We’ll introduce one key matchup every Wednesday until the Orange Bowl kicks off at 3 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.
Here’s your first key matchup:
1. Pass rush battle
If Queen’s “Under Pressure” is on loop in Baker Mayfield and Deshaun Watson’s heads, it would be hard to blame them. Across the line of scrimmage, both will be staring at a top-15 pass rush and a defense that ranks in the top-30 in tackles for loss. Both teams will bring the pressure and aren’t afraid to sell out to get to the quarterback.
These two teams are very similar in that aspect. Both have one elite pass rusher. Eric Striker has 7.5 sacks this season for Oklahoma whereas his counterpart, Clemson linebacker/defensive end hybrid Shaquille Lawson, has 9.5.
Striker has his sidekicks – Charles Tapper and Charles Walker, a pair of defensive linemen that have a combined 13 sacks. Lawson’s running mates, defensive end Kevin Dodd and line backer B.J. Goodson, have 13.5.
Oklahoma and Clemson both have 38 team sacks – the Tigers in one more game than the Sooners. They tie for fifth in the nation. The Sooners 7.1 tackles for loss is a little more than one fewer per game than Clemson (8.3), which ranks fifth nationally.
The two pass rushes are almost mirror images of each other. But it’s the other side of the line that could make the difference. Clemson has allowed just 14 sacks all season, barely more than one per game.
Oklahoma is a bit different.
While not all the sacks can be credited to the offensive line, Oklahoma has allowed 36 total – two-and-a-half times the total for the Tigers. Orlando Brown has been tested before, but he’ll get another nationally recognized pass rushers in Lawson. It’ll be up to Dru Samia to slow down Dodd.
Goodson, the Tigers’ middle linebacker, could come from any direction. Oklahoma’s best weapon against the Clemson pass rush is Mayfield, who will have to escape on occasion in the Orange Bowl but could help with quick passes and good decision-making. But we’ll touch on that a little bit more later on.