#4 Oklahoma Sooners vs. #1 Clemson Tigers
Thursday – December 31 – 3:00 pm CT
Sun Life Stadium – Miami, Florida
Records Before the Game
Oklahoma Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12)
Clemson Tigers (13-0, 8-0 ACC)
Rare are the times when a rematch of a bowl game can be played out with what’s all at stake as is with the semifinal game of the College Football Playoff between the #4 Oklahoma Sooners and the #1 Clemson Tigers. Last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl contest between the two schools produced a lopsided victory for the Tigers by a score of 40-6. The Sooners were embarrassed by last year’s showing and leading up to this game, have vowed to proved that obliteration was an aberration.
Clemson spent a majority of this season as the #1 ranked team in America. Oklahoma saw their title hopes dimmed greatly after an ugly loss to their rival Texas in the Red River Shootout in early October, but rebounded in impressive fashion down the stretch. The turnaround for the Sooners can be linked directly to the play of transfer quarterback Baker Mayfield. From a walk-on at Texas Tech two seasons ago to Heisman Trophy candidacy this season, Mayfield’s “in your face” style of play at the quarterback position is what propels the Sooners to play at a level well above the talent level that comprises the team. His 35 touchdown passes against only five interceptions for the year puts the Sooner offense in a position to take advantage of any mistake a defense presents to the Sooners.
Both teams will enter the game with explosive offenses that rank in the Top 20 nationally. The Sooners are averaging a whopping 45.8 points a game while the Tigers roll out 38.5 themselves. A good old fashion shootout can be expected. Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops feels like last year’s game was won in part to the familiarity of their offense by former defensive coordinator and current Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables. A slight change to a more balanced attack this season which features a two-headed rushing attack of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The two have combined for 2,040 yards and 22 touchdowns. Receiver Sterling Shepard provides the big plays down field for Mayfield in the passing game for the Sooners. Shepard has 79 catches, 1,201 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. He will be counted on to keep the talented safeties of the Tigers back off the line of scrimmage, allowing Perine and Mixon seven man fronts to run against.
The Tigers head coach Dabo Swinney said the margin of error is smaller for his team this year as opposed to last year’s game against the Sooners. He will need for quarterback Deshaun Watson to manage the game properly without any drastic turnovers that will change the momentum of the game. The sophomore signal caller completed almost 70% of his passes for 3,512 yards and 30 touchdowns. Watson was also effective running the ball all season with 887 yards. That total was second on the team to running back Wayne Gallman who has 1,332 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Clemson spreads the ball around well in the passing game among three receivers. Artavis Scott, Deon Cain and Charone Peake have combined for over 1,900 yards and 15 touchdowns. Scott is the deep threat who Watson will need to get the ball in the hands of to have a chance against the aggressive secondary of the Sooners. Deon Cain has been sent home for team violations and will be missed. Gallman may make up the difference in the passing game for the Tigers, coming out of the backfield and matching up against the linebackers of the Sooners.
The winner of this game will move on to the national championship game next week against the winner of the other semifinal game between Alabama and Michigan State. The hot team wins this game. Nobody in the country has been hotter than the Oklahoma Sooners.
Prediction: Sooners 30 – Tigers 24