FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- If Mike Stoops knows what to expect from Jordan Leggett or how he’s planning to match up against the Clemson tight end, he’s not showing his hand.
“Are you going to play nickel? Play regular?” Stoops asked rhetorically. “That’s what they’re trying to see, how we’re going to play with that guy in the game.”
It’s perhaps the biggest unknown in the Capital One Orange Bowl.
Leggett is one of Clemson’s most dangerous weapons, an All-ACC performer and exceptional red zone target. The Tigers use him as an inside blocker, an over-the-middle receiver, a deep threat, an outside receiver -- just about anywhere on the field.
On the flip side, Oklahoma’s defense simply has no template. In the wide-open Big 12, the Sooners haven’t seen a tight end even approaching Leggett’s talent. In fact, opponents have targeted their tight ends just 11 times against Oklahoma all season -- the fewest against any Power 5 team. Only Iowa State threw to a tight end more than once against the Sooners this season. Linebackers Eric Striker and Devante Bond could try to shadow Leggett, or nickel Will Johnson could get the job. No option seems ideal.
Where will Leggett line up? Who does Oklahoma use to defend him? It’s a mystery.
“It’s definitely going to be fun,” Leggett said. “It’ll be fun for me to see if they change their defensive game plan at all or if they keep it the same. I feel like our offense is going to match up against their defense pretty well.”
Leggett clearly has Stoops’ attention.
“He gives them a lot of different sets,” Stoops said, “and they move him around and put him in a lot of different positions to make plays, to be a blocker, to be a receiver.”
Leggett’s a Florida native, so playing in his home state comes with its own motivation. And this could, theoretically, be the final game in a Clemson uniform for the junior, who is entertaining an NFL future. And given Oklahoma’s strong pass rush and ball-hawking secondary, it certainly stands to reason that QB Deshaun Watson will look to Leggett often in the passing game.
Add it all up, and it makes the Clemson tight end among the most fascinating players on the field.
Even in last year’s Clemson-Oklahoma matchup in the Russell Athletic Bowl, the Tigers’ tight ends didn’t have a catch, but that was also a much different group. Leggett’s emergence in 2015 has changed the Tigers’ attack markedly, and it’s helped fill a big void left by Mike Williams, when the star wideout was hurt in Week 1.
Leggett’s 22 targets on third and fourth down are six more than any other Clemson receiver. His eight red zone targets also leads the team. And overall, only Alabama’s O.J. Howard, among Power 5 tight ends, has caught a higher percentage of his targets than Leggett.
“I had no idea that I’d be sitting as I am right now,” Leggett said before Sunday’s Orange Bowl practice. “I feel like the coaches have really developed trust in me, and it’s really shown through all my games.”