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College Sports: Breaking down Oklahoma’s Orange Bowl matchup vs. Alabama: Why Kyler Murray, Sooners need to force a shootout

ORANGE BOWL

No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (13-0)

When: 7 p.m. (CT) Saturday, Dec. 29, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla.
TV: ESPN
Betting line: Alabama -14

Oklahoma player to watch: QB Kyler Murray

Oklahoma is only in this game because of Kyler Murray. The Sooners’ defense was even worse in 2018 than it was in 2017 — which didn’t seem possible at the time. But because of Murray, Oklahoma’s offense was also better than the one Baker Mayfield commanded a season ago — another feat that would have seemed impossible four months ago. If OU pulls off the upset, it means Murray had the game of his life.

Alabama player to watch: WR Jerry Jeudy

Jerry Jeudy already has the Biletnikoff Award in his back pocket and he may be on his way to another national championship. The sophomore has 1,103 yards and 12 touchdowns this season despite the Tide not playing in many close games. He presents a huge matchup problem for Oklahoma’s secondary and could burn the Sooners in a number of areas.

Oklahoma’s 3 keys to victory

1. Don’t turn the ball over: Murray turnovers often came in pairs this year, so avoiding that issue will at least give the Sooners a chance to make history. That also means the Sooners can’t fumble — Kennedy Brooks and CeeDee Lamb have in recent weeks.

2. Offensive line must run block: Rodney Anderson recorded 200 rushing yards against Georgia in last season’s Rose Bowl, which was one reason the Sooners were able to make a second-half comeback. Anderson isn’t walking through that door, but Brooks and Trey Sermon could be fine if the offensive line blocks well.

3. Tackle: Tackling was a major issue for the Sooners all year long, so there’s not a ton of optimism that it could turn around. But for one game, on this stage? Perhaps it could happen like it did in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.

Alabama’s 3 keys to victory

1. Run the ball: Oklahoma has stopped the run well this season, Army and Kansas games aside, but the Crimson Tide present a different type of challenge. Forcing Alabama into third-and-long is Oklahoma’s best chance of getting off the field.

2. Get a turnover: Army, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and Kansas were all able to get turnovers from Murray, and thus kept things close — or came out on top — vs. the Sooners. Getting a takeaway or two could keep the Sooners from even threatening an upset bid.

3. Stop Marquise Brown: Assuming good health, receiver Marquise Brown will be Oklahoma’s X-factor. He’s OU’s best deep threat, and he’s also been nearly automatic on third-down conversions with crossing routes. Alabama needs to find a way to take him away.

Why Oklahoma could pull off the upset

Oklahoma’s historically explosive offense may be good enough to compete with anyone — and that includes Alabama. If Murray, Brown and the offensive line are on, then it may not matter how good Alabama’s defense is supposed to be. The Sooners know how to win shootouts. If they can force one in the Orange Bowl, they have a chance.

Why Alabama should win

The Crimson Tide are favored for a reason — they’ve dominated the 2018 season and have a sound defensive scheme to go with a prolific offense. The Sooners are historic on offense, but a total disaster on defense. If Alabama can catch a break or two, this one likely won’t even be close.

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