MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- After trailing at halftime, Clemson exploded with a monster second half to defeat Oklahoma 37-17 Thursday in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium.
The Tigers will face either Alabama or Michigan State for the national championship Jan. 11.
The game turned when: The second half began. The Sooners led at halftime, but only by the grace of their red zone defense, which held Clemson to one touchdown on four red zone chances in the first half. The Tigers opened the third quarter with an emphatic 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. Then later in the quarter, after stuffing Samaje Perine on fourth-and-1, Clemson went 70 yards in four plays to go up 30-17.
Player of the game: Watson was sensational, but running back Wayne Gallman was the difference in the second half. After gaining only 39 yards on seven carries through the first half, Gallman finished with 150. He had 22 yards on Clemson's first possession out of halftime, then had a 21-yard dash to spark the Tigers' next touchdown drive.
Top play: Clemson punter Andy Teasdall went from goat to hero by executing a brilliant fake punt in the second quarter, which ignited the Tigers the rest of the way. In the ACC championship game, coach Dabo Swinney chewed out Teasdall after he went rogue and tried and failed to convert a fake punt. That, however, made the Orange Bowl conversion all the more spectacular. With Clemson down 7-3, Teasdall took a few steps right as if he were about to punt. Instead, he pulled up and hauled a gorgeous spiral down the left sidelines to upback Christian Wilkins, who had pretended to block, then broke free on a wheel route. The 31-yard completion set up Watson's 5-yard touchdown run two plays later.
Stat of the game: Since losing to Texas on Oct. 11, Oklahoma had featured the top Power 5 rushing offense in the country, with an average of 300 yards per game. Thursday, the Tigers held the Sooners to only 67 yards rushing, with an average of 2.0 yards per carry. With a pair of big hits, Clemson also knocked Perine (ankle) temporarily out of the game, and Joe Mixon out of it for good. Behind Gallman and Watson, the Tigers, meanwhile, finished with 312 yards on the ground, as Clemson dominated the Sooners in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Unsung heroes: After Clemson All-American defensive end Shaq Lawson was sidelined on the first series because of a knee injury, fellow defensive ends Kevin Dodd and true freshman Austin Bryant stepped up with huge performances to more than make up for Lawson's absence. The duo spearheaded Clemson's defensive onslaught up front with a combined 4 1/2 tackles for loss and 1 1/2 sacks. Mayfield never found a groove, and the pressure Dodd and Bryant supplied off the edge was a big reason why.
What the win means for Clemson: After a dominating performance, the Tigers are now one victory away from their first national championship since 1981. Despite being the only team to go undefeated and earning the top seed, Clemson has gone somewhat overlooked, and even opened as the betting underdog against the Sooners. Thursday, the Tigers reminded everyone just how good they are, in every facet. Whether it's Michigan State or Alabama they face next, the Tigers are going to be one tough out in the national championship game.
What the loss means for Oklahoma: Overall, this was a fabulous season for the Sooners, who hadn't seriously contended for a national championship past October since 2008. But in the Orange Bowl, Oklahoma's flaws in the trenches were too much to overcome against a superior team in Clemson. Still, despite the disappointing finish to the season, the Sooners aren't going anywhere. With 17 starters back, including Mayfield at quarterback, Oklahoma will be loaded for a run back to the playoff in 2016.