Oklahoma Sooners (-3, 52.5 o/u) vs. (17) Clemson Tigers
This year’s Russell Athletic Bowl has the Oklahoma Sooners (8-4) taking on the No. 17 Clemson Tigers (9-3) tonight at the Florida Citrus Bowl in Orlando (5:30 PM Eastern). Though unranked, the Sooners are currently three-point favorites (and the game total 52.5 points).
Oklahoma’s season can only be described as disappointing. The Sooners came into the year ranked top-five in the nation – and things started well for Bob Stoops and company, as they rattled off four straight wins to start the year. But they dropped four of their next eight games (to TCU, Kansas State, Baylor, and arch-rival Oklahoma State) and fell out of the top-25.
It wasn’t the offense that dropped the ball for Oklahoma. The unit averaged 38.9 points per game on the year, 11th in the nation, and put up at least 30 in all but one of its losses (a 48-14 defeat at the hands of Baylor). Running back Samaje Perine has been dynamite all year, rushing for 1,576 yards and 21 TDs on 240 carries.
And the potent Oklahoma offense will be back at full capacity tonight, as quarterback Trevor Knight, who missed the last three games of the season due to injury, returns to the fold. The mobile QB passed for 2,197 yards and 14 TDs on the year, while adding 340 yards and five more majors on the ground.
The Sooners defense, on the other hand, has given up points at an alarming rate at times this season. It surrenders a respectable 24.8 on average, 44th in the nation, but gave up 37 or more in three of Oklahoma’s four losses.
Tonight, the task for the Sooners D is made a little easier by the absence of Clemson’s freshman quarterback, Deshaun Watson. (The first-year phenom had ACL surgery earlier this month.) Luckily for Clemson, it has a decent plan B – senior pivot Cole Stoudt. Stoudt struggled at times this year, passing for just 1,573 yards, six TDs, and ten interceptions. But he was able to put together some solid games – like his 302 yard, one touchdown, no pick performance against South Carolina – and has the veteran savvy to come through in crunch time.
With Stoudt and Watson splitting time at the QB position throughout the year, the Tigers put up 30.1 points per game. Unlike the Sooners, it’s the Clemson defense that makes the Tiger train run. The unit is sixth in the nation in scoring, allowing just 17.6 PPG.
The Tigers will be hoping to extend their bowl game winning streak to three tonight and to push their overall record above .500; Clemson is 18–18 all-time and beat LSU and Ohio State in its last two.
The Sooners, meanwhile, have a great history in bowl games, going 28–18–1 all-time. The team has also won four of its last five, dropping perennial power Alabama in last year’s Sugar Bowl (which was a big reason for its top-five preseason ranking).
(Photo credit: John Silks [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons.)