The Oklahoma Sooners and Alabama Crimson Tide haven’t played each other since OU scored a titanic upset of the Tide in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. There’s just a bit more on the line when the two heavyweight programs square off Saturday in the Orange Bowl, the second semifinal of this season’s College Football Playoff.
Much like their last meeting, the Sooners enter the game as decided underdogs. If Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Kyler Murray could channel the Sugar Bowl version of Trevor Knight, it could go a long way to helping OU pull off another stunner.
Murray’s dynamic play represents one of five key factors that could lead to an OU win in the Orange Bowl.
5 Reasons Why Oklahoma Will Win the Orange Bowl
When it comes to handling the pressure of a marquee game, Alabama often has a significant advantage on its opponents. The Crimson Tide have been in so many big spots over the years that they never lose their cool.
This Alabama team is no different. However, the Tide are playing an OU squad that returns a bevy of contributors from last year’s playoff-qualifying team. The Sooners know what goes into preparing for a game like this.
Moreover, even though motivation doesn’t count for much at this point, the Sooners won’t be keen to relive last season’s disappointment versus Georgia.
2. Kicking game
Alabama has a superior defense, and the offenses are close to a wash in this matchup. OU does possess an edge in the third phase — special teams.
Alabama has left plenty to be desired in the kicking game this year. The Tide have missed eight of their 84 extra point attempts this season and five of 18 field goals.
Kicking specialist extraordinaire Austin Seibert turned into a reliable weapon for OU this season. He connected on 84 of 85 PATs and 15 of 17 field goals. In addition to handling the punting duties, Seibert also generated touchbacks on 84 percent of his kickoffs, one of the highest rates in the country.
3. The quarterback matchup
Signs point to Tua Tagovailoa playing on Dec. 29. The last time we saw Alabama’s star quarterback, he was limping all over the field in the SEC title game against Georgia. Just how healthy will Tagovailoa be by that point?
Even if Tagovailoa is playing at 100 percent in the Orange Bowl, the fact that Kyler Murray will be taking snaps for OU means the Tide won’t have the clear edge at QB. How many times could you say that about Alabama this season?
4. The big play
Alabama still boasts one of the best defenses in the nation. However, the Tide are slightly less stingy than usual this year because of their propensity to give up explosive plays. They have allowed 54 plays of 20 yards or more entering the playoff. Even for a team that played 13 games, that’s far from great.
Guess who leads the nation in gains of 20-plus yards this season? OU with 105. Murray and company will definitely get in some deep shots versus the Tide.
5. Time to heal up
Speedy OU receiver Marquise Brown wasn’t looking like his dynamic self earlier this month in OU’s win over Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. A mysterious leg injury forced him out of the game in the second half.
Just as the break since the end of the regular season has offered Tagovailoa a chance to recuperate, Brown has spent the extra time off recovering. Put simply, the Sooners can’t win this game if Brown is hobbled when the teams take the field on Saturday.
— 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.