FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray has been waiting for this chance for almost a full calendar year.
The No. 4 Sooners have played in 13 games since falling 54-48 to Georgia in last year’s Rose Bowl, but this Orange Bowl matchup vs No. 1 Alabama represents Murray’s first chance to right the wrongs he feels he made on this stage a season ago.
“This is a game I’ve been waiting for for a long time,” sophomore linebacker Kenneth Murray said. “Obviously you know, given the Rose Bowl and the way the Rose Bowl went down, as a team, this is a game we’ve been waiting on for a long time.”
Murray took the Rose Bowl loss especially hard. The then-freshman linebacker struggled vs the Bulldogs, as Nick Chubb and Sony Michel led Georgia to 317 rushing yards at a staggering clip of 9.3 yards per attempt. He led the team with nine total tackles.
That running game was the primary reason the Bulldogs were able to erase a 31-14 deficit, and eventually come away with the win in overtime.
Against Alabama, Murray and the Sooners could run into similar issues. The Crimson Tide use three running backs: Damien Harris, Najee Harris and Josh Jacobs, who all average more than six yards per attempt from scrimmage.
Murray’s hope is that some lessons learned vs Georgia will translate against Alabama on Saturday.
“As a group, I feel like we were all a little hurt after that Rose Bowl game,” said, Murray, who led the Sooners with 140 total tackles and 12 tackles for loss this season. “We all wanted to get back in the lab, go to work and try to get back to this point. And now we’re here.”
The Orange Bowl could once again be a high-scoring affair — at least Vegas thinks so. The total is currently set at 77 — down a couple points after opening at 79 — which would represent the highest total for any Alabama game ever, by a significant margin.
Oklahoma and Alabama enter the game at No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in yards per play, so it’s not surprising to see a total that high. Defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeill is prepared for another shootout.
“It’s how many times can you break serve defensively, how many times can you get the ball by turnover or by fourth-down turnover and give it back to your offense?” McNeill said.
Oklahoma’s defense struggled all season, but it often came up with big plays in key moments. A few that stand out: Robert Barnes’ 2-point conversion touchdown return at Texas Tech, a pair of scoop-and-scores at West Virginia and Tre Brown’s safety to secure the Big 12 Championship.
The Sooners made a big play in the fourth quarter against Georgia, too, when Steven Parker returned a fumble 46 yards for a touchdown to give OU the lead with under seven minutes remaining.
But it wasn’t enough to overcome other mistakes. Murray notes other big plays and sequences, like the field goal Georgia stole at the buzzer to end the first half.
“Last year we were prepared,” Murray said. “We went out there and gave it our all and did what we had to do, but just fell short a couple plays. I feel like this year, the coaches are preaching to us, ‘make every play count.’
“Those little plays that you never really see as big plays, they all count. I feel like that’s what the coaches are preaching to us right now.”
Oklahoma and Alabama will kick off at 7 p.m. on Dec. 29, 362 days from the last time the Sooners defense were seen on this stage. Murray says he’s prepared.
“It’s a game I’ve been waiting on for a long time,” Murray said. “That’s probably the simplest I can put it.
“It’s not everyday that you’re in the College Football Playoff playing in front of all these people, playing a great team like Alabama. I feel like it’s a good opportunity for everybody. The Rose Bowl, I watched it a million times. So I’m excited for this opportunity.”
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