The Orange Bowl is upon us. If you’re an Oklahoma fan, these are the moments you live for, these are the ones you look back and talk about for decades. The Sooners, after one of the more chaotic seasons in history, have earned their way into a semi-final playoff match against college football juggernaut, Alabama. Before we get into it, BIG shoutout to you all who have followed us for a couple seasons now as well as those just discovering the site. Now let’s go!
Alabama: When it comes to Alabama, almost unfair to specify just a couple names as impact players for the Tide. Top to bottom, it is the most complete team in all of college football, and has been for a some time. However as it pertains to the Orange Bowl, here are names to watch: Defensively, there is no bigger name than Quinnen Williams. The Tide’s star defensive tackle (66 total tackles on the season) is one of, if not, THE most dominant defensive player in college football and spearheads the talented Bama front-seven. The Bama secondary hasn’t been at the level it was in past seasons, but both Saivion Smith and the lesser known Shyheim Carter are both very talented defensive backs that will test Kyler Murray’s accuracy. Offensively, it’s a who’s who of offensive skill talent, however one guy that could go unaccounted for is tight end, Irv Smith. For all the talk that Jeudy and Waddle have gotten, Smith has quietly put together a really good season and is an equal threat to what Oklahoma had in Mark Andrews.
Oklahoma: By now, you should be familiar with Oklahoma’s talent. Heisman winner, Kyler Murray is the cog that makes the nation’s number one offense work. If there was ever a quarterback that can get the best of this Alabama defense, it would be Murray. Wide receiver play will be big, but to win, Oklahoma will need to rely on Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon to establish a ground game as you’re not going to find much success being one-dimensional. Defensively, Oklahoma has an even bigger test containing Tua Tagovailoa and the immense talent around him. Robert Barnes will need to keep the top on secondary against Jerry Jeudy and Jaylen Waddle. If the cap comes off, it could be a long night. Up front, linebackers Curtis Bolton, Kenneth Murray, and Caleb Kelly will need to be the tone setters. Whether its Tua on the run, or one of Alabama’s bevy of running backs, someone needs to be physical at the point of attack, as Bama will undoubtedly run downhill until proven otherwise.
FACTS & STATS:
- Oklahoma has a slightly higher completion percentage in road and neutral site games than in home games, while Alabama’s defense allows a noticeably higher completion percentage in road/neutral site games.
- Alabama’s rushing defense is significantly better while on the road/neutral site than at home. Oklahoma’s rushing attack is slightly weaker on the road/neutral site and noticeably weaker against AP ranked opponents. However, Oklahoma’s rushing attack was significantly stronger in the final weeks of the season.
- Oklahoma scores more points against FBS winning opponents than Alabama does.
- Alabama converts 3rd downs at a rate of 45% against AP ranked opponents while Oklahoma’s defense allows 3rd down conversions at a rate of 55%.
- Alabama rushes for more yards per carry on 3rd and 7 or longer than on 3rd and short. Oklahoma’s rushing defense is at it’s best against 3rd and long allowing -1.38 ypc.
THINGS TO CONSIDER:
- This is Oklahoma’s first bowl AND playoff appearance without a Stoops on staff (Drake is on the roster). Truly, a new era in Oklahoma football.
- Oklahoma’s defense is slightly more talented on paper than it was going into the Rose Bowl, but noticeably less experienced. At the same time, they’ve unquestionably been playing their best football late and perhaps found their stride.
- This is Lincoln Riley’s second straight playoff appearance as head coach. His first go-around didn’t go as planned with some questionable play-calls which he admitted to both after the Rose Bowl and coming into this game.
- Marquise Brown’s foot injury has been well documented. If he isn’t 100%, perhaps we see more straight-line routes than cut-routes. Important thing for Oklahoma is that he stresses the top of that secondary.
- Kenneth Murray has been quiet this season. Oklahoma could sure use a big game from him going against three highly-rated Alabama backs.
- Oklahoma can start off hot, while Alabama from time-to-time can start a little slow. If there was ever an advantage for Oklahoma, it would be to come out and score quick. Let Alabama play your game, not the other way around.
- Oklahoma forces two turnovers.
- Oklahoma rushes for 150 yards.
- Lee Morris scores two touchdowns.
- Amani Bledsoe makes two sacks.
This is a game that, on paper, shouldn’t go OU’s way. Alabama has the most talent and has been more complete of team than Oklahoma is. That said, Oklahoma has really done some nice things lately that suggest that they have more than a slim chance pulling off their first playoff win. However, I have to stick with my podcast prediction of Alabama 45, Oklahoma 35, BUT, for what it’s worth, I’m starting to think this game could be interesting.