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 second key matchup:
2. Baker Mayfield vs. Clemson’s secondary
A quick look at the numbers, and this is the first real test. That idea extends to both teams.
Oklahoma is the best passing offense that Clemson has faced all season. It ranks 18th in the nation. The Tigers haven’t faced a passing offense ranked in the top 25 and have faced just two teams in the top 35.
Clemson is the best passing defense that Oklahoma has faced all season. It ranks fifth in the country. The Sooners haven’t faced a passing defense that is ranked in the top 50 and have faced just two teams in the top 60.
With all that out of the way, Oklahoma won’t be able to advance in the College Football Playoff if its passing game doesn’t become at least a shadow of its early-season potency. During the last three games, the Sooners haven’t eclipsed 270 yards of offense in the air – pulling Oklahoma’s average further down every game. But Oklahoma hasn’t had to pass much in the last month of the season. It was able to run the ball, pulling its average up with back-to-back 330-yard games to end the season.
Oklahoma hasn’t relied on Mayfield to win a game with his arm since maybe the Big 12 opener against West Virginia.
Mayfield likely won’t have to win the Orange Bowl on his own, but the passing game will be pushed back into the forefront because a one-dimensional offense won’t cut it against a Clemson offense that is one of the best in the country.
Nothing will have to change from what Oklahoma was doing.
Mayfield has just two interceptions in the last eight games, saying that Josh Heupel’s tutelage helped him to be a more cautious decision-maker. Mayfield will have to keep an extra eye on Cordrea Tankersley, Clemson’s cornerback who finished with five interceptions – second in the ACC.
The senior is a second-year starter as Clemson’s top cornerback but is a reserved player, letting his play do the talking.
Mayfield hasn’t made many mistakes all season. He’ll need to keep that trend going on New Year’s Eve.