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Facing its toughest defensive yet this season against Heisman winner Kyler Murray, how will Alabama be able to combat one of the most statistically-efficient offenses of all-time on Dec. 29 in the College Football Playoff?
Former Crimson Tide radio analyst Phil Savage shared his thoughts on the upcoming Orange Bowl matchup during Friday’s appearance on SiriusXM SEC Radio with Cole Cubelic. Savage, someone with years of film experience, has a few ideas on how Nick Saban’s defense can slow down Oklahoma’s nation-leading offense.
“I think you employ, for the lack of a better phrase, the bend but don’t break philosophy,” Savage said. “You make Oklahoma earn it by taking the ball eight, nine, 10 plays over the course of a 75, 80-yard drive. I think you use that model rush. You take a smallish quarterback and make him throw out of a well. With Quinnen Williams, Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs … I mean this is going to be a heck of a matchup. I think that’s where I would start.
“I would utilize my seven-man pass drop to take some of those shorter routes away. And then, I think you have to mix in your pressure package along the way — third downs, down in the red zone. Once the field gets compressed, I think that’s when you can dial up some of your pressures.”
Alabama ranked eighth nationally this season in third-down defense and third overall inside the red zone. Limiting the Sooners to three points in the red area and keeping Murray from extending drives are primary points of emphasis during game preparation.
Alabama’s defensive front led the SEC in sacks this fall, finishing fifth nationally in the category with 42.
“From a starting point, I’d like to make Kyler Murray see if he can negotiate the pocket and make him throw it around around these big defensive linemen that Alabama has,” Savage said. “Make them earn it with precision football rather than give up the big play over your head.”
The Crimson Tide, who practiced all week, has started a three-day break before departing for Miami on Dec. 24.
“I know this is tough on the players when you practice this many days in a row, but when we’ve done it where we spread it out more where they get rest in between, it just sort of grinds on you mentally,” Saban said this week. “So they’ve had a good attitude about it and we’ve done a pretty good job in terms of the coaches being able to get some of the implementation that we need to get ready for this game.
“Oklahoma, like we talked about before, is a very challenging team in a lot of ways. They have a great offensive team and they score a lot of points and their defense seems to make plays when they need to.