By Will Vandervort.
The Clemson Tigers, who were ranked No. 17 in the final College Football Playoff Poll on Sunday, will play in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla., on Dec. 29. The game is scheduled to kickoff at 5:30 p.m. on ESPN.
The Tigers (9-3) will play Oklahoma of the Big 12 Conference. The Sooners come into the game with an 8-4 record following a 38-35 overtime loss to rival Oklahoma State.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will address the media in a teleconference at 7:35 p.m. to talk about the Russell Athletic Bowl and the Sooners. Oklahoma is expected to have a teleconference with Coach Stoops at 6:15 p.m.
The big story line in this game will be Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, who spent 13 years in Norman, Okla., as linebackers coach and defensive coordinator under Bob Stoops. He came to Clemson as defensive coordinator in 2012 and this year he has led the Tigers to a No. 1 ranking in total defense at 259.6 yards per game. Clemson is also ranked in the top 10 in nine other defensive categories.
Clemson was hoping it might land in Orlando’s New Year’s Day Bowl—The Citrus Bowl—but then the Playoff Committee moved Mississippi State up three spots in the ranking to No. 7, jumping No. 8 Michigan State in the poll. The Orange Bowl had no choice but to take the Bulldogs to play Georgia Tech.
Both Mississippi State and the Spartans were idle this past week. The Citrus Bowl had to take Michigan State for its bowl game if a Big 10 team was not selected for the Orange Bowl. The ACC would have had a selection had Michigan State gone to South Beach for the holiday season.
This will be Clemson’s third trip to the Russell Athletic Bowl. The Tigers are 1-1 all-time in the bowl game.
In 2005, when the game was called the Champs Sports Bowl, the Tigers beat Colorado, 19-10, behind James Davis’ 150 yards rushing. He sealed the victory with a six-yard touchdown run with 1:38 to play in the game.
Clemson’s defense held the Buffalo to 124 total yards, including 17 rushing yards in the victory.
In the Tigers’ other appearance in the Florida Citrus Sports’ bowl, Clemson was destroyed by Texas Tech 55-15 in 2002. The game was called the Tangerine Bowl at the time.
Clemson last played Oklahoma in the 1989 Citrus Bowl, a 13-6 victory. Running back Terry Allen scored the winning touchdown with 10:28 to play on a four-yard run. He finished the afternoon with 53 yards on 17 carries. Fullback Wesley McFadden had nine carries for 55 yards.
The big story was the Tigers’ defense, however. Clemson held Oklahoma’s powerful wishbone offense to 116 rushing yards and no touchdowns, nearly 200 yards below its season average.
The Tigers kept Oklahoma out of the end zone all day with one big play after another on defense. In the first quarter linebackers Levon Kirkland and Jesse Hatcher forced a fumble and got a sack that forced a field goal. Brewster intercepted a second-quarter pass that ended a Sooners’ scoring opportunity.
In the third quarter, Clemson again stopped Oklahoma and held it to a field goal. Then, after Allen’s touchdown, Hatcher forced a fumble that ended another Sooners’ scoring drive. On the last drive of the game, cornerback Dexter Davis batted down Jamelle Holieway’s pass to the end zone on the last play of the game to seal the Tigers’ victory.