A few early impressions of the Oklahoma’s Orange Bowl match-up with Clemson.
*I don’t really consider last year’s bowl game a harbinger of what to expect on New Year’s Eve. Oklahoma is a dramatically different team from the one that got stomped by the Tigers in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
More specifically, the Sooners have an offense that is miles ahead of the unit that they put on the field last season. OU’s passing game deserves a level of respect from Brent Venables’ defense that wasn’t there in 2014. OU quarterback Baker Mayfield is taking care of the ball and distributing it to his playmakers, and they are far more consistent than the skill position guys who suited up last season.
Half of OU’s drives against Clemson last year–eight out of 16–went three plays or fewer. That won’t happen this time.
*Big difference for Clemson, too: Deshaun Watson. Clemson’s field general is the best quarterback in the country--possibly the best player at any position. To call him an upgrade over Cole Stoudt, who torched the Sooners in ‘14, would be an understatement.
From a defensive scheming standpoint, I’d take Alabama or Michigan State any day over what the Tigers bring to the table. Watson possesses the kind of mobility that has given Mike Stoops’ defense fits in the past. (To be fair, it gives everyone fits.)
*Dabo Swinney has gained deserved respect as a head coach. He appears to do the coach-as-CEO thing superbly, tapping into Clemson’s resources and institutional will to realize all the potential embedded within the program.
I do wonder if he’s a little on the high-strung side, as well as how that might affect his team in this kind of situation. It’s kind of the flip side of all those emotional postgame rants and impassioned pregame speeches.
As Swinney was berating punter Andy Teasdall last weekend for his ill-advised fake attempt, he just came off way too wound up. He even took the time to back the bus up over Teasdall during his halftime interview. Swinney has gone overboard in the middle of a game before, and it’s not how you want your coach to react in the face of a bad break in a big spot.
It may seem like nitpicking, but I tend to think those kinds of blow-ups reflect a level of anxiousness that rubs off on a team.
*I plan to go back and watch as much of Clemson’s season as possible. When I do, I’ll be watching to see what changed with Clemson’s defense over the course of the season.
In the back half of the year, the Tigers appear to have struggled with stopping the run. Maybe that’s just a matter of playing better teams, but I suspect not. For example, Syracuse ran for more than 7 yards per attempt versus Clemson. North Carolina State rang up 5 yards per attempt.
It’s one thing to give up that kind of yardage to Dalvin Cook (9.2 yards per attempt). The Orange and Wolfpack are a different story.