Propelled by a dominant performance in the second half, by both the offense and the defense, the No. 1 ranked Clemson Tigers took a 37-17 victory over No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl and now the Tigers will advance to the College Football Playoff National Championship to face No. 2 Alabama on Monday, January 11.
The win improves Clemson to 14-0 on the year headed into the title game, where it will meet the victor of Thursday night's Cotton Bowl matchup between No. 2 Alabama and No. 3 Michigan State. The Crimson Tide beat Michigan State 38-0 in the second semifinal Thursday. The title game between Clemson and Alabama will be played a week from next Monday. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is an Alabama alumnus who played on the Tide's 1992 national championship team. He was let go in 2000 after head coach Gene Stallings was sacked.
Whether you view that as a return to the dark side or not, it will be part of what fuels the anticipation for what figures to be a heck of a brawl.
Its impact: Clemson didn't score on the ensuing possession, but the Tigers did score another touchdown before the Sooners would get back into Clemson territory.
What happened: Clemson had missed a field goal attempt with 7:41 left in the third quarter, giving Oklahoma - which trailed by six at the time - another chance to go take the lead.
The Tigers played loose throughout, even pulling off some special teams trickery to set up their first TD. "Nothing is going to keep me from playing that game". "I guess it's like asking a coach to talk about a whole game at halftime", he said. Moreover, unlike Michigan State's Connor Cook, he's a dual threat, and athletic quarterbacks sometimes give Saban and his ravenous defense trouble.
"We're not anxious about who we play", said linebacker Ben Boulware, named the defensive MVP. Throw in Wayne Gallman, who gained 150 yards on the ground, and Clemson has weapons that could - just maybe - cause problems for Alabama.
Mayfield wasn't the only Sooner undone by the Tigers' muscle.
"There's no doubt that we've been the more physical team now for about seven weeks in a row", Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said. The Heisman Trophy finalist especially ran well in the first half, opening the door for Gallman, the underappreciated redshirt sophomore, to batter the Sooners' defensive front in the second.
The Sooners led, 7-3, and had Clemson pinned inside the 5 early in the second quarter, but on the first play Watson broke free on the read-option for 46 yards.
Even without Lawson, the Tigers produced five sacks and shut down the Sooners in the second half. On defense the Sooners will lose a couple of key players in Eric Striker and Charles Tapper - and possibly Dominique Alexander if he decides to leave - but all in all, this team will enter 2016 as the favorite in the Big 12. Clemson's had a bunch of gutsy wins but also big wins with an 8-4 record against Top 10 teams under Swinney.
If Watson was flustered by that pick, he sure didn't show it after the break. You saw the athleticism of big ol' No. 42 [Wilkins] because he had to find the ball in the air and get himself in position to finish it.