With the game over and the Orange Bowl and national semifinal lost, many Oklahoma players whose cream uniforms bore the grass stains of participation headed into the Clemson celebration to shake hands.
As Sooners sophomore running back Samaje Perine limped away from the happiness toward the locker-room tunnel, several Tigers chased him down to give a handshake or a hug. When they chased Perine down during the game, they treated him a little more violently, which caused Perine’s injuries.
“We never like to see a guy go down,” Clemson defensive tackle D.J. Reader said. “It’s the game of football. We like playing hard, but we don’t like to see a guy go down. We just wanted to let him know we had our prayers with him.”
Said Clemson defensive end Kevin Dodd: “That back, he’s a great back. He tried his best. He pounded and pounded. We had a lot of respect for him. A lot of the game plan was based off him and taking him out of the game.”
They did so figuratively by taking over the line of scrimmage and, literally, on two plays that nearly crushed an already slightly injured left ankle.
“It wasn’t 100 percent going into the game,” Perine said. “That’s not an excuse I can lean on. It hurt, but I have to do what I have to do to help my team win.”
After rushing for 40 yards on eight carries in the first quarter, five for 33 yards and a 1-yard touchdown on the Sooners’ first possession, Perine ran only two times for 7 yards in the second quarter. He finished with 58 yards on 15 carries.
With Perine and Joe Mixon squashed, the Sooners became pass ponderous even before the score dictated it. And, soon enough, the score did.
“One hesitation, those guys get off the blocks and they just stick you in the backfield,” Perine said. “There were holes there. We just didn’t hit them full speed.”
The game changed at the start of the second half. Clemson scored on its first possession to take a 23-17 lead. On Oklahoma’s second offensive play of the second half, Perine hit the right side and 325-pound defensive tackle D.J. Reader hit Perine. While burying Perine for a 3-yard loss, Reader fell on Perine’s lower leg. Perine put no weight on his left leg as he was helped off the field.
Oklahoma’s next possession opened with wide receiver Dede Westbrook taking a funky end around for 18 yards. Mixon got trucked and knocked out while trying to make a downfield block. The revival of Mixon and the quickie rehabbing of Perine occurred on Sun Life Stadium turf separated by about 8 yards.
“Once I figured out who it was who was injured, I knew I had to suck it up and get back out there,” Perine said. “We were already thin. Having [Alex Ross], he’s a great guy. Having him have to play fullback and tailback, that’s too much to ask on someone. I had to suck it up.”
That drive ended when Perine got stuffed on fourth-and-1 from the Clemson 30.
“I saw a hole open up late,” he said. “I couldn’t plant and get to it. The ankle slowed me down a little bit. I still should’ve gotten to it. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. That probably could’ve been a turning point in the game. But just came up too short.”
Clemson scored 1:21 later to go up 30-17 with 4:07 left in the third. In the fourth quarter, Carlos Watkins planted Perine after a 6-yard gain, and his 300 pounds fell on the same leg. Perine said that hurt worse than the Reader hit.