Today, as you can obviously guess, we will not be having regular #content, JP, etc. But, we do have our Q&A with the excellent Oklahoma site, Crimson and Cream Machine. Site manager Jack Shields was exceedingly gracious with his time, giving us an in-depth look at Alabama’s Orange Bowl opponent — one the Tide has traditionally struggled with — the Oklahoma Sooners.
Dig in, enjoy, and Merry Christmas to you all from the RBR editors and staff.
We saw Marquise Brown go down with a leg injury a few weeks ago. Do we know what his status for the game is, and for those unfamiliar with the Sooners, what does he bring to the OU offense?
Basically, the word is that he hasn’t practiced yet but is expected by the coaches to play on Saturday. Will that come to fruition? Honestly, we probably won’t know until Saturday afternoon at the earliest. OU keeps these things very close to the vest.
As you’re probably aware, he’s capable off ripping the top off of a secondary with his 4.3 speed. In fact, he’s been considered the top WR prospect in the 2019 Draft (albeit in a relatively thin WR class). If he can’t go, that certainly changes the complexion of things to a degree, but it isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker for the OU offense. Brown has been hampered from time to time this season and wasn’t even much of a factor in the offense in the first half of the 2017 season, so it’s not like Lincoln Riley’s offense comes to a grinding halt without him. Sophomore CeeDee Lamb is a first-round pick waiting to happen, and there are plenty of other targets who have proven their worth – often in clutch situations.
However, not having all hands on deck against this Alabama defense would be disconcerting, particularly if OU would be missing one element that makes it so dangerous offensively.
People tend to think of Oklahoma as a finesse passing team, but the real demoralizing damage comes on the ground -- The Sooners are 11th in the nation running the ball, racking up 3300 yards and 40 TDs at 6.67 yards a clip. Tell the Alabama people about OU’s backfield.
Well, I’m going to have to give a shout-out to this offensive line first. ‘Finesse’ sure as hell isn’t the word to describe this group, and their nastiness is a reflection of their position coach, Bill Bedenbaugh. It’s also a fairly athletic group, which certainly comes into play in Oklahoma’s run scheme.
Anyway, this is an interesting backfield in the absence of Rodney Anderson, who was (is) the total package. He was one of the most powerful backs in the country, the OU backfield’s best home-run hitter, and a great receiver out of the backfield. I’ve heard people say stuff along the lines of “OU hasn’t missed a beat without Anderson”, which is simply untrue in spite of the success on the ground game.
Sophomore Trey Sermon is a powerful, blue-chip back out of SEC country (Sprayberry HS in Marietta, Ga.) who has great patience and vision. That brings me to Kennedy Brooks, who really stepped up while Sermon was hampered down the stretch.
With most great OU backs in the 21st century, it’s been easy to pinpoint the physical traits what made each of them so successful. Adrian Peterson, DeMarco Murray, Damien Williams, Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine and Rodney Anderson were either big, powerful backs, absolute burners or were a combination of the two. Meanwhile, Brooks is around 5’11 and 200. He probably runs 4.7 40. Yet… he leads the nation in yards per carry at 9.04. How is he doing this? Well, he might be the most instinctive ball-carrier I’ve seen in Norman. He maximizes his gains by taking the perfect angle or making a cut at the perfect time. He also has balance that, at times, seems to defy physics. Some were surprised when OU added him to the class prior to his senior season of high school, and he proceeded to rush for over 2,700 yards against 6A competition in the state of Texas.
OU only has three healthy scholarship backs after the injury to Marcelias Sutton, and the third guy is IMG freshman TJ Pledger. He’s a smaller back, but he packs a bit of a punch and is pretty effective in the open field. If Sermon is fully healthy, I wouldn’t expect to see much of him, but he’s capable of making an impact if called upon.
Kyler Murray has rushed for over 900 yards, with 2/3rds of those being designed ground plays for him. Does he get most of those designed carries via RPOs or is he being used in other ways?
