WHAT: Clemson (9-3) vs. Oklahoma (8-4)
WHEN: 5:30 p.m., Monday
WHERE: Orlando, Fla.
SPREAD: Okalhoma by 3.5
OKLAHOMA RUN GAME VS CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Clemson’s group up front on defense has been terrific the entire season, except for the second half against Georgia in the season opener. And this bowl game offers maybe the toughest test against the run since that game. The Sooners have a big, veteran group up front on their offensive line, and they have a terrific runner behind that line who is a dynamic weapon. Samaje Perine has 240 carries for 1,579 yards and 21 touchdowns, and he ranks eighth in the nation in rushing as a freshman. The Tigers will be shorthanded for the first half as Stephone Anthony serves a suspension for a targeting penalty against South Carolina in the season finale. That could hurt, but there is enough talent in the Clemson linebacker corps to make it through a half.
OKLAHOMA PASS ATTACK VS CLEMSON PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
Quarterback Trevor Knight returns to the Sooners’ offense, and that should be a big boost for Oklahoma. Knight has completed 58.1 percent of his attempts and has thrown for 2,197 yards with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Sterling Shepard leads the receivers with 50 catches for 957, and he has five touchdowns, while Durron Neal has 40 catches for 508 yards and three touchdowns. Again, things start up front for the Sooners because their line gives Knight – and the other quarterbacks who have played – time to throw the ball without facing much pressure. Clemson’s defensive line and linebackers have gotten pressure on pretty much everyone they have faced this year, so that matchup will be pivotal to this contest. If Vic Beasley and the rest of the front can force Knight into mistakes, the defense could have a big game.
CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. OKLAHOMA FRONT SEVEN
Wayne Gallman has become the leader of the running backs for the Tigers with 142 carries for 714 yards and four touchdowns. He had a breakout game against South Carolina as the offensive line had its best outing of the season. Still, the Gamecocks’ front can’t match the Sooners’ group that allows just 3.2 yards per carry and 109.6 yards per game on the ground. Clemson needs to have the same kind of ground production it had against South Carolina to help keep things balanced and not put too much pressure on Cole Stoudt at quarterback.
CLEMSON PASS ATTACK VS. OKLAHOMA PASS RUSH/SECONDARY
Stoudt needs to focus on one simple aspect of this game – protecting the ball. When he has done that, he has been solid, but there have been enough times (10 interceptions) when he has been too careless with the ball, and it has put the team in bad spots. Stoudt has thrown for 1,573 yards and six touchdowns, and Mike Williams (48 catches for 918 yards and five touchdowns) and Artavis Scott (68 catches for 851 yards and seven touchdowns) have stepped up to lead the receiver corps. An interesting part of this matchup is that Oklahoma’s pass defense is suspect, and it can be had if Stoudt can protect the ball and if the Clemson line can protect him. The Sooners have allowed 272.7 passing yards per game with 20 touchdowns. They have 12 interceptions, led by Zack Sanchez’s six.
Michael Hunnicutt and Jed Barnett have been solid for the Sooners in the kicking game. Hunnicutt has made 13-of-18 field goal tries, while Jed Barnett has a 40.6-yard punting average. Ammon Lakip and Bradley Pinion have been even better, and the Tigers have used that to their advantage for most of the season, especially after Lakip’s slow start.
This game has so many interesting story lines on the Tigers’ side: Brent Venables against his former program, Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott taking over as co-offensive coordinators, Anthony’s absence for the first half. But the main one is the play of Stoudt. If he’s solid and protects the ball, this is a game Clemson can win. If he’s sloppy and turnover-prone, it could be a long day.
Bet on the senior having one of his best games.
PREDICTION: Clemson 20, Oklahoma 16
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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