Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was all smiles.
His Tigers (10-3, 6-2 ACC) took home an impressive 40-6 victory over Oklahoma (8-5, 5-4) in front of 40,071 fans in the 25th edition of the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“We had great preparation,” Swinney said. “We were ready from the opening kick. Oklahoma is a great football team. That’s a lot of the same guys that drove Alabama up and down the field last year. They have a great program but it was our night tonight.”
The Tigers were lead by senior quarterback Cole Stoudt, who threw for 319 yards and three total touchdowns with no interceptions. After being a frequent subject of conversation leading up to the game – many circling around Clemson fans’ angst about how he would play – Stoudt was named the most valuable player of the game.
“I wouldn’t say it was my redemption,” Stoudt said. “I just knew that this was my last game here and knew that I prepared to do my best. I just wanted to do it for the guys around me. That’s all that really mattered was the people I played with these years.”
Clemson’s defense held Oklahoma to just 275 yards of offense, over 200 less than the Sooners were averaging per game. The Tigers forced Oklahoma QB Trevor Knight to throw three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
“It was really our preparation,” senior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. “We were prepared for everything. Coming into this year we had really high hopes for our defense. After the Georgia game people really started to doubt us. And I remember telling these guys ‘we’re going to get the problem fixed.’”
And they did. Lead by Jarrett’s 3.5 tackles for loss, Oklahoma couldn’t find a rhythm all game. Knight threw for just 103 yards and leading rusher Samaje Perine ran for 134 yards.
“They really executed well against us,” Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops said. “I’m really disappointed in how we played. The turnovers were so big.
“They really played good football.”
This gives Clemson’s senior class 42 wins, the most by any senior class in history, and comes 75 years after Clemson’s first bowl game. The Tigers have won at least 10 games in four consecutive seasons, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished at Clemson since 1987-1990.
“The story this year for me is our seniors,” Swinney said. “They’re great players but they’re also great people. They’re good men.
“Clemson is a better place, and I am a better coach and it’s because of these seniors.”
Clemson jumped out to an early lead, scoring on its first play of offense, and never let up.
The Tigers built a 17-0 lead at the end of the first quarter outgaining Oklahoma 123 yards to just 23.
“Offensively our inability to throw the football hurt,” Stoops said. “You can’t play one-handed. I thought overall we did a really nice job of running the football, but lack of execution in the passing game was a major factor.”
For much of the game Clemson was on the verge of making history. The last time Oklahoma was shutout in a game was 11/7/98 against Texas A&M, a span of 213 games. But that was nixed when Alex Ross ran for an 11-yard Oklahoma touchdown with 6:57 left in the fourth quarter.
“You know we’ll enjoy the heck out of this one,” Swinney said. “We’re riding this momentum into the offseason with recruiting and all that stuff. I can’t wait. These guys are going to be hard to replace but I can’t wait to get back out on the field this spring and start the 2015 season.”