5 questions to answer against Sooners

Every team has question marks entering a bowl game, and Clemson is no different going into Monday’s Russell Athletic against Oklahoma.

Here are five key factors the Tigers must focus on if they’re going to knock off the Sooners:

Is it a new-look offense?
OK, the offense isn’t likely to change much without Chad Morris calling the plays. The Tigers are still going to go up-tempo, and the system that Morris helped put into place has been successful enough that it would be silly to change it.

But with Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott serving as co-coordinators and Elliott being the primary play-caller, it’s natural that things will be a little different. But how different will things be?

Will the Tigers be as aggressive throwing the ball downfield? Will they run the quarterbacks as much as Morris did (probably not likely without Deshaun Watson)? What new wrinkles will fans – and the Sooners – see in Monday’s game?

All of those things make Monday’s game really intriguing from an offensive standpoint.

Solid finish for Stoudt?
Cole Stoudt struggled in his senior season. There’s no denying that.

But he can really go out with a bang with a solid performance against Oklahoma. Clemson should follow the same game plan it used against South Carolina, although it’s obvious that the Gamecocks’ defense up front isn’t as strong as the Sooners’ unit.

In that 35-17 win, Clemson got the ball to Artavis Scott anyway it could. It used Mike Williams downfield. And it showcased Wayne Gallman in the running game as the offensive line had its best game of the season.

Stoudt should watch a lot of that game film and find the confidence he had in the opening half against Georgia in the season opener. His focus should be on protecting the ball and getting it to his playmakers and not trying to do anything flashy or force the ball into tight spaces. If the Tigers can do those things Monday, it should be a positive finish for Stoudt and the offense.

Defense without Anthony … for a half?
The laughable (to be nice) targeting call on Stephone Anthony against South Carolina seemed to fire up the defense even more than it already was. And it came up with its game-changing goal-line stand in the third quarter.

But that call also will force Anthony to sit for the first half Monday. It will be interesting to see how the defensive unit responds without its leader.

There is plenty of talent on this defense for sure (just wait until the NFL draft this spring), so it should be able to survive for a half. But Anthony does so many little things that sometimes get overlooked, and the other linebackers are going to have to step up and get those things done. Expect Tony Steward, Ben Boulware, Kellen Jones and company to get the job done for a half and then unleash Anthony in the second half.

Bowl games typically come down to which team actually wants to be at the game. So which team will it be?

Oklahoma was picked by many before the season to win the national title or at least be in the inaugural College Football Playoff. So will the Sooners be excited about playing Clemson in a lower-tier bowl game on Dec. 29?

The Tigers should be plenty motivated. If they can win this game, they will get to double-digit wins for the fourth straight season, and the program has had that happen just once: 1987 to 1990. Plus, a Clemson win will give it bowl wins the past three years over LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma. That would be impressive.

The past two years, the Tigers had plenty of determination heading into the bowl game after blowout losses to South Carolina.

This year, however, Clemson has to try to keep up its momentum from its first win over the Gamecocks since 2009. If Watson was healthy and able to play, there would be little doubt that Clemson would be favored to keep that momentum going. But with him out, things change quite a bit, and the Tigers will need Stoudt to step up and play a steady game.

There are plenty of warm feelings about this program right now (even with the three losses to Georgia, Florida State and Georgia Tech) because of the win over South Carolina and the ultra-talented incoming recruiting class.

A win Monday would be yet another boost to that momentum.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.

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