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The first CFP semifinal in Miami pits Clemson and Oklahoma.  Oklahoma looks to do the same thing Ohio State did last season: win the title as a #4 seed.  Clemson tries to complete the perfect season and win their first national championship since Danny Ford roamed the sidelines in 1981.  Here are three things I feel both teams have to do in order to win this game:

CLEMSON

  1. Stop the running game.  Oklahoma started to really hit stride offensively after their loss to Texas. Part of their resurgence came from the discovery of the running game. Samaje Perine ran for 130 or more yards in four of OU’s last five games.  Clemson has been vulnerable against the run, five games they allowed teams to run for 150 or more yards.  With Oklahoma’s run attack, Defensive end Shaq Lawson and the rest of the Clemson defense need to be on their “A” game.
  2. Don’t turn the ball over.  One of the more mystifying stats of all this season is that Clemson has been unscathed despite having a negative turnover margin!  Oklahoma can score points and you don’t want to give Baker Mayfield and company short fields to operate.  Clemson has three or more turnovers in three of their last four games.
  3. Get pressure on Baker Mayfield.  Mayfield gives Oklahoma a passing attack that was absent last season with Trevor Knight.  He can makes throws in and out of the pocket.  The front seven of Clemson has to get pressure on him, but also not lose contain because Mayfield can run (seven rushing touchdowns this season. Disrupting his rhythm will be crucial to Clemson’s success.

OKLAHOMA

  1. Pressure and contain Deshaun Watson.  Watson is the “heart and soul” of this offense as a dual-threat.  In his last six games, Watson has carried the ball 99 times!  OU defenders must keep “eye discipline” when Clemson runs the zone-read, but also make sure they don’t get caught creeping up and Watson burn them in the passing game.
  2. Continue to get Sterling Shepard the ball.  Shepard has been lights out as Mayfield’s primary target in the passing game.  He’s a very explosive player who runs great routes.  His play has picked up the last five games of the season, 47 catches and 5 touchdowns.
  3. Stay balanced. As stated earlier, the Sooners have regained a sense of physicality on offense since the Texas game.  A lot of credit should go to offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley for adapting and accepting this change. He is known as a “passing guru” coming from the Mike Leach coaching tree, so for him to run the football 60-65 percent of the time is certainly different.  They might be the most complete offense of all four playoff teams.

X-FACTOR

Clemson: WR Artavis Scott, his role expanded with the injury to Mike Williams to being the #1 guy.  He filled that role amazingly well with 84 receptions and 8 touchdowns.  A knee injury slowed him down a bit towards the end of the season, but now with the month-long rest he is fully healthy and ready to go.  He will need to be huge because his fellow mate and big-play threat Deon Cain has been suspended for the game for failing a drug test.

Oklahoma: LB Eric Striker, his coming out party was in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama two years ago. He has continued his strong play in a huge way this season with 14.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks.  He plays a huge role in this game because of the importance of Deshaun Watson to Clemson’s offense in the run game in particular.  Striker has to be disruptive.

Prediction: I have waffled on this game since the teams were announced.  Both teams are evenly matched with great offenses and underrated defenses.  What makes my decision for me is Clemson has not seen a running game like Oklahoma’s all year.  Perine and Joe Mixon make the difference in a very close Oklahoma win. Sooners 38-34

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