MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Clemson won its only national title in 1981, but the Tigers are one win away from doubling their championship total.
Led by quarterback Deshaun Watson, top-ranked Clemson defeated Oklahoma 37-17 in a College Football Playoff semifinal Thursday in the Orange Bowl at Sun Life Stadium.
Clemson (14-0) outscored Oklahoma 21-0 in the second half to advance to the national title game on Jan. 11 in Glendale, Ariz.
“It was an awesome second half,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told fans on the field after the game. “It’s been 34 years since Clemson played for the national championship, but we don’t have to wait much longer!”
Watson, who finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, ran 24 times for 145 yards and one touchdown. He also passed for 187 yards and one touchdown, completing 16 of 31 attempts. He was intercepted once.
“This is nice,” Watson said of his Offensive MVP trophy, “but we want the big award — the national (championship).”
Clemson running back Wayne Gallman also had a big day, running 26 times for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
However, the Tigers lost defensive end Shaq Lawson, a finalist for the Lombardi and Nagurski awards, who sustained a left knee injury in the first half and did not return.
Even without Lawson, the Tigers produced five sacks and shut down the Sooners in the second half.
Clemson junior outside linebacker Ben Boulware was selected the game’s Defensive MVP after producing eight tackles, one interception, one sack and one tackle for a loss. His interception was a spectacular one-hand grab.
“It’s the power of the moustache,” Boulware joked when asked about his success.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 26 of 41 passes for 311 yards and one touchdown for the fourth-ranked Sooners (11-2). However, he was sacked five times and intercepted twice.
Oklahoma scored on its first drive. The Sooners put together a 10-play, 75-yard march, capped by running back Samaje Perine’s 1-yard run. Oklahoma converted on third-and-7 and third-and-3 plays.
Clemson got on the board in the first quarter on kicker Greg Huegel’s 26-yard field goal. The Tigers needed nine plays to drive just 19 yards, but they were already in field-goal position when they got the ball, thanks to a short punt — 24 yards — by Austin Seibert.
The Tigers went up 10-7 in the second quarter on a 5-yard touchdown run by Watson, capping a seven-play, 96-yard drive.
“Watson made us miss him,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “We knew it was going to be challenging.”
There were two big plays on the drive: a 46-yard run by Watson to start the march and a 31-yard pass from punter Andy Teasdall to defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. The fake punt came when Clemson faced a fourth-and-4 from the Oklahoma 44.
As for the fake punt, Stoops said his team practiced for that type of scenario, but there was a linebacker who was late to adjust to the play.
After that touchdown, the teams traded field goals — 36 yards by Huegel and 22 yards by Seibert.
Huegel then hit a 43-yarder to give Clemson a 16-10 lead, but Oklahoma closed the first-half scoring on Mayfield’s 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mark Andrews. That capped a four-play, 76-yard drive and gave the Sooners a 17-16 lead.
Clemson took the lead with Gallman’s 1-yard run with 10:51 left in the third quarter.
Watson’s 35-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Hunter Renfrow gave the Tigers a 30-17 lead late in the third quarter. Gallman added to the advantage with a 4-yard run early in the fourth quarter.
“We were in position a lot of times, but we missed tackles,” Oklahoma defensive end Eric Striker said. “That hurt us the most.
“Talent doesn’t win the game. It’s the will. (Watson) had that will in the second half, and we didn’t. Watson and Gallman are great players, and they showed that.”
NOTES: K Greg Huegel’s third field goal of the game was his 25th of the season, a Clemson record. … Three Clemson players failed drug tests and were ruled out for the rest of the postseason: WR Deon Cain, K Ammon Lakip and TE Jay Jay McCullough. The biggest loss was Cain, who was second on the team in receiving yards (582) and touchdown catches (five). Lakip was the kickoff man. … Clemson was also without WR Mike Williams (neck injury) and DB Korrin Wiggins (knee). … Oklahoma was without RB Rodney Anderson (leg). … Clemson took a 3-2 lead in the teams’ all-time series. Oklahoma won in 1963 and 1972 before Clemson prevailed in 1989, 2014 and 2015.