Alabama and Oklahoma are set to meet on Saturday night in the Orange Bowl with a trip to the national championship at stake. It’s no secret both teams have plenty of star power on offense, and those players are expected to shine when this game kicks off at 8 p.m. ET. For the Sooners, quarterback Kyler Murray leads an offense averaging 49.5 points a game, while receivers Marquise Brown and CeeDee Lamb are capable of scoring every time they touch the ball. Alabama’s offense isn’t far behind the Sooners on the stat sheet. Behind Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa, the Crimson Tide average 47.9 points a contest. Tagovailoa is the catalyst for Alabama’s offense, but similar to Oklahoma, the Crimson Tide are loaded at the skill positions. Coach Nick Saban’s team does have a significant advantage on defense, which could be the deciding factor in this intriguing Orange Bowl showdown.
While all eyes will be on Murray, Tagovailoa, Brown, Lamb and a few of the other high-profile players, a couple of under-the-radar players always break out with performances that could help decide the winner of the Orange Bowl. Which players could be an x-factor on Saturday? Here are five candidates to watch:
5 X-Factors for Alabama and Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl
Grant Calcaterra, TE/Lee Morris, WR, Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s No. 1 receiver Marquise Brown suffered a foot/ankle injury in the Big 12 Championship, and there’s some uncertainty surrounding his status for the Orange Bowl. If Brown can’t go or is limited, the Sooners need more out of receiver Lee Morris and tight end Grant Calcaterra. Morris caught 21 passes for 457 yards and eight scores this year, while Calcaterra contributed 25 receptions for 378 yards and six touchdowns.
Lester Cotton, OG, Alabama
With Deonte Brown suspended, Cotton is slated to return to the starting lineup at left guard. Cotton has played in 12 contests (with eight starts), so experience isn’t an issue. Will Cotton make a seamless transition back into a starting role?
Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama
Tua Tagovailoa seems to be on track to return from surgery to repair a high ankle sprain, but could Hurts have a role in Saturday’s game? The junior rallied Alabama to a win in the SEC Championship, and his mobility adds a different dimension to the offense.
Dylan Moses/Mack Wilson, LB, Alabama
Alabama’s linebacker unit will play a key role in containing Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray, as well as facing one-on-one matchups in pass coverage. The Sooners may look to attack the linebackers on Saturday night, which means both Wilson and Moses will have to be tough against the run and also active in pass coverage.
Ronnie Perkins, DL, Oklahoma
No defense has found a way to completely bottle up Alabama’s offense, but teams have had some limited success at generating pressure to disrupt the timing between Tagovailoa and his receivers. Perkins leads the team with five sacks and has generated eight tackles for a loss through 13 contests. If the freshman can get a couple of pressures and a sack, it will be a huge boost to a defense that can’t afford to leave its secondary too long in coverage on Saturday night.