By Jess Nicholas
Dec. 30, 2018
While Clemson was basically enjoying a bye week in the 2-3 semifinal, Alabama got a much more difficult draw in the 1-4 game – if, that is, the game was strictly a comparison of offenses.
But in football, teams must bring both offenses and defenses to games, which is a fact most Big 12 teams are still either stubbornly ignoring, or is a concept with which they are simply incapable of complying.
Statistically, a person who didn’t watch this game would look at the numbers and suggest Alabama and Oklahoma were evenly matched teams, which is understandable. Anyone who watched the game and still asserted such, however, are the same people who are likely to believe salmon ice cream with Brussels sprout gravy makes a good dessert.
Alabama broke out to a 28-0 lead, and only its own quick scoring pace – combined with a loss of focus – resulted in the Crimson Tide defense letting Oklahoma close the gap. But Alabama’s offense was able to score at will, in whatever way it chose, and more or less toyed with Oklahoma in the second half in much the same way cats like to play with their food.
For those who wanted this game to be a mandate on the Heisman Trophy award process, the matchup of Tua Tagovailoa versus Kyler Murray didn’t disappoint – after Alabama basically played the final three quarters in what amounted to a prevent defense. At the start of the game, when Murray had his chance to keep his team in it – all the while Tagovailoa was throwing darts whenever he got the chance – Murray couldn’t figure out Alabama’s defense. By the end of the game, anyone possessing a Heisman vote who still thought Murray was better than Tagovailoa would probably be salmon ice cream aficionados themselves.
By halftime, some college football observers were coming to an agreement that the College Football Playoff format indeed needed to be changed – back to two teams.
Oklahoma was able to make the final score respectable, but respectability means little when competitiveness is more important, and Oklahoma was only marginally competitive. Were it not for Alabama backing off the throttle while trying to shorten the game, Alabama would have easily got into the 60-point range and Tagovailoa could have named his stats.
Having said that, Alabama got railroaded in regards to seeding and matchups, and it’s something the CFP committee needs to look at going forward. First and foremost, the committee needs to tell Notre Dame (or any other independent, for that matter) that it can either join a Power 5 conference or get locked out of the playoff process altogether. There were plenty of clues leading up to the selection process as to how weak the Fighting Irish were, and Clemson just confirmed it for the college football world to see.
If nothing else, Alabama should have gotten the Irish in Miami while Clemson and Oklahoma faced off in the other semi. What really should have happened, though, is Alabama should have been either faced Georgia again, or Ohio State should have been the 4-seed with Oklahoma moving up. Under no circumstances should Notre Dame have even been considered for playoff football.
In the end, it all worked out for the best, although Alabama likely lost OLB Christian Miller for the final round thanks to a severe hamstring injury. For next week, Alabama will either have to utilize some combination of Jamey Mosley, LaBryan Ray, Eyabi Anoma, Dylan Moses or Josh McMillon at outside linebacker, or the wraps will have to come off Terrell Lewis if he’s even on the borderline of being able to play. It’s not going to be an optimal situation regardless.
But one thing is certain after this week’s games: The two best teams are squaring off for the national championship. Of that, there is no doubt.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-Oklahoma: Locks, Tua, OL, Surtain, OLB
- This game might have been Mike Locksley’s finest hour as offensive coordinator. Unlike some former assistants, who appeared to mentally check out on their way out the door and into their next job, Mike Locksley, who is taking over as head coach of Maryland as soon as Bama’s season is over, has done exactly the opposite. First, he helped Alabama close out an early signing class that was the nation’s best; against Oklahoma, he and Alabama’s other coaches crafted a nearly perfect gameplan, and then Locksley executed it to perfection. Alabama’s only negative plays came on clear execution breakdowns; there were zero bad calls or calls that were inappropriate to the situation. Locksley’s approach was surgical. He’ll be missed.
