Oklahoma football fans don’t want to hear this, much less acknowledge it, but the Sooners got beat by a better team. Not just on that day, but a team that was much better than Oklahoma on most any day this past season.
This Alabama team could be Nick Saban’s best ever, and he has won five national championships at Alabama in 11 seasons in Tuscaloosa. They say, to be the best you have to play the best, and Oklahoma may have done just that on Saturday night in its College Football Playoff semifinal against the Crimson Tide. Although Clemson may still have something to say about that, for this year, at least.
The Sooners are credited with having the most dynamic offensive team in college football this season, but right behind them in that category is Alabama. And the Crimson Tide had their offensive engine revved up and ready to go on Saturday night before Kyler Murray and the Sooners were barely out of the locker room.
On the very first play from scrimmage Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa connected with wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the same combination that scored the winning touchdown for Alabama in last year’s national championship game, for a 50-yard gain. Six plays later, the Crimson Tide were in the end zone, but not before a highly controversial booth review that overruled a fumble call on the field that would have stopped Alabama’s opening drive and given the Sooners possession at the one-yard line.
Oklahoma generated net zero yards on its first two possessions, while the Crimson Tide rolled down the field, chewing up big chunks of real estate on its next two possessions, both ending up in touchdowns, and just like that the Sooners found themselves trailing by 21 points. Over that time span, which took up practically the entire first 15 minutes, Alabama had outgained Oklahoma 191 to 0.
And it would get worse from there. The Crimson Tide scored again on their fourth possession of the game to extend their lead to 28-0 early in the fourth quarter. At that point Sooner fans were begging for mercy and a place to hide.
Many teams would have lost all confidence by this point and given up both mentally and physically. But that is not the makeup of this Oklahoma team. Lincoln Riley has been saying all season that this group will never stop fighting.
“(We played) much closer to what we felt like we were capable the last three quarters, but unfortunately we just dug ourselves too deep a hole,” Riley said in his postgame comments.
“I mean, they completely outplayed us early, and they we completely outplayed them the rest of the way.”
At the time the scoreboard read 28-0 in favor of Alabama, the total yardage was almost as badly skewed. The Crimson Tide’s total yardage to that point (at the 13:02 mark of the second quarter) was 239 for Alabama to just 24 for the Oklahoma.
That’s when the Sooners finally got calmed down and got their legs under them. Both teams tallied a touchdown and a field goal in the second quarter, giving the defending national champions at 31-10 advantage at halftime.
After Alabama rolled out to a 28-0 advantage, Oklahoma outscored the Crimson Tide 34-17 and outgained them 447 to 289, but that was a classic case of too little, way too late.
“(It’s really) as simple as that,” Riley said. “It was a compete tale of two games.
“I’m disappointed in the way we played early, but I’m proud as hell of our guys’ fight and our belief.”
That’s simple coachspeak for we got punched in the face hard right out of the gate, but we got back up and kept fighting. The fact of the matter is that Oklahoma is not as good as Alabama, and probably not Clemson, either (after all, the Sooners didn’t come close to knocking off Clemson in its two previous tries, in 2014 and 2015).
But Oklahoma did win 12 games this season, a fourth consecutive conference championship and played well enough to make it into the College Football Playoff, something that 125 other FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) teams could only dream about. Moreover, only Alabama and Clemson have made more CFP appearances than the Sooners in the five years of the Playoff format.
The future looks bright for Oklahoma football. Riley is in the process of bringing in his second consecutive top-10 recruiting class, and there is plenty of talent returning.
“If anything, (the Playoff loss to top-seeded Alabama) just makes me hungrier,” Riley said after the game. “We’ve gotten a lot done here. You just don’t sit there and say we didn’t get it done. We got a lot done, but we know there’s a little more left to get done…It just makes me hungrier to keep going what we got going here.”
And keeping it going is what Sooner fans are expecting and hoping for — only with a different outcome.