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Defensive Film Review: Clemson Defeats Oklahoma to Win Orange Bowl

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Analysis and annotation for every defensive snap against Oklahoma. Spoiler alert: IT IS GLORIOUS!

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

First, I will handle this review solo while Dbbm travels and prepares to begin life as a Clemson student this week. What a time right? Everyone please wish him the best and follow him for great football takes and humor.

Upon my return home, I could not wait to watch the broadcast and review this game. It was phenomenally exciting and overwhelmingly emotional to behold in person. The entire 4th quarter is a complete and total blur in my mind from a technical standpoint; I usually pace back and forth in front of my seat in a fit of controlled yet over-analytical rage, but I was too caught up in the emotion of the moment to focus.

My initial reaction before any review was that far more backups found snaps (outside of garbage time) than at any point this season. I expected that with the layover, our starters would at least be fresh to likely play the entire game against such a dangerous offense. That wasn't the case at all, as we rotated bodies (before the game was decided) more frequently than we have all year.

In addition to Ryan Carter at nickel and Austin Bryant in Shaq Lawson's place (a huge performance by the way), I remember Van Smith, Kendall Joseph, Richard Yeargin, Mark Fields, and Dorian O'Daniel logged crucial snaps while the game was close. It was much needed, given the depth concerns with our defense. Better yet, each player played well in relief for the most part.

That so many backups found snaps is a wonderful development, and shows the strides made in bowl practice. The staff now trusts these younger players to perform well enough when the 1s need a breather, and keeps our 1s fresh for crucial plays near the end. Yes, the defense benefitted from much-needed time off, but the development behind the starters cannot be overlooked. A quick breather here and there was just as important in this spectacular effort as the layover.

The smashmouth spread is legitimate. Deshaun Watson was off through the air, but with this running game it didn't matter. Wayne Gallman and Watson are deadly, and the key to sustaining any success against Alabama. I doubt we stretch the field on them very well without Deon Cain, and I doubt Gallman finds much against that front unless they key too much on Watson. The trend lately has been to establish Watson on the ground and eventually wear down the opponent with Gallman. That is probably the strategy against Alabama as well, but Watson must hit his passes.

I said before the game that we would need a Notre Dame-game level performance from the defensive line. We got it, and then some. Relive it with me, because truly I don't remember anything specific after Boulware's interception. And no I was not in an altered state; it was simply euphoric.

Shorthand

Alley = area between the OT and WR. BCB = Boundary Cornerback, Bullet = ILB A or B gap blitz. C0, C1, C2, C3, C4 (quarters) or C6 (quarter, quarter, half) = coverage scheme by the secondary. DIME OF DOOM = a twist on a 3-2-6 formation in which Jayron Kearse steps into a SAM role (meaning it looks like 3-3-5), generally to blitz or spy. FCB = Wideside or field cornerback. Fire = S, NB, LB blitz from the outside D gap. Green Dog = man blitz when your man stays in to block or is not in the formation. IZ = Inside Zone or Zone blocked play inside the tackles. Jailbreak = 7 or more blitz. LOS = Line of Scrimmage. Man = man to man coverage. OZ = outside zone run or zone blocked play off-tackle. PA = Play Action. PBU = Pass broken up. Red Dog (overload) = LB and S/NB blitz on the same side. Robber = S or LB moves to take away crossing routes. C3 Sky = SS moves up two yards, takes flat, CBs and FS take deep thirds.Soft = CBs/NB playing well off the WR until he gets to the 1st down line. Stretch= zone blocked run just inside the last offensive player on that side. Stack = the 3 LBs are stacked directly behind DL. Stalk = WR blocks DB in front of him. Sweep = TB/QB run, often FB/ H-B lead play to the D gap. TO = Triple Option. ZR = Zone read option play.

Coach/Player shorthand: BJB.J. GoodsonMack = MacKenzie Alexander, ODDorian O'DanielShaqShaq LawsonTank =Cordrea Tankersley.