- Tua’s performance was one for the ages. At some point in the future, Alabama fans will understand just how special Tua Tagovailoa is as a quarterback. At the moment it gets somewhat lost among the stress and uncertainty of playoff games against quality opponents. Tagovailoa’s line from this game – 24-of-27, 88.9%, 318 yards, 4 touchdowns, 0 interceptions – is probably going to stand as an Alabama bowl record for many, many years to come unless he himself breaks it in a future bowl game. So complete was Tagovailoa’s mastery of pre-snap reads and his physical dominance in being able to complete throws downfield, Oklahoma defensive backs were left looking around as if they were surviving victims of violent crimes. Locksley played to Tua’s strengths with his playcalls; Tua made him look like even more of a genius.
- Offfensive line played a solid game, especially on running plays a
nd with Brown out. It’s going to be difficult to completely evaluate Alabama’s offensive line accurately in light of Oklahoma’s defensive front, which was problematic to begin with and then further encumbered by multiple injuries, but the results were clear. Alabama ran the ball at almost at will. Lester Cotton, who replaced the suspended Deonte Brown at left guard, had a solid game. For that matter, with the exception of one unfortunate series of events for RT Jedrick Wills that led to Alabama kicking a second-quarter field goal rather than scoring yet another touchdown, it’s hard to find any fault with this group for anything at all. Alabama will get a much more difficult test in its next game against Clemson, and we would encourage a tempering of enthusiasm given how bad defensively Oklahoma is, but Bama needed to take care of business up front and did.
- Oklahoma found something working against CB Patrick Surtain II, and Bama needs to adjust to it. Few teams were able to find any kind of success against Patrick Surtain II during the regular season, but Oklahoma certainly figured it out. Most if not all of CeeDee Lamb’s production on the evening – 8 catches, 109 yards, 13.6 avg., 1 TD – came against Surtain. Alabama played man coverage for most of the evening, which puts immense pressure on both cornerbacks, but other opponents had found more success going at Saivion Smith. Smith had a phenomenal game by comparison, both in coverage and also in run support. Smith’s success might have had more to do with Marquise Brown’s leg injury being more limiting than Oklahoma had previously let on, but Smith still deserves kudos for his performance. But if Oklahoma was able to spot something in regards to Surtain’s technique that the Sooners found vulnerable, Alabama needs to figure out what it is quickly and correct it before Clemson can also take advantage of it.
- The loss of Christian Miller is significant heading into the Clemson game. Miller had developed into a solid contributor at strongside linebacker, in large part due to his ability to impede the running game while also getting after the quarterback. Hamstring injuries can be finicky, and it’s possible he’ll be back to full speed by the time Bama faces Clemson, but it’s much more likely Alabama will have to go a different route. The most likely Plan B involves starting senior Jamey Mosley at the spot, but using Anfernee Jennings on a larger percentage of snaps. Jennings, as he did last year, is peaking when it’s most needed, but Alabama will have to guard against him getting gassed. Dylan Moses is capable of playing outside on certain downs, but neither he nor Mosley are great every-down options as outside linebackers due to the interplay of that position with run defense. When faced with a similar situation last year after the loss of Jennings, Alabama tried LaBryan Ray at the spot in practices leading up to the championship game, but didn’t use that package much, if at all, against Georgia. With Ray so important to the DL rotation in 2018, he might not be expendable to join the linebacker ranks, even if temporarily. Josh McMillon has more size than Moses and is probably a bit better against the run than is Mosley, but he has played only sparingly in 2018. Mosley would be the best pass-rush option and was used as such against Oklahoma after Miller went down, but if Bama chooses to go with Mosley against Clemson, it will need to either modify its packages to use less of the double-Jack alignment the Tide likes to use on some passing downs, or put together a SLB-by-committee approach to minimize the shortcomings of the players assigned to handle Miller’s work. True freshman Eyabi Anoma will be a great one soon, but for now, he’s a quick-twitch pass rusher who needs an offseason weight training program in a bad way, and he tends to lose containment in the running game, which Alabama can’t afford on early downs against Clemson. The best solution would be for Terrell Lewis to be game-ready again, but he didn’t dress for the Oklahoma game and likely wouldn’t be 100 percent if he played against Clemson anyway.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN