As much of a threat that Alabama's offense presents to the Sooners in tonight's Sugar Bowl the biggest obstacle that Oklahoma is going to have to overcome will be the Tide's defense. Having pitch three shutouts this season, Alabama is second in the nation in scoring defense at just 11.3 points allowed per game.
Leading the way in the SEC against both the pass and the rush, Alabama's defense prides itself on making life miserable for opposing offenses. They have snagged 10 interceptions this season, while only allowing nine passing touchdowns, and have given up just seven rushing touchdowns this season. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 53% of their passes against Alabama teams are only averaging 3.4 yards per carry.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley is the star of a defense that is loaded with future NFL draft picks. He leads the team with 102 total tackles and 9 tackles for loss. He's more than just a guy who hangs out around the line of scrimmage though as he's made multiple plays in pass coverage this season as well. He's second on the team with five passes defended and five pass breakups.
The guy who creates havoc at, and behind, the line of scrimmage is freshman A'Shawn Robinson who leads the team with 5.5 sacks and has 36 total tackles as well. In addition to his sacks he has also recorded five quarterback hurries. Ten Alabama defenders have recorded at least one sack this season though so why Robinson is a guy who is extremely dangerous, there are several others who can mess up a play as well.
Three different Tide defenders have recorded two interceptions and four others have a single pick. Among those with two interceptions is Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (funny name, serious football player) who also has 46 tackles and 4 break ups on the season.
To beat this Alabama defense you have to attack it with misdirection and quickness on the edges. The good news is that Oklahoma runs the type of offense that has given the Tide's defense fits this season. The bad news is that they don't run it to the efficiency that Texas A&M and Auburn do. That doesn't mean that they can't be successful though but they'll have to rely on these three keys in order to do so.
1) Protect the football - You just can't afford to give Alabama anything at all. A&M most likely would have beaten them had it not been for their turnovers. The Sooners must protect the football and not bring any drives to a premature end but turning it over.
2) Keep them guessing - This is why I believe that Trevor Knight will start the game for the Sooners. They zone-read is a must have for Oklahoma's offense because they can use it to capitalize on an over pursuing Alabama defense which should result in the defensive ends playing containment on the edges instead of crashing with a pass rush.
3) Win on first down - It should go without saying that second in short is Oklahoma's friend but second and long is not good at all. The Sooners need to average around four yards on first downs to keep all of their play-calling options on the table. Negative plays on first down gives Alabama an even bigger advantage.
It'll have to be the perfect night for the Sooners to leave the Super Dome with their first BCS bowl win since 2010, and Oklahoma's success in the Sugar Bowl begins and ends with the offense. No pressure, right?