Thoughts within a play are separated by a comma. (,)
Each play is separated by an ellipsis. (...)
First downs are separated by a paragraph.
Comments on a drive are in italics.
Offensive Personnel is listed as a 3 digit number where it is listed: # of RBs, # of TEs, # of WRs like 212, which is 2 RB, 1 TE, 2 WR.

Images courtesy of ESPN and YouTube user Tigerray.

Defensive Play by Play

1st quarter

1st drive, 15:00, Oklahoma 25, 0-0

1st & 10, 203 shotgun vs nickel (Carter at NB) Tank BCB blitz in front of Cover 3, PA, immediate pressure up the middle by Watkins, Baker Mayfield can do nothing but sit down, the entire line destroyed OU, Watkins and Shaq share the sack...

1st sack v OU

Watch the line stunt left, which allows Watkins to blow past the lead-footed guard. Honestly, he got there first just because he had the shortest distance to cover. Each of the other three linemen were close behind. Put pressure like this in a short quarterback's face and he will panic every time. As I feared, we went with Carter at nickel rather than Mack. Look for OU to pick on Carter especially when Shepard is in the slot.

2nd & 16, 203 shotgun vs nickel Boulware fire, IZ handoff, Dodd chases from the backside but can't pull Perine down from behind, Shaq stunted inside of Watkins into the A gap and with Boulware sealed on the outside blitz, there's a hole off tackle, Green makes first contact 6 yards downfield but gets tackled himself, gain of 9...3rd & 7, 104 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM (3-2-6 with Kearse as a hybrid linebacker) Boulware and Kearse fire in front of C1, ZR bucksweep away from Kearse's blitz, the pulling left tackle (wow) met BJ in the hole and Perine finds a huge hole up the middle, gain of 17...

OU bucksweep

A perfectly executed bucksweep. It's dangerous to pull a tackle given the distance he must cover, although your left tackle is always more athletic than a guard. Here the left guard and tackle each pull and seal Dodd and BJ, respectively.

1st & 10, hurry up, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6, Bryant in for Shaq, uh oh, IZ handoff, beautiful job by the line and BJ to plug the holes and stuff Perine for only 1 yard given the personnel...2nd & 9, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6 (this time Green at LB depth and Kearse out wider than Mack) Boulware and BJ bullet in front of man C1, straight drop, wheel route, Carter caught all alone, overthrown out of bounds but interference is called, complete BS.

Carter was hosed on this call. I've given Carter plenty of grief for busts or simply being overmatched in coverage, and it's no surprise OU picked on him here since he's a weakness in coverage on film. He played this route well and the ref negated a rare "plus" play in coverage he certainly deserved. He turned and looked for the ball like he was supposed to. The ball was even thrown well out of bounds. This is not interference in the least. Carter did well enough to earn praise here, only for the ref to make him a goat when he didn't deserve it. Look for a makeup call at Oklahoma's expense later on.

1st & 10, 113 shotgun vs 4-3 under (Blanks at SAM) strongside overload blitz from Blanks and Kearse, counter to the weak side, pulling guard opens a hole before Boulware and BJ meet Perine, gain of 5...2nd & 5, 113 shotgun vs 4-3 over, ZR, Bryant goes straight for Perine and Mayfield pulls, luckily BJ read it and reacted quickly to smack Mayfield in the open field, gain of 1, that's the play you need from your captain MIKE linebacker...3rd & 4, 113 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM 3 man rush in front of C3, Mayfield hits the out route well in front of Mack and outside of Carter, this one is on Carter who didn't work his way outside, he's supposed to have the flat here, you can tell because Green covered the slant yet Carter is only a few yards away from him...

1st & 10, 113 shotgun vs nickel man C0 (Green and Boulware blitz), quick snap with an unbalanced line so the defense wasn't prepared, PA bootleg action, BJ was sucked in by the PA and let the TE run out and away from him, Green blitzed so once the TE makes the catch he has room to rumble for 20 yards, down at the 1...

OU unbalanced

Oklahoma punches it in two plays later, TOUCHDOWN.

