TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Jonah Williams isn’t buying the narrative Oklahoma doesn’t play defense. He’s seen the tape.
As No. 1 Alabama opened its 15-day bowl practice slate Friday, the Crimson Tide’s junior left tackle has no doubt the Sooners defense ranked 108th in yards allowed will still be a force to be reckoned with when the two teams square off in the Orange Bowl national semifinal Dec. 29 in Miami.
“They’re a really good group. I think there’s kind of a narrative that they’re not, and that’s a product of the stats that people put up in the Big 12,” Williams said. “The way they play their offense, it’s like the offense I played in high school where we’re putting 60, 70 points on everyone. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad defenses, that’s just kind of (a reflection of) how that offense works. I think they have talented guys. They’re going to pose a lot of challenges.”.
Alabama was already replicating Oklahoma with its scout team during Saturday’s bowl practice and Williams anticipated unleashing a full-scale installation beginning Monday.
Still, based on his advanced viewings of the Sooners’ statistically abysmal defense — which ranks 129 out of 130 FBS teams allowing an average of 291.4 yards through the air, and is 69th in the nation surrendering 2,037 rushing yards this season — Williams has been impressed with what he’s seen on film.
“They fly around. They’ve made big plays in big games. I was watching the West Virginia game, and that was a back-and-forth game, and they had a strip sack, fumble recovery for a touchdown,” Williams said. “When you’re in one of those games where you have to keep scoring to stay up with each other, you know if they A, stop you then B, get points off of it that’s a 14-point spread that they just created. I think that it’s a really good group, and luckily we have a long time to prepare for them, so that’s why we’re starting now.”.
While Oklahoma’s defense might technically be among the worst to ever participate in the five years of the College Football Playoff, it’s offense is arguably one of the most explosive, currently leading the country averaging a FBS-best 49.5 points and 577.9 total yards per game entering postseason play.
“They’re very dynamic. That’s the perfect word to describe them — dynamic,” Crimson Tide junior safety Deionte Thompson said. “They have athletes all across the board. Guys that are fast, guys that are good in open space, elusive, can make you miss. Just problems they can impose in multiple areas of the game.
“From what I’ve seen on film, they dominated all of their competition this year. It wasn’t really much that people could do with them just because the athletes they got. They have starting receivers and receivers behind them that can really go, that are very good guys, and that’s something we have to be ready for.”.
Leading that charge is Heisman Trophy-winning junior quarterback Kyler Murray, who was a runaway winner over Alabama runner-up Tua Tagovailoa in last weekend’s voting 2,167-1,871, which included a 517-to-299 advantage among first-place nominations.
The dual-threat Murray leads the nation with 4,945 total yards and 51 combined touchdowns, including a Big 12-leading 4,053 passing yards and 40 passing scores, as well as a FBS-best 205.72 passer rating, which is just 3.42 points ahead of Tagovailoa’s SEC-leading efficiency rating.
And while just the opportunity of facing off against the newly-named Heisman winner – let alone one that beat out one of their teammates – is enough to get the Alabama secondary’s collective heart racing, it’s Oklahoma’s wealth of offensive weapons at Murray’s disposal that caught Thompson’s attention.
“You got a Heisman Trophy winner, a very elite offense that can score at will and put up numerous number of yards in a game,” Thompson said. “It’s a challenge that we have to step up and be ready for.”.
Among those weapons include two 1,000-yard receivers in junior Marquise Brown (1,318 yards and 10 touchdown) and sophomore CeeDee Lamb (1,049 yards and 10 touchdowns), though Brown remains questionable to play in the Orange Bowl after suffering a lower left leg injury late in the Big 12 Championship game against Texas.
But the Sooners are more than simply a high-flying passing attack with freshman and sophomore running backs Kennedy Brooks and Trey Sermon, who have combined to rush for nearly 1,950 yards and 24 touchdowns this season. Add to that Murray’s 892 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground and the Sooners led the Big 12 in rushing averaging 253.92 yards per game – nearly 62 yards more than the next closest conference opponent, and 2.3 yards ahead of SEC-leading Georgia (251.62 yards per game).
“It’s just what they can do and the athletes they have at numerous positions,” Thompson said. “So it’s just the problem they present, (and why) I think they’re the best offense that we’ve seen to this point.”.
Which is ultimately why, as Alabama’s players continue to review film of their upcoming opponent, they’re constantly reminded just how much of a challenge No. 4 Oklahoma will provide two weeks from Saturday, no matter what type of game the Orange Bowl ultimately turns into.
“We want to win by at least a point — that’s our goal. So if it’s a shootout or if we win 3-0, I think we’re just going to happy to beat one of the best teams in the country,” Williams said. “I always say we like to play complimentary football — that’s what the coaches say. We want our defense to make stops and us to make points off it. If you consistently do that, you’re going to win the game. So that’s really my focus, just winning the game by any means (necessary).”.
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