Oklahoma v. #17 Clemson
Florida Citrus Bowl — Orlando, FL
December 29, 2014 — 5:30 pm Eastern (ESPN)
Why You Should Watch
It’s a Florida bowl game, and you’ve been forced to go three full days since seeing the last one. You may remember this as the second iteration of the Tangerine Bowl, or perhaps even as the Blockbuster Bowl when the game was still held in Miami (and Blockbuster was still relevant). Neither of these teams is particularly exhilarated about a trip to Orlando, though, after playing in BCS bowls last year and harboring similar expectations for a spot in one of the New Year’s Six games this season. If you’ve already started your day with the action from Memphis, why turn away from ESPN now?
What Each Team Brings to the Table
Last year the Sooners knocked off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, tricking the nation into thinking they were a top-five team entering 2014. Instead Oklahoma was the fourth-best team in its own conference, losing four of its nine conference games after a 4-0 start. Quarterback Trevor Knight was the biggest illusion of the Sugar Bowl win, dealing with injuries and natural regression this season. He’ll be back after missing the Oklahoma State game, but the Sooners will still lean on Samaje Perine and the running game for the bulk of their offensive production. Perine broke the NCAA single-game rushing record earlier this year, and the freshman finished the regular season with 21 touchdowns and nearly 1600 rushing yards. The defense was solid if unspectacular, finishing in the top half of the nation while allowing 25 points per game.
The Tigers dealt with their own quarterback issues this season. When healthy, freshman Deshaun Watson gives Clemson its best chance of success with better accuracy and decision making. Senior Cole Stoudt has played significant minutes to ill effect; despite attempting twice as many passes (266 to 137), Stoudt has eight fewer touchdowns and eight more interceptions and averaged more than four fewer yards per attempt. As a result, Clemson was not the offensive juggernaut it had become over the previous seasons — and now offensive coordinator Chad Morris has moved on to the head position at SMU. Just like the rest of the season, it will be defense that defines the Tigers’ performance in Orlando. Clemson led the nation in defensive yardage allowed, holding teams to less than 260 yards and 18 points per game. They allowed less than three yards per carry and less than six yards per pass attempt.
What is Likely to Happen
The fact that Watson will have surgery on his torn ACL seriously impacts the offensive efficiency of Clemson, though Oklahoma will have its own issues against the Tigers defense. Look for this game to feature a lot of defensive stops and a low-scoring outcome. Stoudt will have to play a solid game and limit his mistakes, and Wayne Gallman will need to have a big performance in the backfield, for Clemson to generate enough offense against the Sooners. Both teams forced 19 turnovers this season, and the game could turn on one too many interceptions. Clemson’s defense will need to contain Samaje Perine; the freshman will be held under 100 yards for the eighth time this season, and the Tigers will get enough from Stoudt and crew to pull off a narrow victory.
Clemson 17, Oklahoma 13