A week from today Oklahoma and Clemson will mix it up in South Florida for the right to play for the national championship on January 11th. Both teams are quite familiar with one another after facing each other in the Russell Athletic Bowl a year ago. While it can be said that this is a completely different Oklahoma team than the one that was run off the field in Orlando last December, this certainly isn't the same Clemson squad either.
Led by a Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback, the Tigers produced the nation's 15th ranked scoring offense. Helping us get an inside look at the Tigers' offense is Ryan Kantor from SB Nation's outstanding Clemson site, Shakin The Southland.
CCM: We have to start off with the onside kick at the end of the ACC championship game. I know that OU fans would love to hear a Clemson take on it. Thoughts?
STS: I'm not sure if it was offsides. I was actually walking down to the lower deck to get a better view for trophy presentation (which Bank of America Stadium and the ACC did a poor job with) when UNC scored and the onside kick occurred.
Even if was not called, I believe there was only a very remote chance UNC would have scored a touchdown, gotten the two point conversion, stopped Clemson with any time was remaining, and won in overtime. That's a lot of things you need to go your way.
Furthermore, upon replay, it was clear to me that there was a helmet-to-helmet tackle that helped dislodge the ball and should have been flagged for targeting.
CCM: Quarterback Deshaun Watson gets the lion's share of the attention when it comes to talking about the Clemson offense, but the Tigers also have a running back averaging over five yards per carry. Tell us about Wayne Gallman and what he brings to the table.
STS: Clemson has found more consistent success with A-gap runs this season. This has been aided by improved offensive line play as well as Wayne Gallman's tough running style. Unlike successful Tiger running backs of years past like CJ Spiller and Andre Ellington, Gallman is more of a traditional workhorse back (as opposed to a Darren Sproles type). His highlight moment came in week 2 against (now 11 win) Appalachian State when he lowered a shoulder and knocked a DB over the goal line.
Last year, as a freshman, he struggled in pass protection, but earned more playing time down the stretch as he improved in that area. Now as a sophomore, he's emerged as our main back and garnered a season-high 28 carries for a season-high 187 rushing yards in the ACC Championship game.
CCM: Artavis Scott has been fabulous with 805 yards on 84 receptions but the next two guys in line don't equal his receiving numbers combined. How confident are you in the Tigers' passing game if Oklahoma were able to put the brakes on Scott?
STS: I think those statistics are actually quite misleading. After Mike Williams went down with a neck injury, it took a while for others besides Scott to really fill the void. In the first six games, Artavis Scott had 443 receiving yards. In the next seven games that number decreased to 362, and that was when the offense really started clicking.
Conversely, Charone Peake, only totaled 165 receiving yards in his first six games and then tallied 398 in his final seven games.
Freshman Deon Cain emerged in week 5. After just 80 yards in his first four games, he finished the season with 582 including a big touchdown in the victory over Florida State.
While other players stepping up is part of the story, the other half is Scott's injury. He recently had his knee scoped, and it was revealed he was playing through injury for much of the season's latter half. He is expected to be healthy in time for the Orange Bowl. That leads me to be optimistic about his performance in Miami, however I don't think shutting him down is enough to shut down the Tigers' passing attack.
CCM: When it comes to Watson, there's no doubt he's special. Kid has a strong/accurate arm and is quick on his feet. Is there a weakness at all that the Sooners may be able exploit?
STS: I wouldn't necessarily call it a weakness, but he trusts his receivers enough to put the ball out there and let them win the jump balls. If the Sooner secondary is good enough to outfox our WR corps, they could create a key interception.
CCM: What are you most confident and most worried about when it comes to Clemson's offense vs. Oklahoma's defense?
Havoc Rate, a S&P+ stat that calculates the proportion of all plays in which the defense "causes havoc" (forced fumble, pass defensed, tackle for loss), trends positively for Clemson fans. Oklahoma's Havoc Rate (16.7%) and Front Seven Havoc Rate (10.9%) are both 4th among playoff teams. While I'm fully aware that this secondary is much improved from a year ago, I just can't image that they can shut down the Tiger receivers without getting pressure on Watson. If they allow Watson to get comfortable, they'll be in trouble.
What worries me is that Oklahoma has benefited from causing 26 turnovers while only giving up 16. Conversely, Clemson has caused 23 turnovers, but has given up 25. Fumbles kept Syracuse and South Carolina competitive, and we talked about Watson's interceptions. If the Tigers get sloppy with the ball, OU has shown they can take advantage. The Sooners' 26 turnovers gained is top 10 among P5 teams.