The starting role fits Ben Boulware fine. He proved as much Monday night in central Florida.
Subbing for middle linebacker Stephone Anthony – who was suspended for the first half – Boulware made his presence known early by grabbing a deflected pass and weaving through a pack of Sooners for 47 yards for the score, giving the Tigers a 17-0 edge late in the first quarter.
“They may put me at running back,” Boulware said with a smile after the game. “May take Wayne (Gallman)’s job. I used to return punts in high school, so it was a flashback to high school, I guess.”
On a Sooners’ drive later in the second quarter, Boulware was in position to scoop a fumble forced by defensive tackle Grady Jarrett.
He notched four tackles and a share of one for loss. If that was the audition, he’s in line for more middle linebacker starts on a defense in transition next season. Boulware sees no dropoff.
“We just have guys able to step up,” Boulware said. “We have so much depth that our twos and threes are just as good as our ones. That’s exciting for next year honestly. We’re losing so much, but I’m honestly not worried about it.”
His final start? He’ll be able to tell the kids and grandkids for years to come – and so will Tiger fans.
The Ohio product, yet Greenville-born, Stoudt, finished the regular season anything but rolling, throwing a pick every eight throws in the final three games.
He came out firing for the early-evening kick, completing his first six throws with a touchdown and 306.2 pass efficiency rating after one quarter.
Stoudt finished the half 16-of-20 for 184 yards and continued that momentum into the second, surpassing his career-high before the end of the third quarter.
Stoudt totaled a career-best four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) with 311 yards (319 passing; minus-8 rushing). He joined a Tiger he played alongside (Tajh Boyd) and one who coached him this the last month (Brandon Streeter) among 300-yard Clemson bowl passers.
“The story of the game offensively was Cole Stoudt,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s all about how you finish, and he played the best game of his career in his last game. Cole Stoudt was awesome. Nobody deserves it more than ole number 18. Showed class and continued to believe in himself.”
Shaq Lawson’s back – Bradley Pinion’s gone.
Pinion landed 28 punts inside the 20 this season, with two career touchbacks.
“It’s been an unreal ride Clemson,” Pinion’s Instagram message read. “Clemson has done more for me than I could ever imagine! I will miss my brothers in Orange, but every chapter eventually comes to an end and its time to start a new chapter! I’ll forever be a tiger at heart!”
Lawson will anchor a defensive line come next season replacing four starters.
“I will be coming back for my junior year at Clemson,” Lawson’s tweet said. “Feel like I got a lot more to improve wit(h) my game. Ready to be in that college playoffs.”
In the first half, senior end Vic Beasley totaled three tackles-for-loss, notching the ninth sack all season versus Oklahoma’s O-line.
Teammates Boulware (.5), Jarrett (2.5) and B.J. Goodson (1) got in on it in the first 30 minutes of action to set a new Clemson single-season sack record that leads the nation (126).