It’s going to take a while for Oklahoma fans to get excited about playing in the Russell Athletic Bowl in three weeks. That wasn’t supposed to be the destination for the Sooners this season.
But at 8-4 and unranked, OU does have a nice opponent in 17th-ranked Clemson as the Tigers will come in at 9-3.
OU coach Bob Stoops and Clemson coach Dabo Swinney both had a teleconference Sunday evening to talk about the matchup.
Take No. 1: Venables was the talk of the night
Hard to look any other direction when talking about this matchup than Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who is quite familiar with both programs.
Venables came to Clemson after several years as an assistant with the Sooners and was actually sitting next to Swinney on the call Sunday night.
“It’s a little different, but we’re still great friends,” Stoops said. “The longer you are in coaching, the more people you know, I guess. You are bound to run into some of your good buddies here and there. For about four hours, we’ll have to go against each other.”
The Tigers defense has excelled under Venables, especially this season. Clemson is ranked No. 1 overall in the country for total defense and is No. 7 for scoring defense, among other top-10 defensive accomplishments this season.
“He has done an awesome job,” Stoops said. “Just watching his guys. Like always, playing disciplined, playing hard and playing well. Again, no surprise to me.”
Take No. 2: OU has to move on
Fans are going to continue to vent frustrations after losing to Bedlam rival Oklahoma State in overtime. But it’s going to be key for OU’s coaches and players to put it behind them and start focusing on the Tigers.
Stoops is confident his players can bounce back and that the Bedlam blunder won’t affect these next three weeks.
“I don’t think, win or lose, that it really makes a difference in bowl games,” Stoops said. “It’s just a guy’s willingness to want to play well and knowing they are playing a great opponent. All that put together motivates them. If they want to look good, they have to prepare to be.”
Take No. 3: Watson’s status up in the air
Heading into the week, it seemed like it was a no-brainer that Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was going to play. But Swinney sort of backed off that thought.
“At this point we may go ahead and do surgery, try and get him in a three-week head start on his rehab,” Swinney said. “Really want him to get all the skills and drills done this summer. That’s something we’re going to visit on pretty soon.”
Watson sprained his LCL in a loss to Georgia Tech on Nov. 15 and partially tore his ACL the next week in practice.
Swinney said the decision will be made in the next day or so. If Watson doesn’t play, it will be senior Cole Stoudt taking over. Swinney also announced assistant coaches Tony Elliott and Jeff Scott will call the plays as former offensive coordinator Chad Morris left the program to become SMU’s head coach.