Heading to the Sugar Bowl, the Oklahoma Sooners had a few questions looming over their heads. A majority of those concerns fell on OU's "undersized" defense built for speed going head-to-head against a pro-style offense. Others focused on the newly installed 3-4 scheme and key injuries. If history had any say in the matter, things looked gloom. But, with a talented yet inexperienced group, the defensive line took center stage knowing they had to get in the backfield and make plays.
As the confetti storm cleared, fans received a statement...this is the defense of the future. Undersized? Maybe, but it was the explosiveness that gave the Sooners and upperhand as they made a living in the backfield. After allowing only 10 sacks all season long, the Alabama Crimson Tide gave up 7 more in a single night. It was because of the constant pressure that Bama quarterback, A.J. McCarron found himself uncomfortable and throwing interceptions.
Geneo Grissom starred alongside Eric Striker during the Sugar Bowl. Add Dominique Alexander to the group and we have the trio who terrorized the offensive line of the Crimson Tide. Grissom often played the beneficiary of Alexander and Striker as both forced fumbles that Grissom picked up and returned. The final one of course capped the night with a scoop and score.
Make no mistake, this was certainly not a perfect night for the Sooners' defense as poor tackling reared its ugly head during the opening drive. It was a trend that continued to plague OU all night long.
The Tide's Derrick Henry proved to be a man among boys. After highly touted runningback, T.J. Yeldon coughed the ball up leading to an Oklahoma touchdown, Henry, a freshman took the field. Having a mere total of 28 carries thoughout the season, this kid burst onto the scene breaking tackles left and right. A powerful rusher, Henry finished the game with 100 yards on 8 carries for two score. Simply put, the Sooners had no answer for the new factor thrust into the equation.
When it was needed most, Mike Stoops & Company came up big with a turnover. The first moment played witness to Gabe Lynn catching an overthrown ball on the first play of Alabama's second possession. From there on out, Oklahoma played to win the turnover battle and scored 35 points off turnovers. You could literally say, Oklahoma took this game from Alabama.
Pass Defense - A- - Although Zack Sanchez was a liability early, the Oklahoma Sooners pass defense proved to be prolific. Constantly forcing A.J. McCarron out of the pocket with pressure up front took some weight off the secondary. However, it needs to be said that a few of the sacks the defensive front made could be classified as coverage sacks. Without an open receiver, the defensive line was able to get into the backfield and make a play. Behind a few long yardage plays, McCarron threw for 387 yards but only 86 of those came in the second half.
Rush Defense - C+ - On 34 carries, Alabama racked up 139 yards for an average of 3.7 yards per carry. Not bad with all things considered. But, if you factor out the sack yardage, the Crimson Tide averaged 6.5 per carry...a completely different story. A large part of the credit goes to the size and speed of Derrick Henry as I'm still not sure anyone has the answer for him.