MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Breaking down the 45-34 Alabama win against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl that sends the Crimson Tide into another rematch with Clemson for the national championship.
1. Alabama’s knockout punch
An “SEC” chant rang through Hard Rock Stadium about nine minutes into Saturday night, the first evidence of Alabama’s early dominance of an Oklahoma team and offense that set records through the regular season. Alabama scored on its first drive. Its second, third and fourth — the last capitalized by running back Josh Jacobs steamrolling a helpless Oklahoma defender and sauntering into the end zone. If this was a prizefight, this is when a towel would’ve come from the corner.
After a narrow win against Georgia in the conference championship game, Alabama reasserted itself as the No. 1 team in college football by dismantling the Big 12 champions early and its Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, Kyler Murray. The Crimson Tide defense did what seemed like the impossible: they made Murray look like a center fielder. Rattled by quick Alabama pressure in the backfield and uncomfortable in the pocket, Murray didn’t find his stride — and a receiver downfield — until after the Tide had opened up a 28-0 lead in the second quarter.
2. Oklahoma’s rebound
An issue all season, Oklahoma’s own defense played up to its low standard. Alabama picked the Sooners’ secondary apart through the air and found open lanes on the ground in gaining 318 yards of offense by halftime. The Tide’s offense found a mismatch in Oklahoma’s inability to keep pace with running backs Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris and Najee Harris, especially as receivers coming out of the backfield. In all, the Sooners had no answers in the first half for Tagovailoa and Alabama’s wealth of talent at the skill positions.
Credit the Sooners for not bailing out when down four touchdowns. Oklahoma essentially outplayed Alabama across the second and third quarters to head into the final frame down just 31-20, thanks to Murray’s 49-yard beauty of a touchdown pass to Charleston Rambo. Could the Sooners have drawn even closer had Lincoln Riley opted against close field goals on two different drives? Still, the game was somewhat reminiscent of last year’s Rose Bowl, when Oklahoma stormed ahead of Georgia at halftime only to see the Bulldogs pull even and ahead to reach the championship game.
3. Quarterbacks (mostly) live up to billing
Meanwhile, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa looked no worse for wear coming off his ankle injury. At “80 to 85 percent” in the days leading up to the game, he said this week, the sophomore completed his first nine attempts for 184 yards and a pair of scores in building the Tide’s commanding early lead. Imagine if he was fully healthy.
But he showed no signs of any noticeable hangover from the injury suffered earlier this month. That injury came at the tail end of his worst performance of the season: Tagovailoa completed 10 of his 25 throws against Georgia with two interceptions, doubling his turnover total from the year’s first 12 games. That disappointing close to the year allowed Murray to overtake Tagovailoa to win the Heisman — but Tagovailoa outplayed his counterpart on Saturday night.
Not that Murray didn’t show why he could fall in the first round of the upcoming NFL draft, should he opt for football over baseball. After a slow start in the first half, his play sparked Oklahoma back into the mix heading into the fourth quarter.