The 2018 Orange Bowl should be a very entertaining matchup, with a Heisman finalist on one side, and a Heisman winner on the other. The No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0) roll into Miami boasting the best record in college football and looking to continue their dynastic run of national championships in this College Football Playoff Semi-Final.
The No. 4 Oklahoma Sooners (12-1) are hoping to upset the apple cart and put themselves seriously in the national title conversation by getting a win in the Orange Bowl.
To do that, they’ll need to get past an Alabama team that’s one of the most complete Nick Saban’s had. The Tide are unusually good on offense this season, and are stellar on defense, as you would expect. Oklahoma, meanwhile, is extremely unbalanced, and will continue to test the theory that a team needs to be balanced in order to win at a high level.
Oklahoma is elite offensively with Kyler Murray, who’s probably the fastest quarterback in the country, and he’s surrounded by multiple NFL-caliber personnel in virtually every position group. The Sooners are putting up historic numbers, averaging almost 9 yards per play. They have been held under 30 points only once this season.
Even though their coach hails from the Air Raid coaching tree, the Sooners have the best offensive line in the Big 12, and integrate a lot of power football concepts into their running game. The combination of speed and power from Oklahoma has been contained by a few teams, but no one has been able to stop it.
The biggest weakness for either team lies on the Oklahoma side of things, however. The Sooners are fielding one of their worst defenses in the last 20 years. The unit is 89th in S&P+ according to Football Outsiders, and rank last in the Big 12 in pass defense.
The Sooners are average in their ability to hold up against the run, but have benefited overall from the increasingly aggressive playcalling of interim defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill. McNeill’s influence on Oklahoma since he took over midseason has been minimal, but under him blitzers have been able to get into opposing backfields with more frequency.
Alabama’s ability to score will likely depend on the play they get out of the quarterback position. Lucky for them, they’ve got two of college football’s best quarterbacks in Tua Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts. Tagovailoa was having a Heisman-level season before an injury earlier this season, and an ankle sprain suffered in the SEC championship game might prevent him from being 100% in this one.
The Tide also have a productive running game with Damien Harris and Najee Harris averaging 6.1 and 6.7 yards per carry, respectively.
Defensively, the Tide once again have a Top 10 unit. Their defensive line is the strength of the team, with nose guard Quinnen Williams – who won the Outland Trophy – capable of tearing up opposing backfields.
Alabama has given up a few big plays this season, but that might be the only thing they have that resembles a “weakness” on defense.
KEYS TO THE GAME FOR OKLAHOMA
Get The Ball In Space – Oklahoma will really need to get the ball to their speedy playmakers in order to be able put up points against Alabama. The Tide know how to tackle, but Oklahoma needs to try and use their athleticism to open things up in terms of scoring. They don’t need to average 9 yards per play against Alabama – and it’s highly unlikely that they will – but the Tide would rather win this game in a phone booth.
Put Pressure On Tua – The Sooners probably can’t hope to consistently stop Alabama’s offense, but if they are able to get to the quarterback, Oklahoma might be able to force just enough mistakes to give them an edge. Alabama hasn’t really turned the ball over this season, but the Sooners will likely need to get that rare takeaway in order to win in Miami.
Take The Points – Lincoln Riley’s team will likely get opportunities to go for it on short yardage situations, and Riley needs to remember that he has a very steady field goal kicker in Austin Seibert. ‘Bama is still ‘Bama, and they are still looking to take advantage of their opponents’ mistakes. Being too aggressive could hurt the Sooners as well.
The real test in this game is going to be Oklahoma’s defense and to what extent it can limit Alabama’s offense. Most people looking at this game are thinking that even though the Sooners might be able to score into the 40s or 50s, Alabama could very well top the 60 mark offensively.
I actually think that in order for Oklahoma to win this game, they don’t need it to be too high scoring. Normally, being able to score allows the Sooners to put pressure on opposing offenses to keep pace. With the mismatches in this game, that might actually give an advantage to the Tide, who will likely be able to score a little more easily.
I will take Alabama to win, but I think Oklahoma covers. The Sooners will need to be very balanced in this game, and I think they will be able to do that, but like most people I think that Oklahoma’s defense just weighs down their chances in this one. Alabama by nine points.