The Clemson Tigers celebrate a third-quarter touchdown in their rout of Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. Next up? The NCAA National Championship game.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — How fitting it was that the aqua seats at Sun Life Stadium — which until this year were orange — for the Orange Bowl were predominantly filled by orange-clad fans, about three-quarters of the 67,615 in attendance cheering on the No. 1 team in the nation.
Yes, the only undefeated team left in college football, the one which was a 3½-point underdog to the No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners in this college football playoff semifinal on Thursday.
The Tigers and their supporters came here looking not only for a spot in the national championship game, but for respect. They got both.
After trailing by one at halftime, Clemson dominated the second half en route to a 37-17 victory to improve to 14-0. The ACC champions’ chance at perfection will come in the national title game on Jan. 11 in Glendale Ariz., against No. 2 Alabama, which thrashed No. 3 Michigan State, 38-0, in the Cotton Bowl on Thursday.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, the school’s first-ever Heisman finalist, rushed for 145 yards and a score and completed 16 of 31 passes for 187 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 150 yards and two scores, and for left guard Eric Mac Lain, the game turned on the very first play from scrimmage of the second half, when Gallman ran for 11 yards.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is revved up on the sidelines.
“We could tell at that moment they were done physically, maybe even a little bit mentally,” Mac Lain said. “We were just running all over them.”
The Tigers ran for 312 yards for the game as their defense pitched a shutout in the second half despite playing without star defensive lineman Shaq Lawson, who left in the first half with an MCL sprain and didn’t return.
Dabo Swinney’s willingness to pull out all the stops resulted in a game-changing play early in the second quarter, when the Clemson coach called for a fake punt on fourth-and-4 at the Oklahoma 44-yard line. Punter Andy Teasdall, who attempted a failed fake punt on his own in the ACC title game and was reamed out on the sideline by Swinney for it, threw a perfect touch pass up the left sideline to 268-pound defensive tackle Christian Wilkins for a 31-yard gain.
Watson’s 5-yard touchdown run two plays later put Clemson up 10-7.
Clemson’s Hunter Renfrow coasts in for a TD against Oklahoma.
“We shocked ‘em, didn’t we?” Swinney said. “Ain’t nobody covering that big ole guy.”
Baker Mayfield, who went 26-for-41 with 311 yards and two second-half interceptions, threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews with 1:34 left in the half to give the Sooners (11-2) a 17-16 lead, but missed tackles and bad penalties doomed them after the break.
“We talked going into the game that we wanted to play smart,” Sooners coach Bob Stoops said, “and we didn’t.”
Watson, the dual-threat dynamo, completed a 35-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow with 4:07 left in the third to put Clemson up, 30-17, and it was smooth sailing to the title game from there.
“He’s the best player in the country,” Swinney said of Watson. “It’s just that simple.”
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