Dominant Tigers finish the job

Dabo Swinney said leading up to the Russell Athletic Bowl that the Clemson Tigers had the best bowl preparation he has been around. The players backed up their head coach’s strong words Monday night.

Clemson dominated from the very first play, offensively, defensively, on special teams and in coaching, and cruised to a 40-6 domination of Oklahoma.

It was never close, and it was exactly the kind of performance Tigers fans wanted to see from Cole Stoudt, their defense and everyone else on the roster to wrap up the 2014 season in memorable fashion.

The Tigers finished with 387 yards of offense, including 319 passing, and they held the Sooners to one late score when the game was already decided. Oklahoma managed 275 yards of total offense, but most of those came in the fourth quarter after the Clemson defensive starters left the game.

Swinney and the coaching staff have to be commended for the job they did getting this team ready to play this game. There were a lot of things that could have been distractions – playing without Deshaun Watson, defensive coordinator Brent Venables facing his former program, Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott’s first game as co-offensive coordinators, Brandon Streeter’s first game as the quarterbacks coach – but none of those things derailed the Tigers’ focus.

Clemson was the better team, the more prepared team and the better-coached team from start to finish.

GOING OUT IN STYLE
There was only one clear choice for MVP of the game, right? If the award couldn’t go to the entire defense, there was one pick and one pick only. And that was Stoudt.

The senior has had a trying season, to say the least. But he put a stamp on his Clemson career with one of the all-time great bowl performances in the program’s history.

He looked like the Stoudt the coaching staff expected to see play this season. He looked like the Stoudt who played in the first half against Georgia.

But, in fact, he looked even better, completing 26-of-36 passes for 319 yards and three touchdown passes as things just went his way throughout the game. Even the one real mistake he made, an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Oklahoma, was brought back by a penalty as the Sooners jumped offsides.

Stoudt got things going from the very first play, hitting Artavis Scott with a screen pass, and Scott did the rest, going the distance for the opening score to set the tone for the offense. Scott finished with eight catches for 114 yards, and Mike Williams had nine catches for 112 yards, and those two could form a potent combination next season.

The Tigers only ran for 68 yards on 42 carries, led by Wayne Gallman’s 55 yards on 19 carries, but they didn’t need many yards the way Stoudt was playing, and Gallman still was very physical with his runs.

Stoudt was the story, and it was a storybook ending for his career. He has been a class act during his time with the program, and he deserved the ending he wrote to his story Monday night.

DOMINANT DEFENSE
The defense also set the tone early, and it dominated a bowl opponent the way Clemson defenses used to dominate bowl opponents in the 1980s. Trevor Knight looked a lot like West Virginia’s Major Harris in the 1989 Gator Bowl: confused, harassed and completely outmatched by the Clemson defense.

Knight completed 17-of-37 passes for 103 yards and threw three interceptions as the Tigers forced five turnovers and held the Sooners to 2-of-12 on third downs. Samaje Perine, who was a star for the Sooners during the season, did rush for 134 yards on 23 carries, but he was bottled up for the first three quarters and padded his stats at the end of the game after the Clemson defensive starters left the contest.

The Clemson defense was more physical and athletic and was faster than the Oklahoma offense from the very start of the game. The first two series – two quick three-and-outs – really showed that this unit was there to play, and it was serious about the game.

And that proved to be too much for the Sooners to handle.

SPECIAL GROUP
Twice during the final quarter, the Clemson coaching staff called a timeout to let the seniors come off the field together. First came the defensive seniors. And then came the offensive seniors.

Those were two special moments for a special group of seniors.

Clemson’s seniors earned their 42nd win Monday night, setting the program record. For the fourth straight year, that group helped lead the program to double-digit wins, something that had happened only once before in the program’s history.

The Tigers also won three straight bowl games during that time, beating LSU, Ohio State and Oklahoma – three of the nation’s top programs. The seniors helped set a standard, along with the previous couple of senior classes, and sent a message that this program is headed in the right direction.


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