The Oklahoma Sooners will need to keep Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon running wild

A potent ground game will be key if Oklahoma is going to come away with an Orange Bowl victory

During the next three weeks in the lead up to Oklahoma’s national semifinal matchup in the Orange Bowl against Clemson, Sooners Illustrated will examine the key matchups between the two teams.

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 last key matchup:

4. Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon have to keep the running game going.

Well, it’s not just Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The offensive line has help a little bit too.

Keeping a balanced offense against Clemson will be key. The Tigers boast one of the best pass defenses in the country, and if Oklahoma can’t get its ground game moving forward, it could be trouble for the Sooners.

Enter Perine and Mixon, who combined for 2,040 yards on the ground this season and finished the year averaging 235 yards per game. Oklahoma surpassed 170 yards per game just once through the first five games of the season. From there, Oklahoma never rushed for less than 232 and had more than 250 yards in five of the final seven games.

The air raid has shown some ground-and-pound elements for Oklahoma.

“When you have the backs that we have, that needs to be a big part of it,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.

In the gauntlet of November, Oklahoma rushed for at least 240 yards in every game, closed the season with back-to-back 330-plus yardage totals and averaged 306 yards per game – 5.96 yards per carry.

“I don’t know if I needed to wait for those games,” Stoops said of validating the potency of the run game. “But when you’re playing the top three ranked teams in the league in the end, then obviously you’re expecting to be challenge more. I felt and had confidence we would be effective. Fortunately, we were, highly effective. I didn’t realize this, somebody told me last week, we rushed the ball for more yards than anybody in the country the last seven games.”

And Stoops was right about that.

Clemson provides a different animal than Oklahoma has faced all season. No Big 12 team ranks the top 40 in the nation in run defense. Clemson allowed just 128.8 yards per game this season. Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU each averaged more than 155 yards per game. TCU and Oklahoma were over 182 yards.

The Tigers are proven as well, allowing just 71 yards on the ground against Georgia Tech – a triple option offense that finished seventh in the nation in average yards on the ground.

“They have established a mentality that people are going to doubt us every game, so let’s come out and show them,” Oklahoma receiver Durron Neal said said. “Let’s come out and hit them in the mouth. . . . During the season, they got so much talk about how experienced they were and if they were going to be good. They took it upon themselves to show people that they can be a great offensive line with two great running backs and a great quarterback.”

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