It’s a big of both. You’ll see him quickly take off after very briefly looking downfield in an empty-backfield set. Some of those are likely the result of something he sees in a defense, but some are also premeditated.
We like to joke about our special teams around here, but what about the Sooners? Where do the strengths and weaknesses lie?
Austin Seibert has been both the kicker and the punter for this team for four years now. He’s been a proficient punter the entire time but has been really solid as a placekicker over the past couple of seasons. However, as you’re probably aware, OU likes to go for it on fourth down quite often, so you don’t always see much him other than his kickoffs (which he typically boots out of the end zone).
As far as coverage and other things are concerned, Shane Beamer has improved things in his first season. However, OU typically isn’t a big threat for a return TD.
While the sheer yards-allowed are insane and likely an artifact of the Big 12, OU’s defensive front has been pretty good against the ground game -- just allowing 4 yards a carry. In fact, they’ve been even better on the road than at home. What kind of scheme do the Sooners roll out against rushing attacks?
In its first matchup against Texas (and throughout much of the season), OU rolled out its nickel package in an attempt to limit the damage in the passing game. After seeing how ineffective at the Cotton Bowl, Ruffin McNeill implemented more of a 4-3 hybrid scheme in the Big 12 Championship game. Texas still did a lot of damage through the air, but OU was able to largely neutralize the Texas run game in that go-around. Will we see a similar strategy this time around? I’m not sure, nor am I sure that it would be quite as effective against a great ‘Bama rushing attack.
Oklahoma, alone among playoff contenders, comes into the Orange Bowl with a negative turnover margin (-2). The offense isn’t turning it over a bunch, which helps, but the defense isn’t generating many either. Is this scheme, lack of playmakers, or something else?
OU’s inability to create turnovers was absolutely mind-boggling for much of the season. They often had guys who were in good position to make it happen, but we saw a lot of dropped interceptions. It can certainly be argued that the scheme hasn’t helped the turnover numbers, as well. Having said that, the worm seemed to turn down the stretch against West Virginia and Texas, so I guess they have that going for them, which is nice.
Who is the one player Oklahoma must slow down to have success?
It’s tough to pinpoint an individual on Alabama’s offense since there are so many NFL-caliber players, but I suppose freshman Jaylen Waddle is one who grabs my attention here. Limiting big gains is going to be crucial for this defense, and Waddle is a big-play machine. Having said that, I don’t picture this defense pinpointing an individual and neutralizing them.
Who is the Sooners’ unheralded MVP of the season, and what has he done that’s gone under the radar?
I suppose I’d have to say Kennedy Brooks. He never seems not be in the conversation when national analysts discuss Oklahoma’s cast of playmakers, but he’s been vital to OU’s success down the stretch.
If Oklahoma wins the game, it will be because _______.
If OU wins the game, it’s because the defense finds ways to get off the field in third-and-long situations. That’s been an issue for this team all season long, and my hair is beginning to resemble George Clooney’s as a result.
Any final thoughts? Predictions?
I’ve been saying Alabama 55, Oklahoma 49, so I’ll stick with it.
I’ll close this by saying that I actually like most Alabama fans. I’ve lived in Pensacola and Atlanta in the past, so I’ve had plenty of good football conversations with ‘Bama folks. Whenever OU and Bama have played each other in the past, the fan bases always seemed to get along, and I think that’s because they’re kindred spirits. The Tide fans were gracious in defeat in 2002, 2003 and following the 2014 Sugar Bowl. Y’all are good in my book. Also, your Dixieland Delight tradition might be the best in college football at this point.
If you can’t get enough Orange Bowl coverage, or you missed it previously, we did some dueling podcasts with their staff — and both turned out to be a lot of fun. For a way-too-early look at the game:
That’s it for today. Have a very Merry and very safe Christmas. All the best to you and yours.
We’ll see you tomorrow.