An awful start doomed the Oklahoma Sooners in their College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with the Alabama Crimson Tide at the Orange Bowl. The Crimson Tide rolled up a 28-0 lead early and held off a resilient OU squad the rest of the way to pull off a 45-34 victory.
The two most efficient offenses in the country ultimately produced the expected avalanche of points. Unfortunately for the Sooners, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa came back from an ankle injury to throw for 318 yards and four touchdowns versus OU’s clearly overmatched defense.
The injury gods weren’t so kind to the Sooners, with dynamic wide receiver Marquise Brown rendered ineffective by a foot injury suffered earlier this month in the Big 12 title game. Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray acquitted himself well in the absence of his top weapon, though, as OU’s QB completed 19-of-37 passes for 308 yards and two TDs. He also ran the ball 17 times for 109 yards and a score.
True to form for the season, the Tide tore through OU’s beleaguered defense. Bama averaged 7.5 yards per offensive play, including 11.7 yards per pass attempt. Tulsa’s own Josh Jacobs hammered the Sooners for 98 yards on 15 carries, adding four receptions for 60 yards and a TD.
From the first play of the game, the Sooners simply had no answers for Alabama’s mauling offensive line and barrage of RPOs. Jacobs and backfield mates Damien Harris and Najee Harris routinely dragged would-be OU tacklers for extra yardage after first contact, which rarely occurred behind the line of scrimmage. Meanwhile, OU’s defensive backs couldn’t keep track of the Bama receivers, who were locked in the entire game with Tagovailoa.
For as badly as the defense was gashed throughout the contest, OU’s scattered start on offense extinguished any real hopes of upsetting the Tide, who were 14-point favorites. Alabama’s defensive front worked over the Sooners’ celebrated offensive line in the first quarter, corralling Murray and forcing him into rushed throws.
After a gnarly start, Murray found a groove with receiver Ceedee Lamb, whose 2019 Biletnikoff Award campaign began with eight catches for 109 yards and a TD. With Hollywood Brown sidelined in the second half, little-used freshman Charleston Rambo filled in admirably with three grabs for 74 yards and a 49-yard TD reception.
OU head coach Lincoln Riley will face some questions about opting to kick field goals two times inside the red zone as his team made a game effort at a comeback. Neither call ultimately mattered, however, in a game that saw the Sooners outclassed by a squad with one of the best rosters in college football history.
Murray and Baker Mayfield have given OU four straight years of unparalleled quarterback play. But when you see the Sooners lined up in games like this versus teams such as Alabama and Georgia, the talent gap appears stark. With Riley starting to stack top-tier recruiting classes on top of each other, reinforcements–and new defensive assistants–are coming.
That won’t ease the sting of another playoff loss, but it will have to do for now.