Except for one big switch and every member of the defense that spoke Sunday after Oklahoma learned that it would head to the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve to play the Clemson Tigers mentioned it.
Gone is the statuesque Cole Stoudt, who quarterbacked Clemson into handing Oklahoma its worst bowl loss since the 2004 national championship in Miami against USC. At the helm of the Clemson attack that ranks 12th in the nation in total offense is dual-threat, Heisman-contending signal caller Deshaun Watson.
"They're not drastically different than they were a year ago," said Stoops, who added that Oklahoma will start focusing on Clemson next weekend. "The mobility of the quarterback is different. His ability to rush for over 100 yards (Saturday) night, you could see the quarterback run game was much more prevalent in this game than it had been going into last year's game. . . Their ability to run with the quarterback creates some more stress on your defense."
Watson missed last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl because of an injury, but his impact is clearly front and center in the minds of Oklahoma’s defense.
Some of his weapons have changed, but some still remain the same.
Sophomore running back Wayne Gallman is back, having nearly double his rushing yardage and rushing touchdowns totals. Fellow sophomore receiver Artavis Scott has 84 catches this year after an eight-catch, 114-yard and one-touchdown performance against Oklahoma last year.
6-foot-4 receiver Mike Williams, who was Clemson’s leading receiver last year, won’t be back after suffering a neck injury in the first game of the season and being officially ruled out for the bowl game Sunday.
It’ll all start and end with Watson, who has 10 rushing touchdowns to go with 30 through the air, for a Clemson offense that has a school record, nine-straight games with at least 500 yards of total offense.
“He’s a great quarterback,” Oklahoma linebacker Eric Striker said. “I mean, everything about their offense, he is. As far as running, you’ve gotta account for him in every way. It’s going to be a great challenge defensively trying to slow him down or stop him. We’ve got time to prepare for that very well, regardless of who the quarterback was. But that guy right there, he’s for real. You’ve gotta account for him in every part of the game."
Clemson has won 16 straight games and 22 of the last 23. The Tigers, who are the only undefeated team in the FBS, own ranked victories against Notre Dame, North Carolina and Florida State this season.
But they had a close call against South Carolina, which was playing under and interim coach, and on the road against Louisville in a three-point win to open ACC play.
It’s not just the Tigers’ offense, either. Brent Venables hasn’t lost a step on Clemson’s defense, which ranks fifth in passing defense and seventh total defense after a miserable season last year. In fact, Clemson resembles Oklahoma in a lot of ways, including its penchant for getting after the quarterback where both teams rank in the top-15.
Both have improved and aggressive defenses as well as young playmakers on offense. But, there are thouse two quarterbacks. Two players that could be seated next to each other in New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
“He’s their Bake,” Oklahoma cornerback Zack Sanchez said. “He does everything for them offensively. He's their sparkplug. Obviously, they've got a great defense, but he's up for the Heisman. We know what he did (in the ACC Championship Game). It was crazy numbers that he put up. Our main focus on defense is slowing him down and containing him."