Clemson's defense ready to take a stand

By The Sports Xchange   |   Dec. 31, 2015 at 12:05 AM
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While the Orange Bowl matchup between unbeaten and top-ranked Clemson and No. 4 Oklahoma shapes up as a potential offensive shootout, what with two of the nation's top quarterbacks and a pair of 1,000-yard rushers as the featured attractions, defense has been one of the primary topics of conversation this week in Miami.

Oklahoma running back Samaje Perine fueled the talk by saying that the Tigers' defense was "bigger and faster" last year, when Clemson routed the Sooners 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl.

"This year they have pretty good size, but last year's Clemson defense, they were a lot faster and a lot bigger," Perine said. "They're a good defense, but they have areas where we can expose. We're going to make sure we expose it."

Clemson's defense has indeed slipped a bit statistically after leading the nation in 2014, but the Tigers still rank among the national leaders in several categories.

"It's going to be a different game than it was last year," Ben Boulware said. "But we play to Clemson standards. If we do that, we'll win."

Perine had 134 yards on 23 carries against Clemson last year, but most of those yards came in the fourth quarter with the game well in hand and the Tigers substituting freely on defense.

It also was a breakout game for the then-sophomore linebacker, who had six tackles, a forced fumble and a 47-yard interception return for a touchdown. But Boulware doesn't believe revenge will be a factor for the Sooners.

"There's too much at stake to worry about things like that," he said.

X-FACTOR: TE Jordan Leggett - Leggett's production tailed off toward the end of the season, but he's capable of making big plays in the passing game. With Oklahoma's defense expected to key on thwarted Clemson's array of talented wide receivers, Leggett should be able to find plenty of open territory underneath. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, the Mackey Award finalist is adept at high-pointing the ball and making athletic plays after his receptions. Look for him to have an impact against the Sooners.


--Clemson freshman wide receiver Deon Cain, placekicker Ammon Lakip and tight end Jay Jay McCullough have been suspended and will not play in Thursday's Orange Bowl game against Oklahoma.

The players were suspended for a violation of team rules.

Clemson Athletic Department officials had not confirmed the reports as of Tuesday night, but head coach Dabo Swinney addressed the reports during a Wednesday morning press conference.

Cain caught 34 passes through 13 games - tied for the third-best total on the team - for 582 yards and five touchdowns. He led the Tigers with an average of 17.1 yards per reception.

--Sophomore wide receiver Artavis Scott underwent an arthroscopic to "clean up" a meniscus in his right knee a couple of days after the Tigers' ACC Championship Game victory on Dec. 5, but will be ready to go in the Orange Bowl. Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said that Scott played the "last four or five" games with the injury.

"He'd been playing with that, and done well, obviously," Swinney said. "They decided to go ahead and clean it up while he had time. He should be ready to roll full speed."

Scott leads the team in receptions with 84 this season for 805 yards and five touchdowns. He was a second-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference selection.

--Quarterback Deshaun Watson needs 113 yards rushing in the Orange Bowl to become just the third player in FBS history with at least 3,500 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing in the same season. The other two are Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M in 2012 and Dan LeFebour of Central Michigan in 2007. Watson rushed for more than 100 yards in four of the Tigers' final five games of the season, including a career-high 131 in the Tigers' ACC Championship Game victory against North Carolina on Dec. 5.

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