After a year of watching teams that are built to win against their conference rivals, the bowl season is a nice palate cleanser. I’m not sure about you, but the Big XII’s defensive ability (or lack thereof...) almost burnt me out on football this season. It simply takes something out of the oomph of a Mayfield-Westbrook connection knowing that they did so against a substandard defense.
A matchup of diametric opposites is just what the doctor ordered if you’re ailing like I am.....and a flipside matchup is exactly what we’ll be getting in the Sugar Bowl.
You know Oklahoma’s M.O. by now—offense is the best defense. Their defense has improved in the latter part of the season, but the Sooners’ third-ranked offense is the primary reason why Oklahoma is a force. It’s no secret that Baker, DeDe, Joe, and Samaje run the show in Norman.
Auburn’s offense has been good when healthy, but that’s just it—they’ve had major injury issues all season. The Auburn Tigers rely instead on their vaunted defense to keep them in games—they rank fifth in scoring defense (allowing just over 15 points per game) and 20th in total defense.
Let’s see what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.
Vegas seems to think this will be a close contest: Oklahoma is favored at -4 at time of writing, but that close of a point total seems to imply that this contest is a coin flip, more or less. Although the spread will probably change as the game gets closer, it’s obvious that even the casino architects of Vegas have no idea what will happen in the Sugar Bowl.
Here’s a breakdown by unit of coordinator Kevin Steele’s defense:
As can typically be expected on an SEC frontline, the Tigers boast some big time talent. Defensive end Carl Lawson is consistently ranked among the top 10 in the NFL draft in his position, and he might be higher if not for his checkered past with injuries. On the season, Lawson has amassed 28 tackles (12.5 for a loss), nine sacks, and 24 quarterback hurries. Baker Mayfield may have his hands full on January 2nd; I’m not sure the Sooners have faced a more talented defensive lineman.
Montravius Adams is Lawson’s equally-talented cohort on the interior. The 6’4”, 309 lbs. senior defensive tackle was a five star recruit for the Tigers, and he’s lived up to the hype. Adams has racked up 39 tackles, 4.5 sacks, and a fumble recovery for a touchdown. Check out his highlights below:
The D-Line is Auburn’s bread and butter, and Baker Mayfield knows it:
“Their defensive line’s very good. You notice some things like that before you really dive into the film,” Mayfield said when speaking with the media at the College Football Hall of Fame. “They have special players. I think our offensive line needs to start studying. We’ll be ready when the time comes.”
Controlling the line of scrimmage will be an integral part of the game for OU’s offense.
The Tigers trot out a 4-2-5 set, which means that they typically throw out two linebackers at a time. When healthy, Tre’ Williams and Deshaun Davis make up the linebacker corps.
Williams has missed two full games between injury and a targeting penalty, but he’s been solid for the Tigers this season when on the field: he’s racked up 63 tackles and forced one fumble. He’s typically Auburn’s run stopper, so expect to see a lot of him in the box.
Davis, just a sophomore, is Auburn’s playcaller on defense. Though undersized at 5’11”, 239 lbs., Davis is Auburn’s most versatile linebacker, equally comfortable rushing the quarterback, dropping back in coverage, or stopping the run.
I’d have to rate this among Auburn’s weakest defensive corps, although that’s not saying a lot—Steele’s defense is undeniably one of the best in the nation. Still, they lack consistent playmaking from this position, so expect Stoops and co. to try to pick on this unit with plenty of screen passes, dump-offs to backs, and Mark Andrews’s tight end skill set.
The Tigers are ranked no. 13 in the nation in yards allowed per passing attempt at 6.1 yards. The Sooners, on the other hand, are no. 3 in the nation, averaging 10.8 yards per passing attempt. Something’s got to give.
Although sophomore Carlton Davis will likely draw the matchup with electric receiver DeDe Westbrook, Josh Holsey has been Auburn’s best cover corner. He has three interceptions on the year, including picks to seal back to back games. Here’s his interception to put away Ole Miss:
The Sugar Bowl will be Holsey’s final game as a Tiger.
Carlton Davis doesn’t have an interception yet on the year, but the Tigers have depended on the 6’1” corner to cover the other teams first option at receiver. He’s been a bit spotty in deep coverage at times this season, so it’s entirely possible for DeDe Westbrook to get behind Davis in coverage.
Safey Tray Matthews has been the lynchpin of Auburn’s defense this season. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele referred to him as the ‘CEO of the defense,’ and it’s easy to see why: leading the team in tackles at 73 is impressive for a defensive back. He’s a special player in run support, and has the wheels to recover from a defensive mishap on a Mayfield deep ball.
The Tigers’s secondary has struggled in the last decade or so, but they truly took a leap this season. Before, they were simply an average unit that was passable against milquetoast SEC offenses. Now, it’s clear that their secondary will translate between conference lines.
It’s difficult to compare teams in interconference matchups. Oklahoma’s offense has been prolific — historically so — and scores seemingly at will. But then again, when matched up against out of conference foes like Houston and Ohio State, their fire was snuffed.
Auburn has lost four games, and they’re coming off of getting punched hard in the chin in the Iron Bowl. On the other hand, two of their losses are to the no. 1 and 2 teams in the nation right now, and the Auburn defense is filled with future pros.
It’s all a matter of perspective.
Regardless, the matchup between an unstoppable force and an immovable object will fun to see. Just don’t expect any Big XII football in the Sugar Bowl.