Oklahoma’s offense and Auburn’s defense make the Sugar Bowl one of bowl season’s more intriguing matchups
This season’s Sugar Bowl features two teams that don’t look much alike.
In other words, an archetypal Big 12-SEC clash.
Allstate Sugar Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Auburn (New Orleans)
Kickoff: Monday, Jan. 2 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Where: Mercedes-Benz Superdome (New Orleans)
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Oklahoma -3
1. How Distracted are the Sooners?
The differences for these teams in the off-the-field action during the last month are stark. Auburn has enjoyed an uneventful break. The biggest news for the Tigers was that promising Baylor transfer Jarrett Stidham picked the Plains as the place where he would finish out his eligibility.
On the other hand, OU learned that one of its Heisman Trophy finalists had unreported altercations with a former girlfriend in the past. And even though Joe Mixon’s vicious punch of a female student at OU was known, the recent release of video footage from the incident in 2014 reignited the criticism of Bob Stoops and his program.
2. Sean White’s Status
Head coach Gus Malzahn has done some occasional rotating at quarterback this season, but no QB has operated Auburn’s offense with the same effectiveness as White. He missed the final two games of the year with a shoulder injury and only returned to his spot in the lineup during bowl practices.
The Tigers already don’t throw the ball all that well. If White is still feeling the effects of his hurt wing on Jan. 2, Auburn becomes truly a one-dimensional team. Oklahoma’s defense leaves a lot to be desired, but stopping the Tigers becomes much easier when their passing game is taken out of the equation.
3. Oklahoma’s Offensive Line vs. Auburn’s Defensive Line
The Tigers’ fearsome front four takes a backseat to few defensive lines around the country. The Sooners have yet to see a unit this talented this season.
Oklahoma boasts a sturdy offensive line that includes a few guys who will likely play in the NFL one day. This matchup definitely favors Auburn, however, and a salty defensive front can neutralize an offense’s firepower pretty quickly.
Bottom line: OU needs its offensive line to play its best game of the season in the Sugar Bowl.
Four weeks ago, Oklahoma might have been an easy call in this game. The Sooners hit their stride late in the year, finishing out the season by cruising to victories over West Virginia and Oklahoma State. Conversely, the Tigers sputtered to the finish line as their offense ran out of gas.
Therefore, the layoff helps Auburn. In particular, quarterback Sean White’s presence in the lineup could help fix the Tigers’ attack.
The Sooners will have more trouble moving the ball consistently against the Tigers than any other team they have played this season. With John Franklin III or Jeremy Johnson behind center, Auburn couldn’t string together enough drives for that to matter. White can do just enough damage with his arm, though, to balance out the offense and enable the Tigers to put points on the board against OU’s unimposing defense.
Most importantly, with Auburn’s pass rushers giving chase, Baker Mayfield will struggle to find time to generate big passing plays. Take that away from the Sooners’ offense, and it’s possible that he will be baited into the kinds of mistakes that killed this team in its two losses this season.
Overall, Auburn matches up very favorably with the Big 12 champions – well enough to add to Oklahoma’s history of postseason frustrations under Bob Stoops.
Prediction: Auburn 38, Oklahoma 28
— 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.