Bob Stoops enters this game with the chance to become only the second coach in NCAA history to secure wins in all four major bowl games. However, this could be his toughest test yet as the Oklahoma Sooners face the Alabama Crimson Tide. Execution will prove vital for both teams in the Sugar Bowl. Here are five keys to the game for OU.
Containing TJ Yeldon
Alabama possesses a top-25 rushing attack largely due in part to one T.J. Yeldon. This talented sophomore back has eclipsed the 1,000 yard barrier in consecutive seasons and is looking to add to his already impressive resume. For his career, Yeldon is averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Behind a physical offensive line, it is no wonder as to why this kid anchors the offense and is called upon time and time again. Due to his abilities, the Crimson Tide offense often finds success in setting up the pass by using play-action as opposing teams stack the box.
Slipping to 27th in the nation against the run is Oklahoma at 138.3 yards per game. Injuries have played a major role in the downward trend this season. Yet, guys like Jordan Wade and Dominique Alexander are leading the resurgence. A defense built for speed, the Sooners are going to make personnel changes in an attempt to slow down this pro-style offense. Regardless, it starts by limiting the efforts of the rushing attack.
Forcing Bama Into 3rd & Long Situations
Bama's Rushing Stats on 3rd Down with 4+ Yards to Go
|3rd Down, 4-6 To Go||3||4||16||4.00||0||7||2||0||0|
|3rd Down, 7-9 To Go||1||1||8||8.00||0||8||1||0||0|
|3rd Down, 10+ To Go||8||12||20||1.67||0||6||0||0||0|
Bama's Passing Stats on 3rd Down with 4+ Yards to Go
|3rd Down, 4-6 To Go||11||27||18||66.7||176||3||0||158.10||31||14||1||1|
|3rd Down, 7-9 To Go||11||27||18||66.7||229||0||0||137.91||54||10||4||3|
|3rd Down, 10+ To Go||8||24||16||66.7||205||3||2||163.00||38||7||5||1|
The Sooners possess one of the better secondaries in all of college football. With a lockdown corner in Aaron Colvin and a youngster with promise in Zack Sanchez, expect the coaching staff to play man coverage. Forcing their opponent into 3rd-and-long situations favors this unit as it makes the opposing offense seemingly one dimensional. Oklahoma will have an upper hand assuming they can play percentages on 3rd down.
Attacking the Edges
In the Big XII, speed is no longer a commodity but more so a requirement. The Sooners are no exception to this rule and have recruited speed on both sides of the ball. Going up against a 3-4 defense means that there will be some bigger linebackers on the field. Oklahoma needs to utilize the speed on the roster in their recently installed zone read/read option to attack the edges. Of course, this is easier said than done.
Forcing the Corners to Make Plays
With a talented group of receivers, Oklahoma may have the best overall unit that Alabama has faced all season. The biggest weakness of the Crimson Tide defense has been the cornerbacks. With only one defensive back standing at or above 6-1, taller receivers have been able to take advantage of this secondary. In a three-wide set, the Sooners have that same potential with LaColtan Bester. A tall receiver at 6-3, Bester will be counted on to make plays in order to keep the defense honest. One thing Oklahoma cannot afford is to find themselves bottled up while being forced to pass in order to win.
The troubles of this Crimson Tide special teams unit has been well documented throughout the season. As two teams clashed in a high profile match-up known as the Iron Bowl, Alabama's woes came to a head. With three missed field goal attempts by Cade Foster, no one could fathom what happened next. With time appearing to expire, Nick Saban argued for one second to be put back up on the clock. The decision cost dearly as their opponent fielded the attempt in the endzone and subsequently ran it back for the game winning touchdown. Confidence is likely at an all-time low for Foster.
If the Sooners want to keep this game close, not only will they hope for some of the kicking woes of Bama to manifest themselves in this game, it may also require a special teams score. Jalen Saunders has been electric in the return game throughout the season ending on three consecutive outings with a punt return for a touchdown. Hopefully, the defense is prepared for an efficient opposing offense while finding success in forcing Alabama to punt. The rest is in the hands of Saunders...literally.
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