It was about as dull of a bowl season as seen in recent memory, but No. 1 Clemson and No. 2 Alabama saved the best for last in a fantastic national championship contest.
The Crimson Tide pulled it out in the fourth quarter, earning the 45-40 win against the Tigers to win their fourth national championship in seven years.
For the first time in seven years, Oklahoma was once again part of the national championship equation. The Sooners, the Big 12 champions, earned a No. 4 ranking before being taken down by Clemson 37-17 in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
The final AP poll has OU at No. 5. Four spots away from where it wants to be. And after examining Monday night’s thriller, the Sooners are close but still so far.
Here are some things that marked the Tide and Tigers and whether or not the Sooners have what it takes in 2016.
Stellar quarterback play
Lost in the Bama win is going to be the incredible outing by quarterback Deshaun Watson. He threw for 405 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 73 more yards in the losing effort.
Watson finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and showed why on the biggest stage of them all. He was able to thread the needle on a number of big throws to go with his trademark of extending plays and making things happen with his legs.
The Sooners 100 percent have this in 2016 with Baker Mayfield. The former walk-on came from nowhere to finish fourth in the Heisman race.
The only concern will be his health. Mayfield suffered a concussion in two of the last three games he played. He still seems like himself on social media since the season has ended, but he cannot afford to take many more hits like he did vs. TCU and Clemson.
Powerhouse running back
There’s a reason he was the Heisman winner, and Alabama running back Derrick Henry was once again a workhorse for the Tide against the Tigers.
Henry rushed for 158 yards and three touchdowns, including what ended up being the championship-winning score in the final minute.
Once again, OU is fine here. The Sooners won’t have just one back but two high profile backs that you can count on to carry the ball and deliver.
Running back Samaje Perine underwent ankle surgery Monday. From all reports, everything went well and OU announced he will miss spring football. Not a huge deal as it will give Joe Mixon even more time with more reps.
Mixon also suffered a concussion against Clemson, the first known of his career. He should be fine and ready to roll for spring ball. OU is not lacking in the running game whatsoever.
A dominant defensive line
Clemson’s defensive line did all it could to win the championship in the first half. The Tigers, paced by Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson, had four sacks in the first half. The Tide made adjustments in the second half and the Tigers ended with five sacks.
Clemson also got to Mayfield five times in the Orange Bowl, and it was clear from the start just how physical and dominant that group has become for the Tigers.
This will be a question going forward for the Sooners, especially with Charles Tapper leaving. Charles Walker is a dynamic talent, and Matthew Romar fared well as someone who can clog up the middle.
For this line to make the leap it will be because of guys who haven’t even played yet. Redshirt freshmen Du’Vonta Lampkin and Neville Gallimore are expected to be the next major names on the line, and 2016 would be a great time to start that.
Depth in the interior
Watson seemed like he was on his way to having an all-time legendary outing against Bama when the Tide’s depth started to show in the second half.
When backups are former five-star recruits, well, that’s just how the Tide rolls. Watson did a lot of his damage with his legs in the first two-and-a-half quarters.
Rashaan Evans came up huge for the Tide with two sacks in the second half and Da’Shawn Hand, one of those five-star backups, had two tackles for loss as Bama was able to use all of its bodies to stop the Tigers run game.
Another point of issue for OU. It was clear the defensive line had nothing left in the tank in the second half against the Tigers. So it’s up to the personnel going forward to figure it out.
Guys like Matt Dimon, D.J. Ward who have had moments, need to make that next step. Tackle Marquise Overton has to be ready to expand his game. And then perhaps someone from the 2016 class can make an imprint, especially if defensive line coach Diron Reynolds closes as strong as he is able to in next three weeks.
Utilizing the tight end
It has been written a boatload of times since Monday night about Bama’s lack of O.J. Howard for nearly his entire career until Monday.
Howard was the key with five catches for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Clemson seemingly just wasn’t ready for Howard to have that break out game.
The Tigers didn’t seem ready for Mark Andrews, either. OU just has to figure out how to use him more and make him a bigger part of the offense. He had two catches for 32 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers and was open in space when out there.
Part of it will be Andrews maturing as a blocker in his assignments to earn the right to be there more, and you imagine Andrews will get more looks with guys like Sterling Shepard and Durron Neal departing. Mayfield knows he can trust Andrews.
You can even lump Dimitri Flowers in this conversation, too. OU has those guys who can give you sneaky production like Flowers and Andrews and their best days should be still to come.
Coming up big on special teams
No question Monday’s game turned on special teams. From Alabama’s gutsy onside kick call in the fourth quarter to Kenyan Drake’s kickoff return for a touchdown for the Tide later in that same quarter.
Special teams were just that, special. Clemson did the same to OU with the fake punt that arguably turned the tide of that game in the second quarter.
OU’s special teams were regular in 2015. Kicker/punter Austin Seiber did a great job, but the return and blocking/coverage units left a lot to be desired.
Outside of one Alex Ross kickoff return in Bedlam, there was nothing to talk about in either return game. And when it came to field goal and punt block, it was non-existent.
Jay Boulware had to deal with a lot of missing pieces in 2015 and perhaps just was never able to figure it out. The Sooners need to be dynamic again in special teams. OU will need those momentum swings in 2016.null