Tigers lower boom on Sooners in second half to advance to FBS final, 37-17
Miami Lakes, Florida (December 31) – The No. 1 Clemson Tigers (14-0) trailed the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners 17-16 at the half, but the offense, led by QB and game MVP Deshaun Watson and RB Wayne Gallman, added two TDs in the third and one in the fourth that Oklahoma could not respond to against a staunch Tiger defense. Clemson held the Sooners to 121 yards in the second half to record a 37-17, CFP victory in the CapitalOne Orange Bowl. They will move on to the national championship game in Glendale, Arizona on January 11 to meet the No. 2 Crimson Tide of Alabama. HC Dabo Swinney, a former walk-on at wide receiver for The Tide, has ten days to get his Tigers ready. DE Shaq Lawson left the game early after a leg injury, but vowed to be ready for the biggest game of the 2015-16 season in all of college football coming up.
As a matter of fact, Lawson started the game on the first play with a sack of Sooner QB Baker Mayfield. However, the Sooner offense recovered quickly and drove the length of the field with Semaje Perine finishing the opening drive with a one-yard plunge for a quick 7-0 Sooner lead. After exchanging punts, Clemson took over from their 28. Tiger PK Greg Huegel put three up on the board with a 26-yard FG.
To start the second period, Clemson started from their four after an OU punt. On the first play, Watson wove through the defense for a 46-yard advance to put the Tigers at midfield. OU forced them into the punt formation, but Clemson pulled off a fake as P Andy Teasdall launched a pass down the left sideline to DT Christian Wilkins who was wide open to haul it in at the twelve. Watson finished things off with a five-yard run to take a 10-7 lead. The next Clemson possession started from the 19 and they got within Huegel’s range to convert on a 31-yard FG to lengthen their lead by six. The Sooners kept pace though with a 23-yard FG of their own by Austin Seibert. Huegel responded again with a 43-yard kick with 2:17 left in the first half. OU came right back. Mayfield’s 43-yard pass to Dede Westbrook put the Sooners at the 11. On an out pass to the left flat, TE Mark Andrews carried it in for a 17-16 Sooner lead. With 1:34 left, Clemson threatened to score again before halftime, but a tipped pass in the end zone intended for Charone Peake was picked off by Sooner S Zack Sanchez.
Singer/songwriter John Fogarty of Creedence Clearwater Revival fame entertained at halftime for us “old schoolers”. His songs will outlive us all. I sat next to some Nebraska Cornhusker fans rooting for the Sooners as we sat among many Clemson fans. They came to Florida primarily for a wedding, and they were able to buy tickets to the game. It was not a sell-out. Of the 67,615 announced, 75% were wearing Clemson colors as the No. 1 seed gets placed in the closest venue for the CFP. I purchased my tickets before it was announced who was in this game. Had it been the likes of Alabama, Ohio State, Notre Dame, or a combination of the three, tickets may have been impossible had I waited. I primarily attend these games to see an epic battle, and if I have a rooting interest liking or despising a particular team, I’ll get into it. I had no preference at this game, but I picked OU to win it. The Husker fan next to me and I had some interesting conversations about college football, his farming, Florida, and other things. As others have told me, he insisted I have to get to a Nebraska game in Lincoln! It’s on my list. Of course, he said I should come out when they get better, but I figure if I do, the tickets will be even harder to get. Like most Husker fans, he’s travelled well. He’s been to Penn State to see the Huskers visit there several times. With ten minutes left in the game, his wife told him that their friends were waiting for them and they had to leave. He argued there were ten minutes left in the game, but she was persistent. He gave in. I’m thankful that St. Laurie never did that to me. It reminds me about the time we were at a game at West Point in a driving rainstorm. I couldn’t leave. I was adding TCU to my quest to “see ‘em all” that day and it wouldn’t count unless I was there until the end. When it was announced that cars should be moved from the South docks along the Hudson close to where we had parked, she went to rescue the car while Charlie, Dave, and I watched TCU finish off Army (Frank Scarpa was forced to go home by his wife who was pregnant at the time. We gave him a pass that day). Of course, St. Laurie knew this was her quickest way out of the rain and into the car with the heater on. The memories! The story is in my book, Tales from the Tailgate.
Clemson started Q3 with the ball on their 25. Gallman (26 carries for 150 yards and two TDs) scored at the one to regain the lead to start the second half for the Tigers, 23-17. A sack of Mayfield by DE Kevin Dodd forced OU to punt from the nine. Clemson came up empty though as Huegel missed a 47-yard FG. The Sooners drove to the 30 of Clemson, but on fourth and one on a direct snap to Perine, Clemson took over on downs. The Tigers moved the ball to the 35. There, Watson connected on an out pass to Hunter Renfro who shook one tackler and turned up field for a touchdown and a 30-17 Tiger lead. Oklahoma’s next drive was turned around on an INT by LB B.J. Goodson. The next OU possession went two yards in the opposite direction, and Clemson was at midfield to start the final period.
The Tigers put together a scoring drive with Gallman taking it over from a yard out to lead 37-17. Oklahoma seemed to still have a shot to get back in with a quick score and some onside kicks. They move quickly for 70 yards down to the five. Mayfield dropped back and tried to fire a pass to a receiver running a corner pattern, but LB Ben Boulware, the game’s defensive MVP, leapt high on the air to pick the ball off with 7:32 remaining to regain possession and take away any chance for OU to mount a comeback.
The Tigers and Sooners (11-2) went at each other hard in the first half, but in the second, it was all Tigers. They played well on both sides of the ball. They played as the No. 1 had to to beat No. 4. They play a balanced, deceptive offense and their defensive size up front and speed overall should match up well with Alabama. Clemson heads to Glendale, Arizona for the FBS title. Oklahoma goes home to follow up on recruiting its next class of players. We headed up I-75 enroute to Tampa for our final game of a great 2015 season and our 507th overall to watch Tennessee play Northwestern in the Outback Bowl.