Sooners talked early, but Clemson delivered final word in Orange Bowl

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, center Ty Darlington and linebacker Eric Striker sat behind the podium, with the door entering the postgame interview room tucked around the corner.

Each time the door swung open, the cacophony of celebrating Clemson players from outside cascaded in, overtaking whatever was being said over the microphone.

In the days leading up to the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl, Oklahoma did plenty of talking, as it had all year. That culminated with a verbal tussle between players from the Tigers and Sooners after a luncheon the day before the game.

In the end, Clemson delivered the final word, demolishing the Sooners 37-17 Thursday at Sun Life Stadium to put Oklahoma's season to an emphatic end for the second straight year.

"Give them credit, they beat the heck out of us," Darlington said. "They absolutely did."

Absolutely, completely and utterly.

While pulverizing the Sooners in the trenches on both sides of the ball, Clemson rolled up 312 yards on the ground and averaged better than five yards a carry. Oklahoma's powerful rushing duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon, meanwhile, combined for only 62 rushing yards before the Tigers knocked both out of the game (Perine temporarily, Mixon for good) with pad-popping hits.

"They were the more physical team," Striker said. "They had the will. They wanted it more."

Entering the playoff, Oklahoma seemed to be the country's hottest team, coming off resounding November road victories over Baylor and Oklahoma State.

As a result, the Sooners arrived in South Beach with plenty of swagger, derived from blunt-talking quarterback Baker Mayfield, whose unbridled confidence gradually had rubbed off on his teammates.

"There's an edge, there's a chippiness to us," Darlington said. "That's the personality of this group. That's when we play our best."

That, however, amounted to little at the Orange Bowl. No matter the bravado, the Sooners simply weren't in Clemson's class. And the reason was rather straightforward: Oklahoma couldn't block the Tigers, and the Sooners couldn't stop Clemson from blocking them.

"That's the humiliating part," Darlington said. "That's where we pride ourselves, to win the battle in the trenches on both sides of the ball -- that we're going to be the more physical team.

"It's frustrating that that's the way you've got to go out."

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables confessed that his players "felt slighted" by Oklahoma this week despite being undefeated and the playoff's top seed, and despite having stomped the Sooners 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl last season.

"I loved it. Because I know how our guys are," Venables said. "That's not why we won.

"But I do think our guys played with a real edge to them."

That was evident from the second quarter on.

Even after losing All-American defensive end Shaq Lawson to a knee injury on the first series, the Tigers swarmed Mayfield from every direction. Offensively, Clemson's one-two punch of Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman sliced and diced the Sooners' front seven.

"We were outplayed badly in the second half, and that's where [the game was decided]," Stoops said. "We knew it was going to be a long day."

As long as the day was, the season for Oklahoma was not. The Sooners turned a corner this year to become relevant in a way they hadn't in some time. With 17 starters back, including Mayfield, Perine and Mixon, Oklahoma has plenty to build off going into 2016.

The Sooners are not going anywhere anytime soon.

"You can't take away the Big 12 championship and the fact that this group of seniors has led us back to one game from being in the national championship," Stoops said. "That part is there and doesn't go away.

"[But] we weren't good enough to finish it. ... That's the bottom line."

Bottom line, the Tigers had been waiting to prove again they were the better team. Afterward, nothing more needed to be said. The celebrations from the hall said it all.

"It's been a good run," said Striker, a senior. "But I'm sitting here very humbled.

"It sucks to walk out like that."