Quarterback Cole Stoudt was unflappable, Brent Venables’ defense unbelievable and No. 18 Clemson’s domination of Oklahoma unquestionable in a 40-6 blowout in the Russell Athletic Bowl on Monday before 40,071 fans at the Citrus Bowl.
The Tigers close the 2014 season at 10-3 after lowering the boom on the Sooners, who were rated a touchdown favorite by kickoff and now limp into the offseason at 8-5.
“I think the world gave us a 25 percent chance of winning,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “And I told our guys, ‘Hey, I like it. The odds are getting better.’”
It’s the fourth 10-win campaign in a row for the victors.
The showdown between ACC and Big 12 programs was never in doubt, with the Tigers scoring on their first play from scrimmage and the Clemson defense stuffing Bob Stoops’ crew at every turn, forcing five turnovers in the process.
“I’m proud of our team, proud of our staff we had great preparation,” Swinney said. “We were ready tonight from the opening play.”
After 30 minutes Stoudt – who took several hard shots in the contest – already had 184 yards and two TDs with Artavis Scott reeling in six balls for 95 yards.
Stoudt added a third quarter rushing score from 3 yards out that put the tally at 34-0 — and had many Oklahoma fans wondering if there was still time to make one of the area’s theme parks.
He capped an MVP-winning performance with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Germone Hopper late in the third.
By the end of the game the senior signal caller (who lost his job to freshman Deshaun Watson but got it back when Watson was sidelined by knee surgery) had certainly saved his best game for last, going 26-of-36 passing for 319 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
“I knew this was my last game, and I prepared for it to be my best,” Stoudt said. “I knew in my mind I was going to do the best I could.”
The second half was more about stats than anything else since Clemson already had put the game away with a 27-0 lead at intermission.
Oklahoma salvaged a small measure of pride 6:57 from the end when Alex Ross scooted around right end for an 11-yard score.
It was little consolation, though, in a brutal beating.
“This is the 42nd win for this group (of seniors),” Swinney said. “Clemson is here, we’re not going anywhere, and this is just a step up the ladder. We can’t wait until 2015.”
Scott had 114 receiving yards, and Williams added 112 in an attack that netted 387 yards.
The Sooners got 134 yards from Samaje Perine, but it was a rare bright spot in a dismal evening.
Stoops was testy when asked about several blowout losses in bowls under his watch.
“Give me the statistics, and I’ll show you some of the ones we won,” Stoops said. “You name the ones we lost, I can name the ones we won. There are several. I’m not going to give you headline words, but this doesn’t feel good.”
Oklahoma was held to a three-and-out to start the game while Clemson needed one play to hit paydirt.
Following a punt that put the Tigers at their own 35, Stoudt took the snap on first down, fired a bullet to Scott and the speedster galloped 65 yards for a touchdown with 13:36 to go in the first quarter.
“It was a huge momentum booster,” Stoudt said. “It kind of piled on from there. We didn’t hit the brakes after that.”
Clemson seemed on its way to another TD on its next turn with the sticks before the drive stalled on a third-down sack. Ammon Lakip missed a 39-yard field goal when he launched a knuckleball that floated wide, but he got a reprieve when the Sooners were flagged for offsides.
Lakip connected on the retry from 34 yards away, giving the ACC reps a 10-0 edge at the first quarter’s 8:21 mark.
The Sooners’ offensive woes continued when Trevor Knight’s pass was deflected and then intercepted by Korrin Wiggins, giving Swinney’s bunch the ball at the enemy 20.
This time, however, Oklahoma’s defense stepped up, sacking Stoudt for a 9-yard loss on a third-and-six play and then blocking Lakip’s 42-yard field goal attempt.
Back came the Tiger “D.”
Ben Boulware stepped in front of a Knight pass at the Sooner 47 and made a terrific return, zigzagging into the end zone for a pick-6.
Lakip kicked true, and Clemson was running away with this one at 17-0.
“We’re 38-0 in games where we take a lead into the fourth quarter,” Swinney said. “That shows we know how to finish. Getting the big early lead put us in a good position.”
Lakip made a career-long 49-yard kick at 14:00 of the second to inflate the cushion to 20-0, and that advantage appeared to be more than enough.
It was, although the Tigers still got more.
“Cole Stoudt was awesome tonight,” Swinney said. “He made plays with his legs, he made great decisions, just a great night. He deserved it.”