The Sooners' lethal offense poses the toughest challenge yet for Georgia’s unrelenting defense
The Oklahoma Sooners and Georgia Bulldogs are just days away from meeting in the Rose Bowl for the right to play for a national championship. The two teams likely accomplished most of the preparation for their game in the interminable layoff since their last game, and pundits have had plenty of time on their hands to tell us which squad will move on to Atlanta and why.
Here are the five best reasons to believe the Sooners will come out on top in Pasadena on New Year’s Day.
5 Reasons Why Oklahoma Will Win the Rose Bowl
1. Tempo-free football
The Sooners helped usher in the era of up-tempo offenses in college football, playing some of the fastest ball in the country every year for the last decade. In recent years, they have started to let off the gas. OU frequently snapped the ball in the waning seconds of the play clock this season, and the Sooners saw their average number of offensive plays per game drop to 69 from 74 in 2016.
The Sooners showed they don’t need to go fast for their offense to thrive. By playing slower, OU can get its defense more rest to combat long, grinding drives by the Bulldogs’ offense. The Sooners can also floor it if necessary to throw the UGA defense off-balance.
2. The deep ball
Baker Mayfield is the best quarterback the Bulldogs will see this season by a wide margin. Importantly, OU has arguably the best deep passing game in the country. The Sooners are averaging more than two completions of 40 yards or more per game.
Georgia doesn’t allow many completions in that range –just six all season. However, the Bulldogs had problems defending Missouri’s vertical passing game in their matchup this year, giving up three long touchdown throws to the Tigers. Auburn had some success going downfield versus UGA, too.
The Bulldogs’ defense will face a far stiffer challenge from Mayfield and his array of offensive weapons in Pasadena.
3. Georgia’s passing game
The Bulldogs can beat on defenses with the run as well as any team in the country. Because of that, freshman QB Jake Fromm has rarely been asked to win games with his arm. Although that might have unfairly earned Fromm a “game manager” label in some quarters, the reality is that the one time UGA had to play from behind in its first game against Auburn, it didn’t end well for the Bulldogs.
If OU sells out to stop the run, can Fromm and his receivers consistently beat the Sooners through the air? It’s fair to say that is TBD.
4. Kicking game
Kicker/punter Austin Seibert has the ability to tilt field position in OU’s favor. He regularly knocks kickoffs through the back of the end zone to eliminate the possibility of returns. He also has a knack as a punter for getting the Sooners out of trouble and pinning opponents deep in their own territory.
This year, he morphed from a shaky field goal kicker to an a second-team all-conference pick, converting 83 percent of his tries for the year. That could weigh in OU’s favor in a tight game.
For all its success as a program, Georgia has rarely found itself under a spotlight this bright. Head coach Kirby Smart clearly has a history of success in the College Football Playoff as Alabama’s defensive coordinator during the Crimson Tide’s 2015 national championship run. His players and many of coaches don’t have that same experience on this kind of stage.
OU has been in this situation before. Absent Bob Stoops, the coaching staff is nearly identical to the group that oversaw the Sooners’ last playoff trip in 2015. Many of the players taking part for OU this time around were there then as well: Mayfield, Mark Andrews (above, right), Steven Parker, Orlando Brown, Will Johnson and more.
Even though OU’s last playoff run didn’t end well, the Sooners’ familiarity with the situation should only help this time.
— Written by Allen Kenney, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Kenney is founder and editor of BlatantHomerism.com and host of the Blatant Homerism Podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BlatantHomerism.