TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — When No. 1 Alabama faces No. 4 Oklahoma in the Captial One Orange Bowl semifinal on Saturday, Dec. 29, it will mark the 11th time the Crimson Tide has played a Heisman Trophy winner — this time with it being against Sooners quarterback Kyler Murray.
Alabama has posted a 3-7 record in its previous 10 matchups with the recipient of college football’s most coveted award. The defensive players are well aware of the challenge in front of them, but none of them have said they are motivated by simply playing the winner of the Heisman.
“I wouldn’t say it helps motivate us because if you’re not motivated to play in the playoffs then I don’t even think you should be around,” Alabama safety Deionte Thompson said. “The Heisman Trophy ceremony, that was the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Going into this game, I don’t think it will matter much. He had a hell of a season. He did very good, that’s why he was awarded the Heisman.
“But I don’t think it will have much (motivation) going into the game.”
That was the consensus among Alabama’s defenders made available during the team’s prep for Oklahoma before a break for Christmas. But the Tide players, whether on offense or defense, were also in agreement about being disappointed that Murray won it over teammate Tua Tagovailoa.
“Of course, I wanted our guy to win,” Wilson said earlier this week. “But I feel like Kyler Murray deserves it. He’s a great quarterback, he’s done a lot of things for his program. And what more can you do but go out and try and play as hard as you can against him and just show the world.”
The good news for UA is Heisman winners are 2-4 in all-time bowl games when facing the runner-up. Still, members of the Alabama defense are more focused on stopping Murray than avenging Tagovailoa.
Thompson added, “That’s our teammate, it’s our brother, our leader. So, of course, I feel like everybody wanted him to win. I wanted him to win, but he came up short. It’s nothing personal. Kyler had a great season. Tua did a great job this season. The Heisman Trophy ceremony is over and done with. They awarded him, so let’s move on to play football.”
Both teams will do exactly that in one week at Hard Rock Stadium to decide which squad will go on to play the winner of the Goodyear Cotton Bowl in the national championship game. And the Sooners’ quarterback will certainly present Alabama’s defense with its toughest task yet.
Murray, whose 96.1 Total QBR is the highest by a player entering bowl season since ESPN began tracking the metric in 2004, has totaled more offensive yards this season (4,945) than 68 of the other 129 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, including six current AP Top 25 squads.
Murray is the first FBS player to ever average at least 300 passing yards (311.8) and at least 60 rushing yards (68.6) per game entering bowl play. With his ability to effectively make plays with his legs once the pocket collapses, containing him will be a top priority for Alabama.
“You really have to close the pocket in, make sure you get a fence around him,” defensive tackle Quinnen Williams said. “Pushing the inside pocket will be a big thing. We have great edge rushers with Christian Miller, Anfernee Jennings and Jamey Mosley. We’ve got some great edge rushers, so me, Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs have to push the pocket, collapse the pocket on him. It’s going to be a big task, but that’s the main challenge.”
Like the defense’s motivation and displeasure over the Heisman, Alabama’s players agreed that Murray is the most dynamic quarterback in an opposing jersey the Tide has faced in 2018. “We’ve played against some great quarterbacks, but he’s by far the best,” Thompson said.
But by no means is Alabama stepping down from the upcoming challenge.
“He can throw the ball, he can run the ball, he can do all of it,” safety Xavier McKinney said. “He doesn’t have a whole bunch of negative sides to him, as far as I can see. He does a lot of good things, a lot of things that helps his team win. We’re trying to focus on that to see if we can find something where we can attack it and kind of make him feel pressure so that way he doesn’t have all the time to make all the plays that he makes.”
The Orange Bowl will kick off at 7 p.m. CT in Miami Gardens, Fla., and will air on ESPN.
Contact Charlie Potter by 247Sports’ personal messaging or on Twitter (@Charlie_Potter).
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