It was all orange in the Orange Bowl.
The unbeaten Tigers knocked off Oklahoma, 37-17, earning a trip to Glendale, Ariz., for the Jan. 11 national championship game, where they’ll play Alabama, who defeated Michigan State 38-0 in Thursday’s Cotton Bowl.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson showed why he was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, confounding the Sooners with his legs and throwing arm.
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But it was the Clemson defense that rose to the occasion, holding high-scoring Oklahoma to their lowest point total of the season. The Sooners averaged 52 points in their final seven games, but were held scoreless in the second half.
“It was an awesome second half,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney. “All I know is, we going to the natty (national title game).”
Despite owning a No. 1 ranking and the only unblemished record in the country, the Tigers (14-0) took the field at Sun Life Stadium as 4-point underdogs to Oklahoma.
The ACC champions proved they’re no fluke, though.
There was Watson, dodging and darting his way for 145 yards -- an Orange Bowl record for a quarterback -- on the ground. Watson also tacked on another 187 through the air. Clemson running back Wayne Gallman rushed for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Oklahoma’s running attack, meanwhile, was virtually non-existent, snuffed out by a Clemson defense that gave the Sooners little breathing room. The Sooners were held to 67 rushing yards, averaging two yards per carry.
It all felt like a repeat nightmare for the Sooners, who were blown out 40-6 by Clemson in last year’s Russell Athletic Bowl. The Sooners used it as motivation for the Orange Bowl, but it failed.
Clemson took its first lead after punter Andy Teasdall completed a 31-yard pass to defensive tackle Christian Wilkins on fourth down. Two plays later,Watson carried it in from the 5 for a 10-7 lead.
Teasdall called his own fake punt in the ACC championship game, and it turned into a disaster. He not only failed to pick up the first down, but was chewed out relentlessly on the sideline by Swinney in a scene that went viral.
This time, the fake call was all Swinney’s, and it worked perfectly.
But after Clemson went up 16-10 on three field goals, the Sooners marched 76 yards in under a minute to take the halftime lead, 17-16, on Baker Mayfield’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Mark Andrews.
That turned out to be Oklahoma’s last hurrah.
It was all Clemson in the second half.
Wayne Gallman’s 1-yard touchdown run made it 23-17, and Watson found Hunter Renfrow on a 35-yard scoring pass, increasing the margin to 30-17. Early in the fourth quarter, Gallman ran in from the 4 for another TD.
“In the second half we put it all together,” Swinney said. “We dominated in the third quarter and put it away in the fourth quarter.”
Clemson put the outcome to rest when Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware intercepted a Mayfield pass near the goal line midway through the fourth quarter, and the day was over for Oklahoma. Mayfield was shaken up on the play and didn’t return.
Mayfield was sacked five times and threw two interceptions.
Now it’s on to Arizona for Clemson, which is one win away from its second national title, what would be its first in 34 years.
Clemson becomes the second time in the past three years from the ACC to play for the national championship. Florida State won the national title two years ago.
“This is two out of the last three years our conference has been in the national championship game, and hopefully we can hold our end of the deal up,” Swinney said.