The Alabama Crimson Tide entered the season with the top ranking and expectations of bring home yet another national championship. As the year wore on, a few weaknesses were exposed while the Tide continued to prove victorious. However, a hiccup occurred with a devastating last second loss to the Auburn Tigers in the Iron Bowl. Now, heading the Sugar Bowl, the Oklahoma Sooners will look to exploit the weaknesses previously revealed by other teams.
The Foreseeable Weaknesses
The Offensive Line
It is no secret that the offensive line works as a cohesive unit. After replacing a few key components, the Crimson Tide began working toward that very goal. Eventually, this group solidified as one of the best OLs in the nation opening up running lanes and passing lanes for AJ McCarron and TJ Yeldon. It is a large part of why this offense has the ability to be extremely balanced rushing for 212 yards while passing for 236.9 yards per game. But the story begins far before these numbers were generated.
On opening day, the Virginia Tech Hokies played host to Alabama. In a 35-10 loss, Bud Foster orchestrated a masterpiece defensively to keep his opponent on edge. Quickly recognizing the weakness in the trenches, the Hokies took advantage to come up with four sacks (considering the Crimson Tide have given up ten all season, this number proves fairly impressive). With constant pressure and mixed looks/blitzes, VT held the opposing quarterback to a mere 43.5% completion rate for 110 yards while intercepting one pass making it apparent that AJ McCarron is no mobile QB.
Now, once again, Nick Saban and his offensive line find themselves forced to insert a new piece as guard Anthony Steen will sit out due to shoulder surgery. If Oklahoma is looking to find a chink in the armor, this may be the best place to start. If Eric Striker and/or Charles Tapper can get in the backfield early and often, it could spell trouble for their opponent.
The Wide Receivers
Make no mistake, Alabama possesses one of the best talents in the nation at WR with Amari Cooper. Each an every year, the Crimson Tide have found success at putting offensive weapons on the field. But let's be honest...it isn't hard to land top recruits when the program is competing (and winning) national championships each and every year. Regardless, a quarterback can't make a throw if his receiver isn't open. It is this mentality that the Mississippi Bulldogs approached Bama with.
Early in November, this struggling Bulldogs team took their talents to Tuscaloosa and put their own secondary to the test. Challenged to cover receivers for long periods of time, MSU appeared to be up for it. With a smothering effort, Mississippi St. held the opposing quarterback to a 56.3% completion rate and 186 yards while forcing two interceptions.
As AJ McCarron, averaging a 67.6% completion rate, stood like a statue in the pocket looking for an open receiver, he found none. For the second time of 2013, a team forced this Heisman candidate into completing less than 60% of his passes as the offense sputtered with the defense pulled out a 20-7 win.
For Oklahoma, Aaron Colvin has been a lock down corner with NFL talent. He will be called upon to do much of what Mississippi St. was capable of doing in an attempt to slow down this offense. Of course it will be a combined effort in helping the youngster, Zack Sanchez on the other side of the field by playing a safety over the top. But, Sanchez has been tested previously and fared well.
While both Virginia Tech and Mississippi St. were able to slow down this offense, they simply failed to win the game. Just because a team finds a weakness to exploit does not guarantee victory. The Alabama Crimson Tide is still considered by many to be the best team in the nation regardless of the ranking and BCS Bowl bid. The outcome of the game largely depends on how well the Sooner offense plays against the Bama defense which we will get to in the coming days.