Oklahoma's early game-plan is the product of proper scouting. They went after Carter through the air, tried to stress our linebackers in coverage, and hoped we'd bust run fits against counters and reads to negate our advantage on the line of scrimmage. I didn't notice it happened so early, but Shaq was hurt on the second play of the game and took himself out after the third. Simply the worst start imaginable to lose your best player (a consensus All American) and let OU run and pass its way downfield. Carter made a great play but was burned by the refs, then busts on the next third down.  

Clemson picks up a 1st down on its opening drive, but has to punt near midfield.

2nd drive, 8:19, Oklahoma 17, 7-0 Oklahoma lead

1st & 10, Shaq back in, 203 shotgun vs 4-3 man C1, PA post tipped at the line by BJ, otherwise it's a big play since Green came down on the fake...2nd & 10, 203 shotgun vs 4-3 over man C1, bucksweep ZR handoff, tremendous interior penetration plus all 3 linebackers stayed home, BJ blew it up, no gain...3rd & 9, 104 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM C4 behind a 3 man rush and Kearse spy, Dodd beats his man which forces Mayfield up, when Mayfield steps up he panics and scrambles every time, oh boy, Kearse and Dodd chase him to the goal line before he runs straight into Shaq at the 5, huge HUGE play from two dominant DEs, PUNT.

We caught a break when BJ tipped the first down pass, but the next two plays were perfection from this defense. BJ blew up the 2nd down run himself, but 7 other orange bodies were around him for good measure. Dodd forced Mayfield up in the pocket and forced him right into Shaq on the scramble. Unfortunately, the sack was Shaq's last play after trying to battle through the knee sprain. Losing our best player so early makes this performance even more spectacular.

The OU punter shanks one and Clemson takes over at the 30, but the main theme of the first half reveals itself when we stalled in scoring position. Field goal good.

3rd drive, 3:45, Oklahoma 25, 7-3 Oklahoma lead

1st & 10, empty shotgun vs nickel, both LBs outside of DEs on LOS, DBs showing man C0, at the snap it is indeed man C0 behind a double LB fire, quick screen to trips side, BJ reacts and runs outside to meet it, Carter takes on his block which frees Kearse to fly in and stuff it with BJ, gain of only 2...2nd & 8, 104 shotgun vs nickel C2 zone, Shepard gets inside of Boulware on the deep slant, Mayfield hits him between Boulware and Green, Boulware went too far outside to cover the slant (his responsibility in C2 zone), gain of 15...

1st & 10, hurry up, 104 shotgun vs nickel BJ fire, PA tunnel screen which BJ almost tips, Kearse misses an open field tackle at the LOS which turns into a gain of 8...2nd & 2, 104 shotgun vs nickel Boulware fire, Bryant stunts inside, man C1, Mayfield steps up but scrambles up the middle, gain of 7...

1st & 10, 203 shotgun vs 4-3 man C1, counter ZR handoff, Reader and Watkins beat their blocks to slow Perine before BJ, Blanks, and Kearse sandwich him for a 3 yard gain...2nd & 7, 113 shotgun vs 4-3, counter jet sweep to Mixon but Dodd beats the RT immediately and forces Mixon inside, Boulware gets sealed out which gives Mixon a hole to gain 9 yards...

Ou counter jet

OU continues to find success with power/counter where they pull the backside guard and tackle. Unless Reader blows this up from the backside gap, they have a numbers advantage on the playside thanks to the two pulling linemen, who made the seal which sprung Mixon.

1st & 10, 113 shotgun vs 4-3 SAM blitz, IZ handoff, Blanks changes direction on his blitz and drags Perine down from behind, good recognition and quickness to slow Perine before help arrived, personal foul on OU after the play, back them up...2nd & 22, 104 shotgun vs 4-3 man C1, another bucksweep, good backside pursuit from Bryant, Reader blows this play up by occupying THREE blockers, BJ and Wilkins finish Perine, gain of 3...3rd & 19, 203 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM, IZ handoff, Wilkins trips Mixon up from the nose, great effort to hold off a block and grab a foot, gain of 1, PUNT.

