Oklahoma Football: Five Things to Know About Clemson


The last time the Oklahoma football team lined up across from Clemson, the game wasn’t even close. Clemson took the Sooners to the proverbial woodshed. Only a late touchdown by Oklahoma prevented the 40-6 humiliation from being worse than it was.

Oklahoma should be better equipped mentally and talent-wise to put up a much better showing this time around, when considerably more will be at stake.

For one thing, the Sooners had a much better finish to the 2015 season than they did the year before, winning seven consecutive games to end the regular season. And that included a November to Remember with consecutive victories over three ranked Big 12 teams to finish out the season in grand style and riding a tailwind of Sooner Magic.

Nov 28, 2015; Stillwater, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield (6) passes against Oklahoma State Cowboys during the first quarter at Boone Pickens Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports

The week of Nov. 9, Oklahoma sat at No. 12 in the College Football Playoff rankings. Beginning that weekend, OU began a difficult gauntlet of three games that would define its season. A 44-34 thumping of previously unbeaten Baylor in Waco (where Baylor had not lost a game in two seasons in new McLane Stadium) vaulted the Sooners up five spots to the 7th position in the following week’s Playoff rankings.

Next up was a date back home with TCU, the preseason favorite to win the Big 12 championship. Even though Oklahoma did not have to face an injured Trevone Boykin at quarterback for the Horned Frogs, the Sooners almost let a 16-point halftime lead fritter way, pulling out a one-point 30-29 victory when TCU failed on a two-point conversion attempt very late in the contest that would have stolen the game away from OU.

With the TCU win the Sooners moved all the way to No. 3 in the Playoff standings, thanks in part to a loss by undefeated Ohio State, jumping over another Big Ten team, Iowa, as well as Notre Dame, which at the time everyone viewed as Oklahoma’s biggest challenge to making it into this season’s College Playoff.

But OU still had one more critical hurdle to get over if it wanted to remain in the national championship picture, and the team the Sooners were having to face had its own hopes of crashing the New Year’s Eve Playoff party.

It was Bedlam, and an apt description for the rivalry game with Oklahoma State and a matchup of the two best teams in the Big 12 by their record in 2015. But this year’s rivalry game with OSU had an added piece of significance that should change the Sooners’ journey into the postseason compared with a year ago.

Last season, when Oklahoma and Clemson met in the Russell Athletic Bowl, it was readily apparent that the Sooners were still suffering from the improbable loss to Oklahoma State on the final game of the 2014 regular season and they allowed that defeat to turn into an even bigger loss in the bowl game with Clemson. This is not to say that Clemson would not have won the game anyway, but had Oklahoma not have been still reeling from the stunning way it lost to its in-state rival on the final day of the season, chances are good the margin of victory for Clemson wouldn’t have been as large as it was and the game would have been much more competitive.

So that brings us to this season and a rematch of last year’s bowl pairing, but on a much bigger stage and a win away from a shot at the national championship.

The next couple of weeks we will be covering and commenting on some of the more intriguing story lines surrounding the national semifinal game between the Sooners and the Clemson Tigers.

Today we examine five things every Oklahoma football fan should know about the Sooners’ first-round Playoff opponent:

  1. Stopping Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson is Job 1: Oklahoma has not faced a quarterback all season with the talent and game-changing ability of Clemson’s Deshaun Watson. Watson is a pure dual-threat quarterback, the kind that the Sooners always have had difficulty defending. He is probably the best zone-read quarterback in college football presently. He has completed 68 percent of his passes this season and has thrown for over 3,500 yards. He is not only very accurate, but he throws deep very well. If the Sooners aren’t able to put pressure on Watson and disrupt his rhythm, while also not allowing him to scramble and pick up yardage by tucking and running with the ball for big gains and first downs, OU will have an uphill struggle trying to win this game.
  2. Clemson likes to get off to a fast start and take charge of games early: The Tigers have outscored their opponents 148-56 in the opening quarter this season and 307-106 by halftime.
  3. The Clemson defense is the best the Sooners have faced all season: So much is made of the Clemson offense, which is averaging over 500 yards per game, that the strength of the Tigers’ defense gets overlooked. Clemson ranks 7th in the nation in total defense and is the 5th-best team in the land in defending the pass (allowing 167 passing yards per game).
  4. The Tigers are 16th in the nation scoring from inside the red zone: Clemson has scored 44 of the 49 times its offense has advanced inside an opponent’s red zone this season (90 percent efficiency).
  5. Clemson’s 3rd-down-conversion defensive percentage is the second best in the country. Clemson has been 75 percent effective in preventing 3rd-down conversions this season.