Clemson beats Oklahoma to reach college football title game
MIAMI GARDENS, Florida — Clemson sealed its berth in college football’s championship game by beating Oklahoma 37-17 in the Orange Bowl on Thursday (Friday Manila time), with quarterback Deshaun Watson running for one touchdown, passing for another and accounting for 332 yards.
Clemson (14-0) dominated the second half and shut down Oklahoma’s high-scoring offense, which had averaged 52 points over its previous seven games. The Sooners (11-2) actually came into the game as favorites, but the Tigers showed their perfect record was no fluke.
Until this season, the Tigers were known for such inexplicable disappointments that a term was coined for it — Clemsoning.
With one more win, they’ll be known as something else: national champions.
Watson got off to a slow start passing, but came back to complete 16-of-31 for 187 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Renfrow that gave Clemson some breathing room late in the third quarter. Watson carried the running load in the early going, finishing with 145 yards on 24 carries and scoring the Tigers’ first touchdown on a 5-yard run.
The game went back and forth through the first half, the Sooners jumping ahead on an impressive first possession that culminated with Samaje Perine’s 1-yard drive.
Oklahoma went to the locker room with a 17-16 lead after Mark Andrews hauled in an 11-yard touchdown pass from Baker Mayfield with 1:34 remaining, and the Sooners defense came up with an interception of an ill-advised throw by Watson into triple-coverage.
If Watson was flustered by that pick, he sure didn’t show it after the break.
Clemson took the second-half kickoff and breezed down the field, covering 75 yards in 12 plays to reclaim the lead on Wayne Gallman’s 1-yard run, the first of his two TDs. Oklahoma’s first possession was the exact opposite: three straight yards-losing plays forced the Sooners to punt, setting the tone for the struggles they would face the rest of the game.
Clemson, looking to become the first team in FBS history to finish 15-0, advanced to face either Alabama or Michigan State in the Jan. 11 finale in Arizona. Those teams met later Thursday in the Cotton Bowl.
For Oklahoma, it was a disappointing end to a comeback season. After going 8-5 a year ago, including a 40-6 loss to Clemson in the Russell Athletic Bowl, coach Bob Stoops shook up his staff and guided the Sooners within two victories of their first national title since 2000.
Clemson will be going for its first national title since 1981, having shown that it can deal with injuries and any distraction that might come its way. Two days before the national semifinal game, coach Dabo Swinney suspended three players for violating team rules, including speedy receiver Deon Cain, one of the team’s best deep threats.
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