2nd quarter

Clemson drives 96 yards when Dabo redeems Andy Teasdall with the beautiful fake punt to War Daddy Christian Wilkins. Anyone else see a potential goal line package for Wilkins?? Too athletic to be so big. Watson carries it in himself, touchdown Clemson.

4th drive, 12:40, Oklahoma 25, 7-3 Clemson lead

1st & 10, 203 shotgun vs 4-3 zone, Blanks reads the quick screen and takes on the block which frees BJ and Kearse to fly in, Kearse makes the tackle for no gain...2nd & 10, 203 shotgun vs 4-3 SAM fire in front of man C1, Mayfield hits the slant in front of Tank, he waited for Boulware to clear out to the flat with Perine which opened the middle since, gain of 11...

1st & 10, 122 shotgun vs 4-3 man C1 crossing route complete over the middle vs Tank again, too hard to stop in man coverage, gain of 8...2nd & 2, 122 shotgun vs 4-3 Boulware bullet, IZ handoff blown up by Rod Byers but Perine slips free, cuts back and finds 4 yards...

1st & 10, 113 shotgun vs nickel C1, PA, deep route overthrown, we were lucky there since both safeties flew down on the fake and Mack was all alone, if it's an accurate ball it's probably interference...2nd & 10, 212 shotgun vs 4-3 Boulware fire in front of man C1, pressure gets there immediately and Mayfield crumbles, sacked by pretty much everyone, loss of 7...

3 freshmen linemen

3 freshmen lineman were in on this play. We've lamented poor depth all year but it has finally arrived. Bryant and Yeargin have more than held their own in meaningful snaps(!!!).

3rd & 17, 104 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM, 2 man rush in front of man coverage outside, zone underneath and over the top, deep curl incomplete, PUNT.

OU had success with crossing routes against man coverage, that's Lincoln Riley and Mayfield taking what we give them. Ultimately our pressure stalled their drive. OU knows they are in trouble against this front, even without Shaq Lawson. I'm surprised to see us call so much man C1. It's dangerous against such a great deep ball team but we clearly want to stop the run first and we trust Mack and Tank outside, the issues will be crossing vertical routes.. Luckily we haven't been beaten deep yet.

Clemson drives the ball right down the field but settles for another field goal...

5th drive, 7:00, Oklahoma 28, 13-7 Clemson lead

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs nickel NB fire in front of man C1, quick out to the slot opened up by the blitz (Johnson playing way off in coverage to try and disguise Carter's blitz) easy completion and 14 yards, but illegal facemask by the ball carrier brings it back...1st & 12, 104 shotgun vs nickel man C1, IZ handoff, the entire front 6 converges at the LOS but Perine can move a pile, BJ and Boulware clean up for a gain of 3...2nd & 9, 104 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM all LB blitz in front of man C1, Mayfield throws a prayer off his back foot but it falls into Shepard's hands along the sideline, additional sideline interference penalty on the Clemson bench (huh?) and suddenly OU is inside the 30...

OU Hitch wheel

This was the matchup which scared me the most heading into the game, and OU makes us pay here. OU knows we are in man again and that there's only one high safety. They know Mack will take the outside receiver, who runs a hitch route. This leaves our worst cover man alone (he's a scrappy tackler, but overmatched here) against OU's best receiver on a go/wheel route. Carter again plays this deep route surprisingly well, but he never locates the ball and Shepard makes a great adjustment. OU matched up the right receiver and route against our coverage; your move, Venables.

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6, PA tunnel screen, Kearse is completely unblocked and free for a TFL, but he whiffs in the open field (a recurring theme lately) which turns into a 7 yard gain...2nd & 3, 104 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM, Kearse fire blitz in front of man C1, this time Mack is on Shepard in the slot and Carter is out wide, go route on Carter's man caught out of bounds, incomplete...3rd & 3, 203 shotgun vs nickel man C2, Carter busts and runs zone instead of man, letting Shepard run past him on a corner route while Mack chases the slant and runs into him, Shepard is all alone and dragged out of bounds by Kearse...

Carter bust

Watch Carter and you'll think it's zone, watch everyone else and you'll see man. It's obvious when Mack runs into Carter, which I don't need to tell you isn't ideal. I don't like Carter's chances defending Shepard on the route even if he doesn't bust, but at least that's excusable. A bust is not.

