rushing defense: 109.7 YPG (10th nationally)
  • Total defense: 382.3 YPG (54th nationally)

The Oklahoma defense is a tale of two extremes. The run defense was a top 10 unit in 2014, while their pass defense was one of the worst in the country. The Sooners strong run defense was headed by sophomore duo, linebackers Dominique Alexander and Jordan Evans. The pair combined for 185 tackles in 2014, with Alexander picking up 98 of them, and Evans 87. Fellow linebackers Eric Striker and Geneo Grissom came up big on the sack front for Oklahoma. The junior Striker lead the team with 7.5, and Grissom, a senior, had 3.5. Lineman Chuka Ndulue had a strong senior citizen up front, finishing with 45 tackles and 3.5 sacks.

Sophomore defensive back Zack Sanchez lead the Sooners in interceptions with six, and senior Quentin Hayes had another solid season. Outside of those two however, there was room for improvement on the secondary, explaining the team’s dismal pass defense. Hayes finished with 48 tackles, three sacks and an interception, while Sanchez added 39 tackles to go with his team high in interceptions. Sophomore Ahmad Thomas did finish with a secondary leading 65 tackles, but struggled at times as well.

Sophomore Alex Ross had a stellar season on kickoff returns for Oklahoma. Ross had 704 return yards (32 yard average) and two touchdowns. Sterling Shepard was less impressive on punt returns as the junior finished with a 6.5 average on 11 returns. Senior kicker Michael Hunnicutt converted 13 or 18 field goal attempts, while missing only one extra point, and punter Jed Barnett finished with a 40.6 average.

Outlook and Prediction

This game with be a battle between Samaje Perine and the vaunted Clemson defense. The Tiger will miss the dual-threat Watson at quarterback, but Stoudt has been preparing four years for his opportunity, and the Russell Athletic Bowl is it. It should be a battle, but in the end the defense should win out, despite all the exploits of Perine.

Clemson 27 Oklahoma 23

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