Big 12 Previews

Orange Bowl CFB Playoff Semifinal: Oklahoma vs. Alabama Preview and Prediction

NCAA Football: Oklahoma at West Virginia

Here is everything you need to know about the College Football Playoff semifinal in our Orange Bowl preview between the Oklahoma Sooners and Alabama Crimson Tide.

Game info

7:00 p.m. Central Time, Saturday, December 29th, 2018, Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL

TV: ESPN (Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Laura Rutledge)

Radio: Oklahoma: Sooner Sports Network; Alabama: Crimson Tide Sports Network; Satellite Radio: Sirius/XM Ch. 84

Fun Fact: OU is making its 20th Orange Bowl appearance, more than any other school (Nebraska is next with 17). The program’s 12 Orange Bowl wins also pace the country. Four of the Sooners’ seven national championships culminated with Orange Bowl wins.


Key players


QB Tua Tagovailoa

Both quarterbacks were Heisman finalists, so naturally, all eyes will be on them. For Tagovailoa, he finished second (to Kyler Murray) in passing efficiency in the nation. His season included 3,353 passing yards with 37 touchdowns to just four interceptions. But he is coming off his worst game of the season against Georgia when he went just 10 of 25 for 164 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions, before leaving the game with an ankle injury. The ankle is considered to be 80-85% heading into Saturday.

DE Isaiah Buggs

The senior is the leader on the team with 9.5 sacks, which also ranked him 13th in the nation and fourth in the SEC. Buggs was also second on the team with 12.5 tackles for loss to go along with 41 tackles and two forced fumbles. The second-team All-American is a veteran on this team who has started 26 games the past two seasons.

Oklahoma Sooners

QB Kyler Murray

How can it not be? He’s the Heisman winner and edged out Tagovailoa for the award. He leads the nation in total yards (4,945), points responsible for (306), passing efficiency rating (205.7, an FBS record) and yards per pass attempt (11.9). Murray has 4,053 passing yards, 40 passing touchdowns and seven interceptions, while on the ground he has racked up 892 yards and 11 touchdowns.

LB Kenneth Murray 

OU is going to have to get a couple of stops at some point in this game to pull off the upset. Everything starts with Murray, who has averaged over 12 tackles per game in his last 10 games, and finished second in the Big 12 with 140 tackles and had 12 tackles for loss and 4 sacks on the year. His 140 tackles are the most for an OU player in a season since freshman Travis Lewis had 144 in 2008. He’s a team captain who will be relied on heavily going up against arguably the most explosive offense Oklahoma has faced this season.


Key storylines


The Crimson Tide need to get pressure on Kyler Murray. The Alabama front seven, which is always one of, if not the best, in America, against Oklahoma’s offensive line, which won the Joe Moore Award, given to the best O-line in the nation, is a great match up to watch. Bama needs guys like Buggs, Quinnen Williams and Christian Miller, who all rank in the top 5 in the SEC in sacks to get after Murray, who plays behind an offensive line that only gave up 16 sacks in 13 games (tied for fewest in the Big 12). 


The Sooners need to keep the Crimson Tide guessing on offense. We know OU needs to score on the majority of its possessions to win. And going up against Alabama, the best way to do that is through a diverse attack utilizing all the options at hand. That shouldn’t be too difficult since OU has done that this season. This is the first season in school history in which five players have scored at least 10 touchdowns. Brooks and Sermon lead the way with 12 touchdowns (all rushing), Murray has 11 TD runs, and Brown and Lamb have 10 receiving scores each. Marquise Brown looks to be ready to go after suffering a lower leg injury against Texas in the Big 12 Championship Game. So for the Sooners, use all the pieces you have at your disposal and don’t become predictable for Nick Saban and this defense. Bonus: if you want to get a stop or two defensively, that would not hurt you.


Alabama 49, Oklahoma 45

The Sooners should not have an issue covering this spread, as I think they can play with Alabama in this game. Nick Saban has struggled with offenses like OU in the past (think Ole Miss under Hugh Freeze, Texas A&M with Johnny Manziel, and OU in the Sugar Bowl in 2012). Kyler Murray and the Sooners will get theirs. But can they get a stop? Like one? I don’t know. This Alabama team doesn’t just have its usual fire power in the running game with Damien Harris and Najee Harris leading the Crimson Tide to 2,628 rushing yards this season, which was third in the SEC, but they led the conference in passing yards with a QB who would’ve won the Heisman Trophy probably any other year but this one. It’s a shootout, but I see the Crimson Tide holding on and making another trip to the National Championship game.

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