1st & 4, 203 shotgun vs 4-3 OLB fire, ZR handoff completely destroyed by Dodd, loss of 1...2nd & 5, 113 shotgun vs 4-3 Boulware fire in front of man C1, pressure in Mayfield's face immediately flushes him, dangerous throw across field almost a 99 yard pick 6 for Mack but the receiver breaks it up, stupid play by Mayfield...3rd & 5, 014 empty vs 4-3 zone, fade to TE but two receivers ran the same route, Shepard brought Tank right into position to get the PBU, mental mistake by OU there kept  7off the board...FIELD GOAL GOOD.

Oklahoma has succeeded in finding Shepard in favorable matchups. I'm rather surprised we've let him roam instead of instead of shadowing him with Mack. On the filpside, their run game has vanished. The DL is winning matchups and the linebackers, already covering the running backs or spying Mayfield, clean up anything that leaks through. Marvelous play from the front 6/7 thus far WITHOUT SHAQ LAWSON(!?!?!)

Another scoring opportunity for Clemson stalls and ends in a field goal.

6th drive, 2:12, Oklahoma 24, 16-10 Clemson lead

1st & 10, 113 shotgun vs 3-2-6 Cover 3 zone (Kearse at LB depth to spy), swing pass to Perine in the flat, Kearse and Carter both whiff on tackles and let Perine cut upfield, ugh Kearse your draft stock should have dropped since October, a few more jukes and broken tackles and suddenly it's 20 yards...

1st & 10, 113 shotgun vs 3-3-5 quarters/C4, good pressure from Bryant, another dump to Perine in the flat, this time only for 3 yards...2nd & 7, 113 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM Kearse fire in front of quarters/C4, deep post wide open since Johnson took the intermediate dig route instead of playing deep, since the ball was underthrown the receiver just had to stay in front of Tank. Also, no clue what Green is doing here. Everyone is playing quarters coverage except Green. He's far too shallow and close to Boulware, jogging around, and takes himself out after the play...

OU what

Green?

What are you doing, TJ?

1st & 10, 122 shotgun vs 4-3 over (Van Smith in for Green) yet another man C1 spy call, quick out to the TE, Smith closes put slips and the TE walks in, TOUCHDOWN.

Woof. Horrible from start to finish. Missed tackles and busts from the safeties (all 4 safeties made at least one error on the drive) equal fast touchdowns. OU went 76 yards in just over 30 seconds. Woof.

Clemson moves downfield with ease yet again, but this time couldn't even make the field goal. Pass to Leggett in the endzone intercepted.

Oklahoma kneels to end the half.

3rd quarter

Clemson starts the half with another efficient and effective drive, this time ending in a touchdown.

7th drive, 10:45, Oklahoma 22, 23-17 Clemson lead

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs nickel man C1 spy, ZR keeper, Mayfield chased out of bounds for a loss of 1 by Dodd, who was read but still had the quickness to string Mayfield out...

Dodd ZR buster

You can't run zone read against a defensive end who can do this. Mayfield wants to cut upfield, but Dodd is too quick for him and forces him out further and further until Mayfield has to eat it or be eaten. Dodd is probably the most improved player on this defense (which is saying a LOT).

2nd & 11, 104 shotgun vs nickel double LB bullets in front of man C1, OU runs the counter bucksweep with Perine they had success with on the first drive and oh boy is it destroyed by Reader up the middle, the rest of the front 6 swarmed but Reader beat his block and got there first.

Reader boom

THIS OFFENSIVE LINE IS OVERMATCHED AND MA GOD THIS IS BEAUTIFUL.

3rd & 15, 104 shotgun (Mixon in for the injured Perine) vs nickel Cover 3, PA, Dodd rips inside the RT and runs through Mixon in pass protection, and brings Mayfield down as he tries to spin and flush like Johnny Manziel. Little man just isn't quick enough.

