The 2018 Orange Bowl featuring No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Oklahoma might be the highest-scoring game of the postseason — yes, even with Alabama’s stingy defense. That’s because this College Football Playoff semifinal has the top two offenses in the nation. Oklahoma’s offense leads the way with 49.5 points per game, 577.9 yards per game and 8.75 yards per play; however, Alabama’s isn’t far behind with 47.9 points per game and 527.6 yards per game. If you thought Bama’s had some CFP shootouts before, just wait until Saturday night.
The difference int his game, of course, is defense. Alabama has a top-five defense, while Oklahoma … um … does not. The Sooners rank 96th in points per game allowed and are dead last in red zone touchdowns allowed. It is one of the worst defenses in Oklahoma history, in fact. Can the Sooners get a single stop against the Crimson Tide? About about four or five? If this game is as high scoring as Las Vegas thinks it will be — the point total is at 76.5 — then Oklahoma will need at least a few key stops to at least have a shot to upset the Tide.
Orange Bowl breakdown
Which team blinks first? Something that simple might end up being the difference in what will likely be a high scoring game. There has been plenty written about both offenses, but the defense that can come up with the most critical stops will have the decisive edge. On paper, Alabama will have the advantage there by a country mile. The Crimson Tide possess a true shutdown unit with a formidable pass rush thanks to a SEC-best 42 sacks on the season.
But it’s possible this game doesn’t come down to the sheer number of defensive stops. Rather, it could be about key stops in late-game situations. Alabama has run away with most games to the point where it’s not even playing starters in the fourth quarter whereas a majority of Oklahoma’s key stops have come in the final 15 minutes. If this game is close in the fourth quarter — remember, both offenses can score at a moment’s notice — the defense that can force a key turnover or a red zone field goal attempt instead of a touchdown could alter the outcome.
Alabama will win if … quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s effectiveness isn’t hampered (too much) by his ongoing ankle injury. Tagovailoa told reporters this week that he is about 80-85 percent healthy. In football terms, that means he’s “100 percent,” but it will be interesting to see how Tagovailoa’s injury affects him. He was clearly not capable of using his legs in the SEC Championship Game victory over Georgia. Will that be any different against the Sooners? The reality is Tagovailoa has been hurt for a large chunk of the season but has maintained a high level of efficiency all the same with a 202.3 passer rating, which is second nationally only to Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. Can he keep up that effectiveness against a much-maligned defense?
Oklahoma will win if … the defense can make the most of the three to five stops necessary just to give its offense a chance. The Sooners have been winning games with offense, and almost exclusively offense, all season long. Nothing is going to change now. The defense doesn’t need to play great and maybe not even adequately. It just needs to be opportunistic. For example, the Sooners had a pair of huge scoop-and-scores in a 59-56 win over West Virginia. Then, in the Big 12 Championship Game, a fourth-quarter safety on a corner blitz proved to be a game-changing play over Texas. Oklahoma will need at least a few of those types of key defensive plays in addition to another flawless offensive game to pull this one off.
Game prediction, picks
Alabama’s defense is excellent, especially up front, but the Sooners have talent in the trenches as well with an award-winning offensive line. That will absolutely be a battle to watch as it will dictate what each offense can or can’t do. But what about Oklahoma’s defense? That group will play with something to prove, but can it make enough key stops to give the offense a realistic shot to win? Both teams can score quickly, so covering is completely within reach for either side even though the spread is two touchdowns. In the end, the Tide will have too much defense, but the Sooners can certainly score enough to keep within striking distance. Pick: Oklahoma (+14)
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