First Look: Clemson

Tigers have one of the best defenses in the country, explosive offense


Final record:9-3

Final College Football Playoff Ranking: No. 17

Sneak Peak

Replacing a four-year starter at quarterback, the Clemson Tigers lost to the only three ranked teams on the schedule – in overtime to Florida State, Georgia and Georgia Tech. Balanced on offense, the Tigers were led by their defense, which pitched a pair of shutouts and held two other teams to seven points or less. Former Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables is calling the shots for the Clemson defense now. In its lone national appearance, Clemson nearly upset Florida State – taking the Seminoles to overtime after a late collapse.

Clemson won seven of its last eight games this season, finishing second in the ACC Atlantic division.

Freshman Deshaun Watson, who has a torn ACL but will play in the Russell Athletic Bowl according to Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney and missed four games this season with other injuries, replaced four-year starter Tahj Boyd. Watson also missed parts of two other games with injuries leaving senior Cole Stoudt to fill in. Clemson’s top receiving options lack experience as well. The top three are two sophomores and a freshman, but Mike Williams and Artavis Scott combined for 116 receptions, 1,769 yards and 12 touchdowns. Freshman running back Wayne Gallman led Clemson with 714 yards and a 5-yard per carry average.

However, the Tigers will be without offensive coordinator Chad Morris who took the head coaching job at SMU after leading the three most productive offensive seasons in the school history.

Worst moment of the season

Still in shambles trying to replace a trio of NFL receivers in the past two years and a veteran quarterback, Clemson lost a late lead to Florida State. The Tigers were 1-2 after their ACC opener and seemed destined for a mediocre season after back-to-back 11-win seasons. On national television, the Clemson team was questioned and the coaching staff was humiliated by poor play-calling late.

Best moment of the season

After losing five straight games to in-state rival South Carolina that overshadowed a pair a ACC titles, the Tigers knocked off the Gamecocks in the regular season finale. With a freshman quarterback, running and top receiver, the Tigers gained 491 yards in a thorough domination of the Gamecocks.

Player to Watch

Freshman running back Wayne Gallman: When Clemson played Florida State, Gallman was buried on the bench. He had just six touches. In the last six games, he’s had a least 15 carries – twice rushing more than 25 times. The only game in which he wasn’t significantly involved was a shutout victory against Georgia State. Through the past four games, Gallman is averaging 4.96 yards per carry and has scored three or his four touchdowns during the latter third of the year. His biggest game came in the Tigers last one – a 27-carry, 191-yard performance in a victory against South Carolina.

Best matchup

Oklahoma’s offensive line vs. Clemson pressure - The Tigers’ pass rush averages 3.67 sacks per game – seventh-best in the country. The Oklahoma offensive line has allowed just eight sacks all year – fewest in the nation.

Why Oklahoma could lose

Two reasons: The Tigers can play defense and pass the football. Although the biggest scare for Oklahoma should come in the fact that Clemson doesn’t have a star quarterback. The Sooners have made a habit out of making average quarterbacks look really good this season.

Clemson boasts the seventh-best rushing defense in the country and one of only seven teams averaging less than 100 yards on the ground. The Tigers’ pass defense isn’t bad either. In fact, it’s even better – third-best in the nation.

They’re seventh-best in scoring defense as well (17.6 points per game).

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