The Clemson Tigers Win the 2015 College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl
By Craig Barnes
MIAMI GARDENS – After giving away momentum and trailing 17-16 at halftime, No. 1 Clemson roared back in the second half, shutting out No. 4 Oklahoma, and beating the Sooners 37-17 in the Capital One Orange Bowl and advancing to the national championship game.
The Tigers (14-0) will be playing for their first national championship since they won it in 1981 with 22-15 victory over Nebraska in the 1982 Orange Bowl. Oklahoma, who had a seven-game winning streak snapped, finished 12-2 before a crowd of 67,615 at Sun Life Stadium.
Clemson, who beat Oklahoma 40-6 in the 2014 Russell Athletic Bowl, will play Alabama, a 38-0 winner over Michigan State, in Glendale, Ariz. on Jan. 11.
The Tigers become the eighth team to enter the national championship game with 14 wins. Five of those teams have won the title, but none of them have finished with 15 wins.
“Never been a 14-0 team at Clemson, so it sounds good,” coach Dabo Swinney said. “Our team has shown a lot of heart and had guts all year long. I told them, ‘You ain’t favored to win the damn game, but you ain’t no underdog. They just got great heart, and it showed.”
Clemson’s offense led by quarterback Deshaun Watson and running back Wayne Gallman rolled by 533 yards on Oklahoma’s defense.
Watson, the game’s Most Outstanding Player, had 145 yards in 24 carries rushing with a 5-yard touchdown and completed 16 of 30 passes for 187 yards with a 35-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow. Watson’s rushing yards and attempts were Orange Bowl records for a quarterback.
Gallman rushed for 150 yards in 26 carries with touchdowns of 1 and 4 yards. He had 111 yards on 19 carries in the second half. The Tigers finished 530 yards on offense and outgained the Sooners 225 to 121 yards in the second half.
Greg Huegel kicked field goal of 26, 36 and 43 yards to complete Clemson’s scoring and set a school record for field goal in a season at 25.
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 26 of 41 for 311 yards with and 11-yard pass to Mark Andrews, but he also had two interceptions. Samaje Perine led the OU rushers with 58 yards on 11 carries and 1-yard touchdown.
Trailing 17-16 with 1:29 left in the half, Clemson didn’t back down. The Tigers drove to the Sooners’ 15. On third down, Watson tried to hit tight end Jordan Leggett in the back of the end zone. Oklahoma’s Zack Sanchez outfought the taller Leggett and intercepted the pass leaving the Sooners with the halftime lead.
Clemson took the second half kickoff, much like Oklahoma did to start the game, and drove 75 yards in 12 plays with Gallman running 1 yard for a 23-17 lead after only 4:09 had elapsed.
“We physically won in the trenches,” Swinney said. “That’s what this game is all about, beating the guy in front of you. We weren’t scoring in the red zone, but we got that fixed in the second half. We’re 51-0 when we take the lead into the fourth quarter, so I said let’s go win the third quarter because we know what happens in the fourth quarter.”
Oklahoma drove to the Clemson 30 one possession later where it faced a fourth down. There, Coach Bob Stoops gambled and gave the ball to Perine, and he was stopped by Kendall Joseph. From there, it was downhill for the Sooners.
Clemson scored two more times as Watson threw 35 yards to Renfrow who beat Steven Parker, and Gallman ran 4 yards for the final score.
Based on the game’s opening possession, it looked as if Oklahoma might have a big offensive day. The Sooners took the kickoff and went 75 yards in 10 plays with Perine gaining 33 yards in 5 carries including the final 1-yard touchdown run.
Following a 24-yard punt by Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert, Clemson went 19 yards in 9 plays but settled for a 26-yard Huegel field goal, cutting the deficit to 7-3.
Oklahoma’s next three possessions were halted by a 14-yard sack of Mayfield by Shaq Lawson, a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Dimitri Flowers, and a 7-yard sack of Mayfield by Ben Boulware and Richard Yeargin.
Clemson rewarded its defense by scoring on three straight possessions. The momentum turned on a fourth and 4 play from the OU 44 when punter Andy Teasdall completed a 31-yard pass to defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. Two plays later, Watson scored on a 5-yard run and 10-7 lead.
The last time Teasdall tried a fake punt was against North Carolina in the ACC Championship game, but it was not called then. Swinney left Teasdall on the bench at halftime to consider his decision, but he obviously did not lose confidence in his punter’s throwing ability.
Huegel added field goals of 36 and 43 yards for a 16-10 lead with 2:17 left before halftime.
This time, Oklahoma answered by going 67 yards in 10 plays for a 22-yard Seibert field goal pulling to within 16-10. Mayfield’s 19-yard pass to Sterling Shepard on third and 4 from the Clemson 23 was the big play.
On its next possession, the Sooners retook the lead on Mayfield’s 11-yard pass to Andrews completing a 4 play, 76-yard drive. The big play was a 42-yard pass from Mayfield to Westbrook who beat Cordrea Tankersley.
Clemson drove to the Oklahoma 15, but Watson’s interception prevented the Tigers from taking the lead. It was one of several times when the offense didn’t get touchdowns in the red zone, only this time it was a turnover, not a field goal that ended their hopes. Still, it set up what was coming in the second half.
“We went down there six or seven times but some of them were just field goals,” Watson said. “Our defense stepped up, and the offense started to score touchdowns. With both units playing good, hey, we dominated.”
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