MIAMI, Fla. – It will take at least two more years for Bob Stoops to catch Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer.
Stoops, who has the most wins in school history, has one national championship at Oklahoma while Wilkinson and Switzer both won three titles.
Stoops’ teams have played for the national title four times and have a 1-3 record. The Sooners were poised to make a run for a second title for Stoops on New Year’s but instead lost 37-17 to No. 1 Clemson in the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl here. Last season, OU lost to Clemson 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando. Clemson advances to the national championship game in Glendale, Arizona, and will play No. 2 Alabama Monday night.
Oklahoma State lost to Mississippi in the Sugar Bowl while Tulsa fell to Virginia Tech in the Independence Bowl.
The Sooners scored on their first drive against Clemson and battled to a 17-16 lead at half-time. But the OU offense was shut out in the second half and Clemson scored three unanswered touchdowns.
“We were just a better team tonight,” said Clemson coach Dabo Swinney.
“We did not run the ball against Oklahoma very well last year, and I just looked at (the statistics) and we rushed the ball for 312 yards, and they had nine of their 11 starters back. Just incredible.”
Stoops had predicted that the team that ran the ball best would win and he was correct. Clemson rushed for 312 yards on 67 carries (5.4 yard average) while the Sooners got a mere 67 yards on 33 rushes – about two yards per attempt.
“I said coming into the game whoever could run the football the most effectively would – in my mind would have the best opportunity to win, and they were able to do that, and we weren’t,” Stoops said after the game. “You know, and that’s the bottom line.
“And then we have some turnovers that go with it, so all of it together combined, we were outplayed badly in the second half, and that’s where it is.”
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson rushed 24 times for 149 yards while running back Wayne Gallman had 156 yards on 26 carries. Watson was only 16 of 31 passing with one touchdown and one interception.
OU running back Samaje Perine, who got over 100 yards against Clemson in a loss last year, gained 61 yards in 15 carries but had to leave the game twice due to an ankle injury. Running back Joe Mixon was also injured and got only 5 yards on 3 carries.
OU quarterback Baker Mayfield got up woozy after making a tackle when he threw an interception in the second half. Mayfield was 26 of 41 passing with one touchdown and two interceptions.
“I think like Baker making the tackle and knocking himself out I wouldn’t say had anything to do with what they were doing,” Stoops said. “That had something to do with the interception he threw. Joe was going to make a block. So I wouldn’t say anything about injuries. I would say their ability to run the football and our inability to run the football, that they were — they played in a more physical way than we did. That to me is — outside of the injuries, I don’t think they have anything to do with it.”
The Orange Bowl is in Miami, the heart of Atlantic Coast Conference country, and the Sooner fans were heavily outnumbered by the Tiger faithful. It’s 750 miles from Clemson to the Orange Bowl but twice as far (1,500 miles) from Norman.
“From the time we turned off the road into I guess whatever the inner workings of this facility, it was just a sea of orange,” said Swinney at the Orange Bowl after the game. “The buses had to go really slow because there were so many people and they were hitting the buses. It was unbelievable. In fact (Defensive Coordinator) Brent (Venables) and I were talking on the bus, I was like, man, somebody is robbing a bank in South Carolina today because there ain’t nobody there. They’re all here.
“It was amazing. Our fans are incredible.
“I mean, this is a special place for Clemson. It really is, with the tradition that we have here. But it was powerful. I mean, it really was. We do a Tiger Walk, and this was kind of the bus ride, I mean, almost a bus walk, because we were so slow trying to get through all these sea of orange. So I thought that kind of set the tempo when we were coming in. I think it was very evident that this was going to be a great crowd for Clemson.”
OU center Ty Darlington said he always wanted to play for Oklahoma and his experience was what he expected. He was grateful for the OU fans that did come to Miami.
“I’m so appreciative to Sooner Nation, the fan base, for making my experience possible, you know, and supporting us all the way down here in Miami,” Darlington said. “We didn’t come out and from the start I felt like we didn’t play well, and we had a great week of prep. We came out with lots of energy. We didn’t execute well, and I’m disappointed that we let our fans down in that way because we know how many people it really meant something to, beyond just us.”
“It’s been a great run, and it’s been a great four years, learned a lot as a leader, as a young man, and walking off that field, you get a little emotional because you can never come back to it,” said OU linebacker Eric Striker. “So you try to soak it in a little bit, see your family and the fans still here waving you on, just to salute. But it’s been a wonderful time. We’ve got to move on now to our next life. But I appreciate the fans and my family and everybody who came out. It’s been a — I think about all the times that we had. It’s really been good.
“I’m sitting here very humbled, and it sucks to walk out like that, but it’s been a good run.”
“We have been through a lot together,” said OU receiver Sterling Shepard. “This is a tight-knit group. It’s the tightest group I have ever been a part of. I’m so thankful to have all these guys on my team and guys that have worked hard for us.”
Offensive Coordinator Lincoln Riley was in his first year at Oklahoma and the offense improved. He expects more next season.
“Tonight is a great example,” Riley said after the game. “We played well for a majority of this year and have a lot of things that we’re awfully proud of. Though a night like tonight shows us that we still have a long way to go, we have a pretty strong nucleus of guys that will be better. We need to recruit better and get better pieces based on the guys seeing the product that we put on the field this year. We expect to be better next year.”
Even though the Sooners missed a chance to play for the national championship, it was not a lost season, particularly after suffering through an 8-5 year in 2014.
“I mean, you can’t take away the Big 12 Championship and the fact that these group of seniors have led us back to one game from being in the national championship,” Stoops said. “That part is there and doesn’t go away. We weren’t good enough to finish it, and that’s the bottom line.
“But we’ve still got a young team, and we’ll be encouraged about the strides that we’ve taken and how close we are, and we’ve got to keep improving to get it done.”