FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Last year it was Baker Mayfield, with questions about his health swirling once it became known Oklahoma’s quarterback was ill less than a week away from the College Football Playoff semifinal.
Despite flu-like symptoms Mayfield ultimately played — and performed well — in OU’s Rose Bowl loss to Georgia.
This year the question shifts: What’s the deal with Marquise Brown?
“I mean, that’s for him to know. I can’t really talk about that too much,” OU sophomore receiver CeeDee Lamb said. “I feel like with him playing or not, we’re going to be pretty good.”
OU coach Lincoln Riley has kept Brown’s status quiet since the Sooners’ leading receiver sustained a lower-leg injury in the Big 12 championship game.
Riley had nothing more to add Sunday when the team arrived in Florida before Saturday’s meeting with No. 1 Alabama (7 p.m., ESPN). That approach has been common this fall, with Riley rarely delving deep into injury information, namely during game weeks.
Should Brown, who leads OU with 1,318 receiving yards, not be able to go against the Crimson Tide that figures to make Lamb’s presence more important.
Lamb has tallied 1,049 yards receiving and 10 touchdowns this season. He’s been critical in third- and fourth-down situations, none bigger than his 8-yard grab on fourth-and-5 that helped OU’s win over West Virginia.
It was as tense a moment as the Sooners have experienced this season, which is an area Lamb feels more comfortable a year after his first CFP appearance.
“Being more consistent in the offense and kind of keeping my composure,” he said. “I feel like I grew a lot attitude-wise toward the game, how to approach it and the atmosphere around the game.”
Though Lamb’s play will factor in, OU’s offense rarely centers around one receiver, with the exception of Brown at times. He caught for 243 yards in the West Virginia game, when season-low four Sooners caught passes.
But on average, more than seven OU receivers record a catch per game. A season-high 12 had a reception against Kansas State, and 10 different players had grabs in the Big 12 championship.
Lamb is known for big plays — he has scored touchdowns in eight of his last 12 games — but at 6 foot 2, 189 pounds he has earned a reputation as a crucial blocker for other teammates. He’s confident guys like Grant Calcaterra (6 TDs), Lee Morris (8) or Carson Meier (4) can produce.
“It helps a lot, because I know that I’m not going to be a key target,” Lamb said. “I’m always going to depend on my brothers to make a play. It’s not just on me.”
Alabama’s relatively young secondary has seen growing pains — like Texas A&M racking up 418 passing yards in September — but has intercepted 14 passes and surrenders just 178 yards through the air per game. Alabama has allowed just 11 first-half touchdowns this season.
With or without Brown, OU will need its usual passing production to reach the Jan. 7 national title game.
“You can tell they’ve been coached to do a lot of things fundamentally and do a lot of small things right,” Lamb said. “They can make a play on the ball. They’re more aggressive [than other secondaries OU’s faced] and they trust each other’s going to get the job done, which is a sign of a good DB corps.”
No. 4 Oklahoma vs.
No. 1 Alabama
Time: 7 p.m., Dec. 29
Place: Hard Rock Stadium | Miami Gardens, Fla.
Line: Alabama (-14)
Records: OU (12-1); Alabama (13-0)