In July of 2014, No. 1 Clemson’s coach Dabo Swinney tabbed a secondary maligned in previous years as his pick to “surprise” and be the most improved unit on the Tigers.
A group, which had major made strides from 2012 to 2013 (73 to 16 in passing yards allowed) – yet still was replacing some key contributors – did just that, leading the nation in efficiency (98.31) and the Power 5 conferences in passing yards allowed a game (157.4).
In July of this year, Swinney’s prognostications were taken a bit more seriously by media and fans alike – identifying the O-line as the unit to watch for improvement and tight end Jordan Leggett the player to expect more from.
Well, Clemson ranks in the top-10 in both adjusted sack rate on standard (7) and passing downs (8) and top-20 in line yards per carry (19), per Football Outsiders – and an opponent hasn’t registered a sack in the last four games.
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As for Leggett, he was a finalist for the top tight end in the nation (Mackey Award) – surpassing his career total in yards (442 in ‘15; 337 going in) and more than doubling his touchdowns (7 in ‘15; 3 going in).
FAST START OR BIG FINISH?
Clemson has trailed just once at the half all season (Florida State, 10-6 and won 23-13) thanks to some high-scoring starts. The fourth-quarter effort could use some work though.
Oklahoma rallied from a first-half deficit (at Tennessee, down 2 TDs and won 31-24 2OT) and also never came back in another (Texas, down 14-3 and lost 24-17). Their second-session play has been better.
Tony Elliott and company have put up 201 more points in the first 30 minutes than their counterparts this season, including a plus-109 margin in the second quarter.
Last year in Orlando when these teams met, Clemson never trailed and led 58:34 of the game. They haven’t trailed at all in eight games this year and only eight percent of 2015 so far.
The Sooners are no slackers in the first half, with a 94-point scoring margin, but just a 3-TD margin in the second quarter (21). Conversely, Clemson has been outscored by 16 points in the fourth quarter and hold a 36-point margin in the second half overall.
Oklahoma is plus-45 in the second 30 and plus-nine in the fourth quarter.
AGAINST ALL ODDS, AGAIN?
There’s a familiar feeling to odds surrounding Clemson’s playoff chances.
Over the last three postseason trips, Swinney’s Tigers have been underdogs, outperforming the final spread by as much or more each time.
For Thursday’s clash, Oklahoma opened as a 3-point favorite, which has bumped up to as much as 3.5 around Vegas.