The College Football Playoff semifinal bowl games were a split decision in some ways. Clemson won as an underdog, Alabama won as a favorite. From my own personal standpoint, Clemson was a team I was rooting for while Alabama was not. But this they had in common—I picked Oklahoma and Michigan State to win yesterday. In my defense, I was only wrong by a combined total of 58 points.
I expected Oklahoma to establish more offensive balance, but the Sooners could do nothing running the football. Samaje Perine had a good first drive, where Oklahoma scored, but ended the night with only 58 yards and was briefly injured in the second half.
By contrast, Clemson ran the ball. It wasn’t just that DeShaun Watson, the Heisman runner-up was able to run. Make no mistake, the quarterback was very effective with his feet, gaining 145 yards. But we knew that coming in. Where Clemson really separated themselves from OU was their work in the conventional running game—Tiger running back Wayne Gallman ran for 150 yards and prevented the Sooners from completely keying on Watson.
College football has changed a lot, but one thing still remains true—ground is the safest way to travel. When you outrush your opponent 312-67, you aren’t going to lose too many football games. Frankly, the 37-17 final doesn’t do justice to how thoroughly Clemson controlled play. Their own mistakes left them settling for field goals in a first half where they trailed 17-16. Once those got cleaned up, it was all Tigers in the second half.
I guess I knew my hopes for Michigan State were doomed in two key second quarter drives. On the first, normally reliable Aaron Burbridge dropped a sure first-down catch and another drop prevented the Spartans from getting at least a field goal. And at the very end of the half, in position to get at least three points, quarterback Conner Cook threw an ill-advised pass that was intercepted at the pylon.
The halftime score was only 10-0, but it should have been at least 10-6 and perhaps tied. Michigan State had to win this game on the outside with their quarterback and receivers and for a half, the defense played well enough to allow that to happen. But as the game began to get away, the Spartans finally broke, the floodgates were opened and the Tide rolled in to the tune of 38-0.
We’ll talk more about Clemson and Alabama prior to their meeting in the national championship game on January 11 in Glendale. For now, let’s give the seasons of Oklahoma and Michigan State an appropriate burial.
Oklahoma looked finished when they turned in a listless performance in a 24-17 loss to Texas. The Sooners put on an impressive November run in beating Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State in succession to win the Big 12 and get their Playoff shot. The fact that those games saw the Sooners play against backup quarterbacks looms larger now in light of what happened yesterday. But this was still a great comeback year for head coach Bob Stoops after a subpar year, at least by OU standards, left some of us wondering if Stoops’ time in Norman had run its course.
Michigan State has even more reason to be proud. It was a magical year, with late wins against Oregon, Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa. In a college football world that’s basically owned by the brand-name programs, the relatively non-traditional Spartans are still a little up against it when it comes to competing for a national championship. By winning the Big Ten title, beating Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh and at least getting to the Playoff, Mark Dantonio kept moving forward.
So congratulations to the Sooners and Spartans for their year in making the football Final Four. Now it’s time to look forward to a week from Monday and the Clemson-Alabama battle.