No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)
Saturday, 5 p.m. PST, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. TV: ESPN. Radio: 710.
Alabama’s offense vs. Oklahoma’s defense. In a game between teams that can score in bunches, the favored Crimson Tide hope to avoid a shootout, and their offense can play a role in that. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa appears to have recovered sufficiently from minor ankle surgery and is expected to lead a unit that averages 47.9 points and 527.6 yards. The Sooners rank a worrisome 108th in total defense but showed improvement late in the season, making a string of big plays. So Alabama coach Nick Saban views Saturday night in terms of possession time. He would like his offense to engineer long drives, eating up the clock and avoiding mistakes that would give Oklahoma more chances to score. “Turnovers, dropped balls, not continuing drives on third down, letting them have extra opportunities in the game — you’re actually enhancing their opportunities to a large degree, and that’s something that you definitely want to avoid,” he said.
Alabama (527.6 ypg/47.9 ppg): The Crimson Tide are having their best offensive season in recent memory, ranking just below Oklahoma in several categories. Tagovailoa, with his strong and accurate arm, gets most of the credit. If he can’t play on that mending ankle, former starter Jalen Hurts proved he can still lead the team, engineering a comeback victory in the Southeastern Conference title game. The ground game is powered by three capable backs — Damien Harris (771 yards), Najee Harris (679 yards) and Josh Jacobs (495 yards). Receiver Jerry Jeudy has 59 catches for 1,103 yards.
Oklahoma (577.9 ypg/49.5 ppg): There has been a lot of talk in recent weeks about Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Kyler Murray and his “historic” offense. The Sooners have a chance to enter the record book as the first Football Bowl Subdivision team with a 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers and two 1,000-yard rushers. This is a unit that averages 8.7 yards a play — another potential record — and doesn’t waste a whole lot of time, scoring 78% of its touchdowns on drives of less than three minutes.
Alabama (295.4 ypg/14.8 ppg): Does it say something that Alabama’s media guide lists defensive accomplishments before offensive highlights? Saban has built this program on stopping opponents and, even with a young, rebuilding unit, has produced another monster. Quinnen Williams is an Outland Trophy winner at nose guard, backed up by veteran middle linebacker Mack Wilson. The Crimson Tide are ranked fourth in points allowed and 10th in total defense. Oklahoma’s Murray describes them this way: “They’ve got guys all over the field … guys who will be in the NFL soon.”
Oklahoma (448.1 ypg/32.4): This pretty much explains why oddsmakers have the Sooners as underdogs by a wide margin. Coming from the score-happy Big 12 Conference, they have struggled to keep opponents out of the end zone, ranking 96th in points allowed. Coach Lincoln Riley would prefer to focus on the last two games, when his team generated two defensive touchdowns at West Virginia and a crucial safety against Texas. “We’re a young defense in that we’ve got a lot of young players and we revamped at midseason,” Riley said. “I feel like we’re improving faster than maybe you would expect this time of year.”
With 489 points in his college career, Oklahoma’s Austin Seibert needs only six more to break the FBS record for kickers. The senior is tied for seventh in the nation in field-goal percentage, making 88% of his attempts this season.
Not only does Oklahoma own a 3-1-1 record all-time against Alabama, but the Sooners have won three in a row, including a 45-31 victory in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.