image via sbnation.com
New year, new things. The Hurry Up will take place of the “What To Watch For” posts. It will be similar in many ways, but will be better organized and will give each writer a voice. The goal is to give you the readers quick info/predictions before each matchup.
Oklahoma returns to the Sugar Bowl for the first time since their upset victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide. This time, the Sooners enter under much different circumstances. Against Alabama, Oklahoma didn’t have many known playmakers, they weren’t set at quarterback, and were considered to be out classed at every position on the field. This time around, the Sooners couldn’t look anymore different. Lincoln Riley’s explosive offense is headed by two Heisman finalists in quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook. Their backfield is loaded with talent in the form of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. They have NFL potential along the offensive line. The defense — despite it’s obvious woes — seems to have started to find it’s footing with the emergence of true-freshman, Caleb Kelly.
This isn’t the same team. That said, they’ll need to find that same energy and mentality the 2013 team had in order to beat Auburn.
With that, let’s get into the Hurry Up.
- It starts up front and it ends up front. This is by far the toughest test for the Oklahoma offensive line since Ed Oliver. Auburn has explosive athletes all along their defensive line. The matchup between Oklahoma’s Bobby Evans and Auburn’s Carl Lawson is key here.
- Baker Mayfield has been poised all year. He will be under a lot of pressure from Auburn’s defensive line this time around. He’ll need to create some time using his legs, but more importantly — be smart with the ball.
- Oklahoma needs wide receivers outside of Dede Westbrook to make plays. Looking at Geno Lewis, Mark Andrews, Nick Basquine and Jeff Mead (seems to make big plays at the right times) to help out their quarterback.
- Joe Mixon. With everything that has gone on off the field, where is Mixon’s mind at? This offense can’t afford to solely rely on Samaje Perine.
- It starts up front and it ends up front. Auburn has one of the best rushing attacks in the country with Kerryon Johnson and Kamryn Pettway. These tough, bruising backs can physically wear down a defense. Gap integrity is key.
- Sean White isn’t a prolific passer and may provide the best opportunities for turnovers. The Oklahoma secondary hasn’t capitalized on many bad passes over the season. Can they change that on the national stage?
- Jordan Evans. This seems like a game where he can really be the story. Has the size to be an enforcer against the Auburn rushing attack and the athleticism to be used in coverage. A big game would big game today would be a nice way to finish his career at Oklahoma.
- Caleb Kelly. The defense continues to improve with him on the field. Will he be the x-factor Oklahoma needs to shut down this Auburn offense?
Oklahoma hasn’t had the easiest break with the release of the Mixon video being an obvious distraction for the team. Has it hurt them or was it something grow from? I tend to believe the latter. Auburn will get their big runs, but the Oklahoma defense bends and doesn’t break. It stays close but the speed of the Oklahoma offense takes over late. Oklahoma wins 34-28.
- Montravius Adams, Carl Lawson, and Marlon Davidson will be the best pass rush that Oklahoma has faced in the last five years. They are that good. With that said, it is going to be crucial that the offensive line can hold their ground. As Stephen said, it starts and ends up front against Auburn.
- Sure-handed receivers like Geno Lewis and Nick Basquine have to get open against a physical secondary unit. Dede Westbrook will get his, but he (he’s proved just about everybody wrong so who knows) can’t carry the receiver unit all game. Look at how the Sooners beat Alabama in their last Sugar Bowl trip.
- Will Lincoln Riley try to prove anything? Physicality has been a major question mark about Oklahoma’s offense since 2008. They showed signs the last two years, but will Riley try to force those questions to go away and pound the run game?
- To counter that, will Lincoln Riley abandon the run game early if it isn’t working? A lot of variables going into this game in terms of game plans, but he and the rest of the Sooners offense need to continue to keep it balanced between run and pass like they did for all of the regular season.
- Is Baker Mayfield ready to start his 2017 Heisman campaign? The Sugar Bowl will be the last major college football game outside the national championship of the 2016 season. He, and the rest of the Oklahoma team, can send a major message heading into the offseason.
- This is the kind of offense that Mike Stoops’ 3-4 is built to stop. Will he trust his secondary enough to consistently keep seven in the box as he did against Tennessee in 2015? If so, I do not see Oklahoma having any issues defensively.
- One unique thing that I have failed to point out when scouting Auburn is that a lot of defenses that they played had safeties coming down to make plays. Steven Parker is not the most physical safety, but Mike and Bob Stoops will need him to play at a high level to slow down a power-run offense.
- Linebacker play is going to be huge. Jordan Evans and Emmanuel Beal have been inconsistent together all year, and the Sooners will need them to be at their best.
Is Big Game Bob ready to continue his onslaught the last three years of the SEC? The more I think about the game, the more I lean towards Auburn. Either War Eagle wins 30-28, or Oklahoma wins comfortably 31-23.
This is game that will come down to who can force turnovers, force 3rd down stops, and not make any mistakes on special teams. I truly do not have a prediction, but if I had to go with my gut, it would be Oklahoma 31-23.
- The battle in the trenches for Oklahoma’s offense is where this game will be won or lost. If the Sooners can somehow generate a push and remain balanced against a significant Auburn front, Stoops will be rolling. If OU cannot run the ball and abandons the rush entirely, it’s curtains for the Sooners.
- Joe Mixon, Joe Mixon, Joe Mixon, and more Joe Mixon. He’s the most important piece to this game-plan other than the OL for Oklahoma. His dynamic talents of playing in space and flexing out should give Auburn fits if there is enough time to get the ball out.
- Vertical or Horizontal? If the Sooners run various bubble screens and plays to the boundary, they will not be successful against the Tigers — they’re too fast. Oklahoma must get vertical, and in a hurry, if they want to remain in decent field position throughout the game.
- Does Oklahoma have enough beef up front to hang with the Tigers for all four quarters? Likely no. The Sooners will have to score early and often to force Auburn out of their comfort zone of running the ball. I would expect OU to play a true 3-4 the entire day to fit what Malzahn is doing.
- Do the Stoops brothers have their defense under control and disciplined? If not, this is going to be a looooong game for Oklahoma. If Obo, Beal, Evans, and Kelly cannot remain in their gaps and punish backs when they get the opportunity, the Sugar Bowl could turn sour pretty quickly.
- How much respect will Oklahoma give Sean White? If Oklahoma gives him very little and loads the box, expect Auburn to take some deep shots down the field because that’s all of the passing game that the Tigers have at this moment.
It seems as if we’ve seen this story before and that it’s been the same ol’ song and dance– Big, physical team meets Athletic, quicker team. Hell, that was even the case in the 2001 Orange Bowl (OUvFSU). If the quicker team, in this instance it’s Oklahoma, cannot force turnovers then the game will not have a positive outcome for Big XII connoisseurs. At the end of the day, I expect Oklahoma to get hosed by the entirely-too-physical DB play by Auburn so that “Pass Interferences” or “Holdings” go uncalled; It’s a Big Ten crew and nobody can forget this. Also, Auburn’s running backs will act as a violent form of Melatonin — the more time it’s in your system, the easier it is to lull your body to sleep in the fourth quarter. #WDE wins 35-24.