The third-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (11-1) face off against the eleventh-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) on Thursday night for just the fifth time in the two team’s histories, and the first time since 2003.
Alabama is coming off a heartbreaking last-second loss to Auburn in the Iron Bowl that snapped the Tide’s undefeated season and killed any chance at a three-peat, while Oklahoma is coming off of a win over rival Oklahoma State. Auburn was Alabama’s only loss of the season while Oklahoma lost to Texas and was dominated by Baylor.
What will Alabama need to do to come out on top? Let’s take a look:
Stop the read option
The first key to victory will be stopping Oklahoma’s read option. Alabama was gashed for nearly 300 yards rushing against Auburn, the most it has given up since 2011 against Georgia Southern’s triple option offense ran for over 300 yards, and a lot of that came from Auburn’s read option.
Oklahoma and Auburn’s offenses are very different, but Oklahoma does run some read option and quarterback dives like Auburn and will most certainly incorporate more of this in the game plan after the Iron Bowl.
Against Oklahoma State, the Sooners used both Trevor Knight and Blake Bell at quarterback running two different styles. With Knight in the game, they used a lot of read option and straight option, much like Auburn. With Bell, the Sooners went to a more wide-open spread attack with Bell’s quarterback dives being his primary runs, though he can run the read option as well.
Oklahoma will likely use the spread with Bell in the game to try and keep the Alabama defense honest. Controlling the gaps across the offensive line will be imperative for Alabama, as will the linebackers and defensive backs remaining disciplined. Players running up field or crashing down the line of scrimmage, as well as defensive backs bailing on their assignments, were the biggest problem with Alabama attempting to stop Auburn’s running game. Landon Collins, CJ Mosley, Trey DePriest and Jarrick Williams will be the biggest factors in stopping the run outside of the defensive line for the Tide.
Remain balanced on offense
Keeping Oklahoma’s offense off the field will decrease their chances of trying to wear down Alabama’s defense with the running game. Alabama is much more balanced than Oklahoma’s offense, but Oklahoma has a top 25 defense in every category, much like Alabama’s.
With that said, the only top 50 running games Oklahoma played all year were Baylor and Texas. Baylor ran for over 255 yards rushing and two scores. Baylor’s backup running back Shock Linwood ran for 182 yards in the game. Texas ran for 255 yards rushing as well, and both Jonathan Gray (123 yards) and Malcolm Brown (120 yards) had over 100 yards each on the ground.
This bodes very well for Alabama’s two-headed monster at running back, with T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, and possibly big, bruising freshman Derrick Henry. If Henry – and possibly Jalston Fowler – getting some touches in the game, Alabama could very well punish Oklahoma’s defensive line, leading to some big plays from AJ McCarron in the passing game.
The 2008 Sugar Bowl against Utah has been brought up many times since the Iron Bowl loss. Alabama was coming off of a heartbreaking fourth-quarter meltdown against Florida in the SEC Championship, killing the Tide’s chances of a BCS National Championship.
Alabama came into the Sugar Bowl against an outmatched opponent unmotivated to the point it seemed as if the Tide team simply didn’t want to be there. In fact All-American offensive tackle Andre Smith was sent home before the game even began, and Alabama was dominated from start to finish by the Utes.
Alabama is similarly coming off of a heartbreaking season-ending loss, and having a chance at winning three straight national championships taken away like that could cause some trouble in finding motivation. Hopefully the Tide will look less like they did in 2008, and more like they did in 2010.
In 2010, Alabama was coming off of an epic meltdown against Auburn, relinquishing a 24 point lead, and an angry Tide team went into the Capital One Bowl and physically decimated the Big Ten co-champion Michigan State Spartans. This team will want to send the special class of seniors off with a big win and there would be no better way of starting things off for 2014 than a big BCS bowl win over an opponent that Alabama has only beaten once in its history.