Every week Sooners Illustrated will break down a few players and a few units and assign them grades based on their performance.
Here are the Orange Bowl grades:
Baker Mayfield – C: One final grade for Mayfield, and it might have been his worst mark of the season. He earned pretty low marks against Texas, but Mayfield’s performance against Clemson actually hurt Oklahoma early. Bob Stoopsclearly came to grips early that he has no choice but to live with Mayfield’s never-say-die style on the field.
Early sacks really killed Oklahoma’s offensive momentum after a first-drive touchdown staked the Sooners’ to a lead. Mayfield never got better, even though most were waiting for another big, game-changing moment that he had conjured up so many times this season.
Mayfield was sacked five times, giving the Sooners 41 allowed sacks this season – a mark that is one of the worst in the nation. He went 26-for-41 for 311 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers aren’t bad, but they weren’t going to win Oklahoma the Orange Bowl when it went away from the run.
Dominique Alexander – B: Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops doesn’t like to use a spy on opposing quarterbacks too often, but to control Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, he had to at some point. Alexander drew that assignment, and he looked pretty good doing it early on in the game.
But Watson broke lose eventually, rushing for more than 100 yards before halftime. Alexander finished with a game-high 12 tackles but missed a tackle in the hole on a big run early in the second half that helped Clemson get the ball rolling on a 21-point unanswered close. Alexander needed helped with Watson, as so many other players have in the past. He never really got it.
Secondary – C+: Clemson didn’t attack the secondary too much, but when the Tigers took shots, they almost always got them – whether by penalty, missed tackle or bad coverage. Clemson averaged a little more than 10 yards per pass, but it was the individual plays that made the Sooners’ re-vamped secondary look bad.
Zack Sanchez might have saved Oklahoma and given the Sooners life with a last-seconds interception before halftime. Jordan Thomas’ inability to make clean tackles and Steven Parker’s blown coverage/missed gamble set the Sooners back.
Lincoln Riley – C-: It wasn’t Clemson’s elite secondary or the score that made Oklahoma one-dimensional just a few plays into the second half. It was Riley or maybe more so it was Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, both of whom were hurt and missed significant time.
Riley mentioned it four times in four questions: How the injuries to Oklahoma’s top two running backs changed the way the Sooners operated on offense. But sheer play-calling did as much as injuries. Oklahoma threw the ball 46 times compared to just 28 called runs.
That ratio wasn’t going to cut it against Clemson pass defense.
Offensive line – D: Now, the offensive line didn’t help the running game either. In fact, the Sooners’ offensive line in the Orange Bowl was pretty abysmal. Five sacks was the most allowed since the Red River Showdown and Oklahoma’s 67 rushing yards matched the horrid output from the loss to Texas.
The only saving grace was that the Sooners ran the ball four fewer times in the Orange Bowl than in the Cotton Bowl more than two months early. The line failed to pick up stunts for much of the game and lost plenty of one-on-one battles against the highly ranked Clemson pass rush.
Six different players registered a sack for the Tigers, who played basically then entire game without leading pass rusher Shaq Lawson.