When Nick Saban turns on the Oklahoma tape later this week, if he hasn’t done so already, he’s going to like what he sees defensively.
In fact, Alabama’s head coach will be salivating.
The fourth-ranked Sooners finished 110th nationally in total defense after the regular season, which would marks the second-worst defense overall Alabama will have faced this season. Only Ole Miss has given up more yards and points than Oklahoma and the Crimson Tide lit up the Rebels for 49 first-half points during a 62-7 pasting in Oxford on Sept. 15.
“It really doesn’t matter which quarterback Alabama puts up against this Oklahoma defense because that offensive line is so impressive,” ESPN analyst Jonathan Vilma said during Sunday’s Championship Drive program. “I’ve watched Josh Jacobs and the way that he gets to the second level. He puts fear in defenders. The Oklahoma defense already doesn’t want to tackle.
“So, we’re looking at a normal offensive game plan for Alabama — run the ball, run the ball, play-action. You’ve got (Jaylen) Waddle. You’ve got Jerry Jeudy. They’re going to be blowing the top off the secondary. It’s going to be touchdowns and big plays.”
The Crimson Tide (13-0) have battled several standout performers at quarterback this season, but none close to Kyler Murray’s caliber from a play-making standpoint.
“Kyler Murray and an incredibly talented group of wide receivers and tight ends will (test Alabama,” ESPN co-analyst Jim Mora said. “He’s the most dynamic and explosive player I’ve seen in years. He’s the premiere player maker in the nation and I believe he will win the Heisman. But, Nick Saban is the master at putting together a game plan at taking away one guy.
“He’s got some long, fast and athletic guys at the back end that can stop the run and put pressure on Oklahoma. It’s going to be a challenge for Alabama, but I think it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”
Oklahoma (12-1) hasn’t faced a defense of the Crimson Tide’s caliber this season and is going up against a unit that led the SEC in sacks and tackles for losses. Alabama ranked eighth nationally in opponents’ third-down conversion, an area where the Sooners thrive thanks to Murray’s precise accuracy and ability to move the chains with his quickness out of the pocket.
“I’ve seen him on TV a couple times, and I think he’s about as dynamic as any player I’ve seen all season long,” Saban said on Sunday. “He’s got great quickness, he does a good job of executing their offense, he can run, he can throw and make a lot of explosive plays. They’ve got a really good offensive scheme, and the system is something that he flourishes in.”
Alabama is a 14-point favorite in Orange Bowl, the largest spread in 41 bowl games this month.
“We just go about our business the way that we always do,” Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’ve got a lot of respect for the team that we’re getting ready to play, no question about that. But we’ve got a formula that we believe in and we’ve got a program that’s used to winning and players that are used to winning, and we know it’s going to be a great challenge. But we’re going to go prepare like we do.
“Our goal will be for us to be at our very best. We can’t control any of the outside factors. It’s for us to be at our very best. I feel like despite some of the great things that this team’s been able to accomplish this year that our best football is still out there, and I feel like we’re heading in that direction. So, we’ll do that and then let it fall the way it falls.”