:)

This was my favorite defensive series of the entire year. Yeah I GIFed all 3 snaps. NOTHING is better than a dominant defensive line, and we saw it all here. Dodd singlehandedly destroyed a zone read, Reader blew up a counter with the rest of the line in hot pursuit, and Dodd abuses two pass protectors within a second for a monster sack. Take a bow, Kevin Dodd.

Clemson responds with violent running from Gallman before again stalling in scoring position, this time Huegel barely misses to the right.

8th drive, 7:41, Oklahoma 30, 23-17 Clemson lead

1st & 10, 221 shotgun vs 4-3 over, PA lateral to Westbrook who has a run/pass option, he finds a crease at the LOS when it appeared he'd be stopped, switches field before he's tripped by Tank, gain of 18, Mixon tried to block Yeargin but was knocked out cold...

1st & 10, 203 shotgun vs 4-3 (O'Daniel at SAM!) double LB bullet in front of man C1, IZ handoff to Perine, Green comes in and brings him down for a gain of 5...2nd & 5, 122 shotgun vs 4-3 SAM fire in front of man C1 spy again, go route against Tank who is beaten initially but closes extremely well, but he got away with interference. Seems too long since since the BS interference on Carter to be a make up call, the ref just missed it because it happened so fast...3rd & 5, 113 shotgun vs 4-3 quarters, OU sends Shepard from the boundary to the field just before the snap and he's uncovered in the flat, they got us there, first down...

quarters bust

Lincoln Riley won this round. O'Daniel is lined up against Shepard on the weak side to show man coverage. When Shepard motions, OD doesn't follow because he's in zone, he merely shifts into the box. This left Boulware on the strong side where he has much more ground to cover than usual, and he has no chance of getting to his zone (in quarters/C4, the OLBs have the hitch/flat area) in time against Shepard. Ideally OD would be on the strong side and would've split out as Shepard motioned, but since he initially split out to show man against Shepard on the weak side, OU found its mismatch with the motion.

1st & 10, 122 shotgun vs 4-3 C2, quick out to Shepard incomplete, Mack lets him know about...2nd & 10, 104 shotgun vs 4-3 (OD at SAM, Kendall Joseph at MIKE) man C1 spy, quick curl to Shepard met by Green but Shepard falls forward, gain of 7...3rd & 3, 104 shotgun vs nickel man C1 robber, quick bubble screen to the field side, Kearse breaks the receiver down and forces towards Carter and the sideline, Carter fights through the block and ATTACKS, Kearse with second contact to spin the ball-carrier backwards, beatifully done by both defenders.

Carter!

I include this to give credit where its due. Kearse missed quite a few open-field tackles over the last month, including earlier in the game, and I've been hard on Carter for his busts. But Carter plays bigger than himself when he attacks a ball-carrier. Kearse does well to force the defender outside rather than crashing in and slipping, while Carter fends off his block to make initial contact. Kearse is then free to ensure the the play goes nowhere.

4th & 1, 203 shotgun vs 4-3 (Kearse and O'Daniel both on LOS) overload blitz, direct snap to Perine on the counter, Bryant stunts inside and fights through a block to make first contact before a host of defenders join him, STUFFED, TURNOVER ON DOWNS.

OU stuffed

This is a true freshman who looked unready in almost all of his snaps before this game, filling in for an All American. Unbelievable. The number of subs (Joseph was in on this play as well) we played on this drive was both alarming and encouraging, I couldn't believe they earned the trust to warrant such crucial snaps. The depth is here at last!

Clemson takes a stranglehold on the momentum with a wonderful throw on the run to Renfrow who slips a tackle and makes a great catch as he always does. Sun Life Stadium (at least 75% Clemson fans) went bonkers.

9th drive, 4:07, Oklahoma 25, 30-17 Clemson lead

1st & 10, 113 shotgun vs 4-3 (OD still at SAM) Cover 2 zone, corner route complete, that's the weakness in Cover 2 where the corner stays in the flat and the safety is over the top, there's a soft spot at the corner route, gain of 17...

