Clemson beats Oklahoma in Orange Bowl, heads to national championship
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) – The Oklahoma Sooners were fooled by a fake punt and stuffed on fourth down when they tried some trickery of their own.
And in the second half, Clemson was simply the stronger team.
High-scoring Oklahoma and quarterback Baker Mayfield were shut out in the second half Thursday and lost to Clemson in the Orange Bowl national semifinal game, 37-17.
For the second year in a row, the Sooners (11-2) ended their season with a loss to Clemson. They were embarrassed 40-6 by the Tigers last year in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“This championship drive, talent doesn’t win the game,” defensive end Eric Striker said. “It’s the will. They had that edge and a will about them in the second half.”
Mayfield threw for 311 yards but was sacked five times, and threw two interceptions in Clemson territory in the second half. He wobbled off the field after making a tackle following his second interception and spent the closing minutes on the sideline.
Mayfield wasn’t the only Sooner undone by the Tigers’ muscle. On one run, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson kept churning for an additional 5 yards while dragging along 291-pound tackle Matthew Romar, who had a handful of the quarterback’s jersey.
In the third quarter, the Tigers really began to enforce their will. Zac Brooks had Tigers fans roaring when he ran over Sooners safety Ahmad Thomas on a sweep. Oklahoma running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon were shaken up by jarring hits. Wayne Gallman knocked off Oklahoma safety Steven Parker’s helmet fighting for extra yardage.
“They played a more physical way than we did,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “We were outplayed badly in the second half.”
The defeat was the Sooners’ first since they were beaten by rival Texas in October. Since then they had averaged 52 points a game.
“There’s no doubt that we’ve been the more physical team now for about seven weeks in a row,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. “But we weren’t tonight.”
Clemson outscored Oklahoma 21-0 during a 15-minute span in the second half to take control of the game. The elusive Watson gave the Sooners fits and finished with 145 yards rushing.
“We just didn’t tackle,” Striker said. “Guys were in position to make a play. That’s what hurt the most.”
The Tigers (14-0) advance to the championship game Jan. 11, when they’ll face the winner of the Cotton Bowl semifinal between Alabama and Michigan State.
It was another December disappointment for Mayfield, who voiced his displeasure with not being invited to New York as a Heisman Trophy finalist. He finished behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and Watson.
He left without talking to reporters.
Stoops said Clemson’s pass rush made Mayfield’s job difficult.
“You have to compliment them giving him struggles,” Stoops said. “At times he was scrambling around and waiting for something to come open.”
The Sooners led 7-3 and had Clemson pinned inside the 5 early in the second quarter, but on the first play Watson broke free on the read-option for 46 yards.
Later on the same drive, a fake punt fooled the Sooners and turned the game around. Clemson’s Christian Wilkins, a 315-pound defensive tackle who plays on special teams, slipped behind two defenders on fourth and 4 and caught a 31-yard pass from punter Andy Teasdall, giving the Tigers a first down at the 13.
“We go over all kinds of fake punts every week,” Stoops said. “We were late getting to the guy down the boundary – it was our lack of execution.”
Clemson scored two plays later for a 10-7 lead.
The Sooners trailed 23-17 when they were stopped on fourth-and-1 at the Clemson 30. Perine took a direct snap, ran up the middle and was stuffed for no gain.
That was Oklahoma’s last gasp – Clemson scored another TD four plays later. Parker was beaten on a short route by Hunter Renfrow and slipped to the turf, and the result was a 35-yard touchdown to put the Tigers up 30-17.
Then came Mayfield’s interceptions.
Clemson drove 66 yards in the final 1:34 of the half and had a third down at the 15 when Watson lofted a desperation pass into heavy coverage in the end zone, and Zack Sanchez intercepted. That allowed Oklahoma to retain a 17-16 lead at halftime.
The Tigers took the kickoff to start the second half and marched 75 yards for a touchdown to take the lead for good.
The Sooners came up two wins short in a bid for their eighth Associated Press national championship, and first since 2000.
“Most everybody on the team is coming back, so this is the beginning of next year,” senior linebacker Frank Shannon said. “This team is probably going to take it all next year.”