Surging Sooners meet Auburn in the Sugar Bowl
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Oklahoma is not in the College Football Playoff because of two losses that happened in September.
Those setbacks were more than three months ago. These days, the Sooners could pass for one of the nation’s best teams.
Seventh-ranked Oklahoma enters Monday’s Sugar Bowl against No. 17 Auburn on a nine-game winning streak that includes an undefeated run through the Big 12. The Sooners (10-2) have one of the nation’s best offenses, scoring at least 34 points in all nine conference victories.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn doesn’t see many weaknesses.
“They’re very good at running the football,” Malzahn said. “They’re very good at throwing the football. The challenge is making them one dimensional.”
Auburn appears better equipped than most to give Oklahoma’s offense some problems. The Tigers’ defense — led by defensive linemen Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams — was one of the best in the country and allowed the program to exceed what were initially modest expectations for the season.
Lawson and Adams have combined for 21 tackles for a loss this season. They’ll be trying to make life difficult for Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has thrown for 3,669 yards, 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions while completing more than 71 percent of his passes.
Auburn (8-4) struggled at the beginning and end of the regular season, but put together a six-game winning streak in the middle of the schedule that allowed it to make the Sugar Bowl. The defense is giving up just 15.6 points per game, which ranks fifth nationally.
“Their front line really sets the tone for their whole defense,” Mayfield said. “They have a bunch of players that wreak havoc. They allow their secondary and linebackers to play aggressively because they know they don’t have to cover people that long because of the talent up front.”
Here are a few more things to watch at the Sugar Bowl on Monday:
CHAMPIONS ROW: The Sugar Bowl will mark Auburn’s third game this season against a conference champion. In fact, the previous two were against teams now headed to Tampa for the national title game. Auburn opened the season against Clemson, falling 19-13. Then it closed the regular season with its traditional Iron Bowl matchup against Alabama, losing 30-12. Now comes Big 12 champ Oklahoma, and the Tigers see no better way to end the season than with one last chance to beat a top 10 team that won a major conference. “It would mean a lot to us, it would mean a lot to the conference, it would mean a lot to the school,” Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said.
BIG GAME BOB?: Oklahoma has had a remarkable run of consistency under 18th-year coach Bob Stoops. The Sooners have won at least 10 games in 14 of the seasons and have never had a losing record. They have a 189-48 record since 1999, including a 121-29 mark in the Big 12. The only real blemish on Stoops’ coaching resume? An 8-9 record in the postseason.
BEST BUDDIES: Auburn defensive linemen Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson are playing together for the last time after arriving in the same recruiting class in 2013. Both are Georgia natives who knew one another in high school and came to Auburn hoping that, together, they could provide the Tigers with a fearsome front. Lawson’s injury issues made that tough, but this year both were finally healthy and combined for 21 tackles for losses. “With both of us being healthy, being out there, if he did make the play I was close by or if I did, he was close by. … Every time we get together it’s time to wreak a little havoc,” Adams said.
THAT’S THE KICKER: Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson could give the Tigers an edge in a close game. The All-American junior has made 82 percent of his field goals during his three-year career, including 26 of 30 (86.7 percent) this season. He’s also hit four field goals of 50 yards or more this fall.
TURNING POINT: The Sooners attribute their presence in the Sugar Bowl to a team meeting after a 45-24 loss to Ohio State in the third game of the season. It was “definitely a turning point,” as far as offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. is concerned. “I just remember it being really motivational for us. It allowed us to understand what we were doing wrong, what we were doing right and it allowed us to go into that bye week with the mindset that we had to better ourselves,” Brown said.