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs 4-3 man C1 spy, wheel route but Green plays beautiful coverage down the sideline, not often see you a safety do so well in man, incomplete...2nd & 10, 104 shotgun vs nickel (Mark Fields in for Mack at FCB) double LB bullet in front of man C1, corner route overthrown and incomplete, Mayfield is shaken by the idea pressure up the middle...3rd & 10, 104 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM 3 man rush with Kearse spying, Dodd flushes Mayfield which pulls Kearse in on a rush, leaving an opening up the middle for Mayfield to scramble gain of 18...

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6 Kearse fires from NB/SAM position in front of man C1, pass wildly overthrown, incomplete...2nd & 10, 104 shotgun vs nickel C3 (I daresay they expected man C1), Mayfield throws it straight to BJ who covered the slant, he tips it to himself and brings it in, the crowd is lit and I achieved vertical lift, INTERCEPTION.

BJ PICK

I was not calm.

Clemson punts the ball back to Oklahoma after a 20 yard drive.

10th drive, 1:12, Oklahoma 15, 30-17 Clemson lead

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs nickel man C1 behind a BJ fire, IZ handoff, penetration from Bryant but Perine slips free, BJ and Boulware converge to meet him, good quickness from BJ to recover from his blitz and assist, gain of 3...2nd & 7, 104 shotgun vs nickel quarters/C4, deep route against Mark Fields, they're going after Mack's replacement, Fields is a step behind but Green is there in support, just overthrown and incomplete...3rd & 7, 104 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM Kearse and BJ fire in front of man C1 spy, Bryant gets immediate pressure once again and flushes Mayfield, Boulware speeds in from the spy and they lay the smackdown, big sack, PUNT.

Bryant sack

Look at you, Austin Bryant. The front 6/7 is utterly dominant.

4th quarter

Clemson rides Gallman to the end zone and a 20 point lead on the ensuing drive. Whether Mayfield can score again or not matters little now; the Clemson run game is too much and the Oklahoma defense is done.

11th drive, 10:48, Oklahoma 25, 37-17 Clemson lead

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6 man C1 spy, end around to Shepard, Bryant isn't quite deep enough on the backside to stop Shepard but he reroutes him deeper, Green and Boulware converge and flip him with a high/low hit, great aggression from Green and hustle from Boulware, gain of 5...2nd & 5, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6 (3-3-5 if you count Kearse as LB here) man C1 spy, IZ handoff to Perine, Dodd has a free shot but is taken for a ride, Perine shakes him and drags Watkins for 6 yards...

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6 double LB bullets in front of man C0 spy, quick comeback route caught in front of Tank, gain of 9...2nd & 1, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6 soft C3, quick curl route complete for 5, we gave them that which is fine in this situation, keep it all in front of you...

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6 man C1 spy, IZ handoff, Watkins sheds the block and makes first contact, Boulware steps in to finish, gain of 1...2nd & 9, 104 shotgun vs DIME OF DOOM Kearse and BJ fire in front of man C1 spy, Mayfield sheds Dodd's sack attempt and rolls right, hits a comeback scramble drill along the sideline, gain of 18...

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs 3-2-6 double LB bullet in front of man C1 spy, go route thrown out of bounds...2nd & 10 offsides on Yeargin, 2nd & 5, 104 shotgun vs nickel man C1 spy/robber, PA quick hitch to Shepard, gain of 7...

1st & 10, 104 shotgun vs nickel quarters/C4, Dodd beats the right tackle again and flushes Mayfield right, who hits his man on a sideline scramble drill again, gain of 15 to the 5 yard line...

1st & 5, 104 shotgun vs nickel flat zone behind a 4 man rush, Dodd gets through immediately yet again and Mayfield steps up, throws on the run to an open man in the back of the endzone but Boulware snags it, if you're a short QB who throws sidearm, you gotta have a better throwing lane, Boulware knocks Mayfield out on the run back, INTERCEPTION.

Boulware int

We were content to keep everything in front of us and make OU take their time moving downfield. They found success with Mayfield's improv, but Boulware decided he had enough and makes the highlight play to slam the door. I labored back and forth between the two linebackers for the Game Ball Award, but Boulware just sealed both the game and the award with this play. The entire front was monstrous but no one more so than Boulware.

