2015 Orange Bowl
Thursday, January 31st
4 p.m. on ESPN
Oklahoma Sooners 11-1 (8-1)
The Sooners had one head-scratching hiccup this season in a 24-17 loss to lowly Texas, but they rebounded to put together an impressive campaign led by the best offense to take the field in Norman since Sam Bradford won the Heisman Trophy in 2008.
This season, it was Texas Tech transfer Baker Mayfield leading the charge at quarterback for Bob Stoops. Mayfield has been a revelation and has completed 68.6% of his passes for 3,389 yards, 35 touchdowns and just five interceptions. He added 420 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Out of recent quarterbacks he reminds me of a bigger, less desperate Johnny Manziel with his ability to scramble and buy time. His throws are accurate and he makes Oklahoma one of the most dangerous offenses in the nation (6th in total offense). It’s no surprise that Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting behind Clemson’s Deshaun Watson.
Samaje Perine led the ground game for the Sooners with 1,291 yards and 15 touchdowns. Joe Mixon — who is not a good dude — is a supremely talented back as well who has chipped in 749 yards and seven touchdowns. Mixon is also a valuable option in the passing game where he’s hauled in 25 catches for 345 yards.
Mayfield routinely locks on senior Sterling Mayfield who led the team with 79 catches for 1,201 yards and 12 touchdowns. Dede Westbrook and Duron Neal both caught 42 balls on the year, though Westbrook finished with 674 yards to Neal’s 527. And that’s about it. There’s plenty of talent on the Sooner roster, but they don’t go very deep with proven players at the receiver position.
Bob Stoops is of course a defensive guy, and his team is strong on that side of the ball as well. The Sooners are 4th in the country with 38 sacks and 12th is passing efficiency defense, though they’ve allowed more passing touchdowns (18) than all but one team ranked in the top 25 in that category. Eric Striker has 23 career sacks (7.5 this season) which is the most for a linebacker in Sooner history. Corner Zack Sanchez is very good and has been hot since returning from an injury. He leads the team with six interceptions and has five of them in his last four games. Jordan Thomas is no slouch himself with five picks on the year, good for third in the Big 12 just behind the conference leader Sanchez.
Clemson Tigers 13-0 (9-0)
Clemson enters the College Football Playoff undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the country, but you wouldn’t know it by the number of folks picking Oklahoma to win. Clemson is just as well-rounded as the Sooners with the 11th best total offense and the 7th best total defense in the country. The offense took a slight hit with the suspension of three players including freshman deep threat Deon Cain, but there’s still plenty of depth.
Artavis Scott leads the way with 84 catches for 8805 yards and five touchdowns. Jordan Leggett leads the team in touchdowns with seven and Charone Peak will become the primary deep threat with Cain out. Peake has gained 563 yards this season, good for 14.1 yards per catch which isn’t much different from Cain’s 17.1.
Deshaun Watson has been stellar with a 69.5% completion percentage, 3,512 yards, 30 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He really shakes things up on the ground where he put up 887 rushing yards and 11 scores. He rushed for over 100 yards in four of the last five games including the ACC Championship tilt against North Carolina. When he needs to step up the ground game, he’s been more than capable. Wayne Gallman still handles the heavy-lifting thought posting 1,332 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Dabo Swinney, when told OU players don't think Clemson defense is as good as last year: "Well, we'll find out in two days."
— Mark Schlabach (@Mark_Schlabach) December 29, 2015
The Tiger defense may actually be the strong point of this team, particularly the defensive line. Shag Lawson has been dominant with 22.5 tackles for loss including 9.5 sacks. Kevin Dodd has been very impressive as well recording 15.0 tackles for loss and eight sacks of his own. Cordrea Tankersley leads a strong secondary with five interceptions and 12 pass deflections. Those guys have combined to put together the 7th best passing efficiency defense that allows just 20.2 points per outing (18th nationally). They’ll need to not only pressure Baker Mayfield, but actually contain him which has proven to be a challenge for Big 12 defenses.
The nation’s sportswriters seem to have fallen in love with Oklahoma and very few appear to buy into the Tigers as the favorite in this game. Personally, I see weakness with the Oklahoma defense against Clemson’s explosive offensive firepower. The Sooners were gashed for 416 total yards against Baylor, 457 yards against Oklahoma State, and 603 against Tulsa. The Sooners seem to struggle against spread teams that run plays at a fast pace which is exactly what Clemson will attempt to do. Don’t get me wrong, Oklahoma is a very good team but I think the match up favors the Tigers if only slightly. I’ve been very impressed with Clemson’s focus this season and I wonder seriously if the team even noticed three guys were sent home this week. The distraction of trying to win the program’s first national title since 1981 shouldn’t bother them either.
No. 4 Oklahoma 28
No. 1 Clemson 35