Sooners set sights on stemming powerful Tide

Jordan Mcpherson
Miami Herald
Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray (9) and linebacker Caleb Kelly (19) will have their hands full trying to slow down Alabama's offense.

Miami — Oklahoma’s Amani Bledsoe has heard the whispers, the noise, the criticisms.

He knows what the outside world is expecting to happen on Saturday when the fourth-ranked Sooners face top-ranked Alabama in the Orange Bowl on Saturday night for a spot in the College Football Playoff national championship game.

He knows Alabama is the favorite to win at Hard Rock Stadium this weekend and the Sooners defense faces its toughest test yet.

But above it all, know this: Bledsoe doesn’t care what the people on the outside think about his team.

Oklahoma (12-1) is still competing for a national championship, so the Sooners have every intention of being the team that breaks the Alabama offense enough to leave South Florida with a win.

“If that’s the case, so be it,” Bledsoe said about being underdogs in Saturday’s game. “We’ve been doubted a lot as a team and we don’t really care. We’re going to play our best football at the end of the day. … All we really need is for the people in that locker room to believe.

“We believe in each other.”

But the question remains: How will they do it? After all, it’s not like Alabama’s offense really has much of a weakness. The Crimson Tide has already shattered single-season program records for points (623) and touchdowns (84).

They can win it through the air, with Tua Tagovailoa leading the passing attack with his 3,353 yards with a single-season school record 37 touchdowns. He has five players around him with at least 500 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Jerry Jeudy leads the pack with 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Or the Crimson Tide can hit the opponent with the potent rushing attack, which has been the team’s identity for years. Alabama’s three-headed monster of Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs have combined for 1,945 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns while averaging just over 6 yards per rush.

“They’re not really the typical Alabama offense of the past,” Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray said.

The goal is to stop Alabama. In reality, merely containing them  getting a timely stop here or there and then executing on the other end  is probably what Oklahoma needs to hope for.

“In this type of game you’re going to need a lot because they do a great job of taking advantage,” Oklahoma defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill said. “Even if you’re not making mistakes, 50/50 balls, competitive balls, they’re able to make them. You know, we’ll need quite a few (breaks). I’m sure Coach Saban feels the same way about our offense.”

But Oklahoma, in the heart of a offense-happy Big 12, does not believe it's a typical Big 12 defense despite being ranked near the bottom of the country in yards allowed (448.1, 108th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision teams) and yards per play allowed (6.03, 101st).

The Sooners instead are pointing toward their recent success, namely the Big 12 Championship Game against Texas. Oklahoma held the Longhorns scoreless and to just 81 yards in the fourth quarter of its 39-27 win. That win ended a four-game stretch in which Oklahoma gave up at least 40 points to an opponent.

“We feel good,” Murray said. “Obviously we’ve had a month off, had a month to prepare, so regardless of whatever is happening, at the beginning of the season, throughout the season, stuff like that, that stuff doesn’t really matter right now. It’s all about winning a championship. It’s all about honing in on Alabama, getting ready to play those guys this Saturday. … Guys just realizing that we’re capable of doing that stuff definitely gives us a boost and definitely just makes us all more comfortable.”

The confidence, at the very least, will be needed on Saturday.

“At the end of the day, football is a game of numbers, so making sure we match those numbers and making sure we make plays,” Murray said. “I think that’s the biggest thing for us is getting in position and then making those plays, finishing.”

College Football Playoff


No. 1 Alabama (13-0) vs. No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1)

Kickoff: 8 p.m. Saturday


Line: Alabama by 14

Series record: Oklahoma, 3-1-1

Key matchup: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa vs. Oklahoma LB Kenneth Murray. For Oklahoma to be successful, Murray (140 tackles) is probably going to have make Tagovailoa think about where he’s at more than a few times.