Clemson kills a few minutes on the ensuing drive before punting back to the Sooners and what's left of their offense.

12th drive, 2:50, Oklahoma 41, 37-17 Clemson lead

1st & 10, Thomas at QB, 104 shotgun vs nickel C3, IZ handoff but guess what the entire DL is in the backfield, Pagano and Dodd get there first for a crushing TFL, OU has given up completely but our guys haven't...2nd & 13, 104 shotgun vs nickel C3, post route underthrown and incomplete...3rd & 13, 104 shotgun vs nickel C3, 10 yard in route over the middle underthrown and incomplete, PUNT.

BALLGAME.

Defensive Summary

We employed Man Cover 1 spy the large majority of the contest, which I admit surprised me. It seemed risky against OU's mainly 4 receiver sets, but Venables bet on his corners holding up outside while the linebackers alternated spying or blitzing Mayfield. This is why we kept Mack outside at field corner, where he and Tank locked down the outside. Man C1 meant we brought one safety down in man coverage, so that in the event of a handoff, he is in better position to fly in on run support. Venables wanted to take away the run first, and this coverage allowed him to do so. The risk is with only one safety in the deep middle, the corners can't count on help outside. This won't work against a good vertical passing team like Oklahoma without great cornerback play; Mack and Tank provided it and vindicated Venables.

Carter was tested early, and minus an early bust or two, passed the test. This was another surprise, since I hoped we would slide Mack inside to NB and let Adrian Baker take Mack's place at field corner, like we saw from the Miami through South Carolina games. Carter was victimized against UNC, and I feared OU would make a living against him. It's safe to say he rebounded nicely Thursday.

The entire front was dominant, even without its superstar. Oklahoma had no running game aside from a few counter runs early. Mayfield faced incessant pressure and ultimately could not carry his team against such ferocious pressure.

The linebackers had no busts in run fits and were free to fly around, cleaning up anything that made it through the front. OU caught Boulware mismatched on a receiver here and there, but that's not on him. He and BJ were simply fantastic.

It was clear in film study that the OU offensive line was a weakness, but even I (the noted optimist here at STS) didn't expect the dominance we saw. By the second quarter, really, the outcome should have been decided. Once we got out of our own way in scoring position, OU was done and they knew it.

I won't call us "too deep" but all of a sudden we have a bit of depth at DE! To lose Lawson for good after the second drive and still dominate is a huge development, not to mention a source for cautious optimism when we look ahead to next year without Lawson and possibly Dodd. We knew Bryant would be a stud eventually -- and it's normal for a freshman lineman to struggle -- but the Bryant we saw on Thursday looked much different than the one we saw in his earlier snaps.

This was the best defensive performance of the year, and it's not even close. I put this ahead of the Miami shutout or stellar early-season performances because of the magnitude of the situation and the caliber of offense we faced. We saw none of the busts or fatigue which plagued the unit over the last half of the season. Most will attribute this to the time off (which is certainly the case for Boulware given his health), but the distribution of snaps throughout the entire game was a major key in the 2nd half shutout. Not to mention, a crucial development with the Alabama run game before us.

Aside from the Lawson injury, there are no negatives to take from this game. It was a glorious night.

Player Grades

Game Ball: I went back and forth between the two linebackers, but settled on Boulware. Phenomenal game from all the DL and LBs.

All-American: Mack, Dodd, BJ, Boulware.

All-ACC: Reader, Tank, Wilkins (bonus for that catch).

Honorable Mention: Austin Bryant(!), Watkins, Pagano, Kearse, Shaq Lawson because he was a monster on the field and the sideline.

Solid: Kearse, Green, Ryan Carter (a tip of the cap to you sir), Mark Fields, Yeargin, O'Daniel, Jadar Johnson.

Less than solid: NONE.

Past game balls: Pagano (Wofford), Boulware (ASU, Louisville), Alexander (ND), O'Daniel (GT), Lawson (BC, Miami, Syracuse, UNC), BJ Goodson (NC State), Wilkins (FSU), Kearse (SCar).