In the preseason, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney brought up Apple and Alabama in the same thought, telling SI.com that having “a vision or philosophy that’s reinforced in everything that you do decision-wise” is critical to operating at a high level. Whatever Swinney is doing is working. The Tigers dominated Oklahoma, 40-6, on Monday night at the Russell Athletic Bowl after leading 27-0 at the half to complete their fourth straight 10-win season.
Clemson's defense did the dirty work in Orlando, holding the Sooners to 90 yards at the half and 255 overall, with many of those coming after the game was well in hand. The Tigers forced five Oklahoma turnovers and made life miserable for quarterback Trevor Knight and running back Samaje Perine.
“We’re just kind of being who we are,” Swinney told ESPN at the half.
Here are three quick thoughts from the Tigers’ big night.
1. The Tigers showed their teeth on defense
Clemson couldn’t have asked for a better start from its defense. The Tigers had two interceptions, a sack, four tackles for loss and a defensive touchdown in the first 13 minutes of the game and led 17-0 as a result. It eventually stretched out to 40-0 before Swinney pulled his seniors on defense with just over eight minutes to play.
Blessed with players like Grady Jarrett, Vic Beasley, Shaq Lawson and Stephone Anthony, defensive coordinator Brent Venables molded the group into the nation’s top defense in yards per game (259.6) before Monday’s tilt with the Sooners. While it’s easy to say there was extra motivation for Venables, a former Oklahoma assistant, the Clemson defense played this way all year long. The Tigers will have to replace a number of key contributors next year, but Venables has established a solid foundation.
2. Great Scott!
If you’ve been sleeping on Clemson freshman wide receiver Artavis Scott, now’s your chance to catch up. The Tarpon Springs, Fla. product took his first touch 65 yards on a screen for a touchdown and finished with eight catches for 114 yards.
Scott’s explosiveness fits right into what Clemson is trying to do, and the Tigers can move him around the field to maximize his abilities. He had 76 catches for 965 and eight touchdowns this year and heads into next season as a possible go-to receiver for quarterback Deshaun Watson, who showed ample promise as a freshman. Clemson has to deal with the loss of highly regarded offensive coordinator Chad Morris (now the head coach at SMU), but co-coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott have plenty of talent to work with.
3. Rep Your League
Coming into the Russell Athletic Bowl, ACC teams were 2-4 in bowl games with three of those losses coming by five points or fewer. The conference boasted that this was an improved league during offseason media days, trotting out stats and current NFL players to make its case. But for many football fans, the bowl record matters. And let’s face it, the ACC doesn’t have the best collective record in those sponsored neutral site holiday games.
That’s why a win like this one matters. Oklahoma was favored by 6.5 points and was supposed to beat a Tigers team with senior Cole Stoudt back under center. Instead Clemson not only won, but blew the doors off the Sooners. Stoudt finished with 319 yards and four touchdowns (three passing, one receiving). While other ACC teams not named Florida State might not be helping the conference’s cause during the postseason, the Tigers did what they could.