SoonersIllustrated.com is going to set the stage every week, breaking down Oklahoma’s upcoming game during the 2015 season.
No. 4 Oklahoma (11-1) vs. No. 1 Clemson (13-0)
When: 4 p.m.
Where: Orange Bowl, Miami
Oklahoma closed the season averaging more than 50 points per game over its seven-game win streak to make a run into the College Football Playoff. Clemson . . . well, Clemson never lost a game all season and has posted a school record for consecutive games with at least 500 yards of offense. The layoff will have an affect on both teams. It’s all a matter of how much it affects each team and in what way. There’s a mental battle and a physical battle that can’t really be answered until kickoff.
Intense practices are nice, but there’s a difference when the lights turn on and when the Orange Bowl begins. Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said that he liked the intensity of practice Monday, so that’s a positive sign.
Oklahoma’s offensive attack is built primarily on timing and familiarity. This season, the Sooners have been able to replicate games by going with “best-on-best.” Clemson’s instinctual quarterback Deshaun Watson can’t get rusty for the Tigers either, although Oklahoma might be better off it he does.
There is just no answer to this question before kickoff. By the end of the first quarter, it will be clear.
An educated guess: Clemson comes into the Orange Bowl with the fifth-best passing defense in the country. It has been noted before but the Sooners’ are by far the best passing attack that the Tigers have seen all season. That doesn’t mean Oklahoma will necessarily make Clemson’s 166.9-yard average spike. There’s a pretty good chance that it takes a hit, though. In fact, Baker Mayfield throws for at least twice that many yards, surpassing 320. He’ll need to because Watson puts together a special showing, proving that the Oklahoma defense still has trouble with elite mobile quarterbacks. The two quarterbacks combined for more than 700 yards of total offense but also commit three turnovers, which wind up making a bigger difference in the game.
Player to watch: Usually go with a player in this spot, but we're going to shift gears and go with coach to watch. This is the showcase game for offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. He has to make sure this offense is humming the way it was during the stretch run of the regular season. The quicker it gets rolling, obviously the better it is for the Sooners. The tempo needs to be there from the jump. (Przybylo)
Hite – In all likelihood, this game turns in to an offensive shootout more than a defensive stalemate. There will be big plays on either side, and it would seem that handling the emotional swings of the game should be key. No one pulls more than 10 points away from the other all game, but a late interception turns the tide – maybe a send-off moment for Zack Sanchez. Watson doesn’t make many bad decisions, but he makes one in the fourth quarter and allows Oklahoma to ice the game. Sooners move on to the national championship, 42-37.
Przybylo – OU fans get ready to sweat this one out. Clemson is undefeated and ranked No. 1 for a reason. The Sooners will have their hands full with Watson, who puts up Heisman-ish numbers no matter what the outcome is. The difference becomes OU's running game in the second half as a healthy Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon carry the day to give OU its 13th win in the Orange Bowl. We'll say something like 38.34.