SQ Orange Bowl Preview

The playoffs are nearing. The Orange Bowl and the Cotton Bowl will decide who participates in the National Championship. And today, I will be previewing the Orange Bowl between the Clemson Tigers and the Oklahoma Sooners. Clemson has had its most successful season since 1981 when it last won a championship, while Oklahoma has bounced back from a disappointing 8-5 season last year to win the Big 12 title.

Storylines Heading Into The Game

Deshaun Watson lives up to the hype: Going into the season, Deshaun Watson had high expectations and he has lived up to them. He was the most electrifying dual-threat quarterback in the nation, as he was the only player to pass for 3500+ yards and rush for 800+ yards. He passed for 30 touchdowns and added 11 touchdowns on the ground. His arms and legs are a big reason why Clemson is 13-0 and one game away from playing in the National Championship.


Lincoln Riley proves to be a genius hire: In 2014, the Sooners were 24th in total offense (465 YDS/G) and20th in scoring offense (36.2 PTS/G). Although are neither of those stats are bad per se, Bob Stoops knew his offense could be better. So he went and snatched offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley from East Carolina and made transfer Baker Mayfield the starter. The results proved to be effective. Under Riley, the Sooners experienced a surge in offense, as they ranked 6th in total offense (543YDS/G) and 3rd in scoring offense (45.8 PTS/G). Mayfield was one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, as he passed for 3389 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 420 yards and adding seven touchdowns on the ground. Although he didn't have the same season that he had last year, running back Samaje Perinewas still very productive, as he rushed for almost 1300 yards and 15 touchdowns.  


Is Clemsoning officially dead? Clemsoning, the notion that Clemson loses football games it absolutely should not lose, seems to be an afterthought now. In perhaps the most epic rant of the 2015 college football season,Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney made sure that “Clemsoning” would never be mentioned again. He was right. Clemson is undefeated for the first time since 1981. It has not lost to an unranked opponent since 2011 and has defeated three top ten teams this year (Notre Dame,FSU and UNC). 

Key Stats  

122.5: In his last two games, Watson is averaging 122.5 rushing yards per game. He has rushed for over 100 yards in four of his last five games and has added seven rushing touchdowns during that span. Oklahoma’s rushing defense is one of theteam’s weak points, allowing 149.2 rushing yards per game. If Watson can take advantage of that, it will be a long game for the Sooners.  

19: Oklahoma has 19 interceptions this season, which is the 8th most in the nation. Cornerback Jordan Thomas had a provided key production for the Sooners' secondary with five interceptions and 153 returned yards. He will likely be lined up against Artavis Scott, Clemson's top receiver. If Thomas and the rest of the Oklahoma secondary are able to contain Clemson's receiving unit, the Sooners should be able to come out on top.

166.9: Clemson has given up an average of 166.9 passing yards per game in 13 games this season. That ranks 5th best in the nation. Overall, Clemson has one of the best passing defenses in college football. In addition to ranking 5th in passing yards given up per game, it also ranks 1st in opposing completion percentage (46.1%), 14th in yards per pass attempt givenup (5.9) and 7th in opposing quarterback rating (102.2). The one area that it needs to work on is passing touchdowns given up. Clemson has allowed 16 passing touchdowns, which is tied for 40th in the nation. If the Tigers can contain Baker Mayfield and make things difficult for him, they should be able to limit his touchdown throws.   

Key Players  

ShaqLawson, DE, Clemson: Lawson was an absolute monster for the Tigers this season. The junior had 10 sacks and 22.5 tackles for losses, which was the best in thenation. He was one of three players in the nation to have 10+ sacks and 20+tackles for losses. His explosiveness on defense is a key reason for Clemson’s undefeated season. 

 

SterlingShepard, WR, Oklahoma: Shepard was Mayfield’s favorite target. He had 1,201 receiving yards and caught 11 touchdown passes this season. In his last five games, Shepard is averaging 130.4 receiving yards per game and has caught six touchdown passes. He is not Oklahoma’s best player, but his receiving abilities have contributed to Mayfield’s fantastic season.   


Why Clemson Wins  

The Tigers are the most balanced team in the nation. They are the only team to average over 500 yards per game and give up an average of less than 300 yards per game. Watson can take over a game with his arms and his legs. He’s also playing behind a stout offensive line that has allowed him to be sacked only 12 more times. If the line can provide Watson the protection he needs, Clemson should be able to punch its ticket to the national championship      

Why Oklahoma Wins  

Oklahoma can win this game because its offense is as good as it gets. Baker Mayfield and Samaje Perine are one of the best quarterback-running back duos in the nation while Sterling Shepard provides a spark at wide receiver. It has also beaten opponents by an average of 25 points, the best mark in college football. When it comes to running away from the competition, there is no better team in college football than Oklahoma.   

Prediction 

This was extremely tough for me to decide. I do believe that this is going to be the best matchup in the playoffs. Both teams are extremely talented and well-coached. Mayfield is one of the best quarterbacks in the country but he’sfacing one of the best secondary units in college football. At the same time,Clemson has given up quite a few touchdowns and Mayfield could take advantage of that. 

This being said, I’m going to have to go with Oklahoma. I do think Clemson is the better overall team but Oklahoma has been a different animal since its ugly loss to Texas, beating its last seven opponents by an average of 32.6 points. They also got destroyed by Clemson last year by a score of 40-6, so they will be playing with a chip on their shoulder. This game could go either way, but my gut tells me to go with the Sooners here.

FinalScore: Oklahoma 49 – Clemson 40 

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