Oklahoma vs. Auburn: A Tale of the Tape
Monday night’s Sugar Bowl is more than simply Oklahoma vs. Auburn or No. 7 vs. No. 14 in the College Football Playoff rankings. It’s Big 12 vs. the Southeastern Conference.
That pretty much says it all.
The 83rd annual Sugar Bowl features the Big 12 champions, the 10-2 Oklahoma Sooners, and the 8-4 Auburn Tigers, the second highest-ranked team from the SEC.
This is an intriguing SEC vs. Big 12 matchup with plenty of questions surrounding it.
Will a rejuvenated Auburn squad return to early season form? Will the much- maligned 2016 Sooner defense continue to make progress or crash back to Earth? Will Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn find his offensive mojo and come up with new wrinkles? Or will Bob Stoops continue his winning ways in the Big Easy?
Read on for our tale of the tape for the Tigers and Sooners and our prediction on the outcome. One thing is for sure: There will be plenty of offense in this one.
Oct 29, 2016; Norman, OK, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Dede Westbrook (11) returns a punt for a touchdown against the Kansas Jayhawks during the first quarter at Gaylord Family – Oklahoma Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
When the Sooners Have the Ball
The hiring of offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will go down as one of the best hires of the Stoops era. Riley took over a floundering offense and turned it into a juggernaut. After twelve games, the Sooner offense ranks third nationally with a nation’s-best 7.55 yards per play.
Of course, it certainly helped that some Baker Mayfield fellow showed up on campus, eager for a shot at the Sooner quarterbacking duties. Mayfield has been nothing short of spectacular this season, passing for 3,669 yards, 38 touchdowns and only eight interceptions, for an eye-popping pass-efficiency rating of 197.75. Those gaudy stats helped Mayfield garner an invite to the December Heisman ceremony in New York.
A key to the Oklahoma offense has been its balance. When the Sooners need to run the ball, they turn to what is arguably the most talented running back tandem in the nation. Samaje Perine or Joe Mixon could carry a team’s rushing duties on his own; together, this dynamic duo is lethal. In 2016, Perine and Mixon have combined for 2,157 yards and 19 TDs.
Sooner receivers were a huge reason for Mayfield’s fantastic season. And no Sooner receiver was better than speedster Dede Westbrook, whose 1,465 yards, 16 TDs and 19.8 yards per catch (that number is not a typo) resulted in another Sooner invitation to New York for the Heisman ceremony.
The multi-faceted Mixon also contributed 449 yards and five TDs to the receiving tally. But it’s important to remember that Mayfield was generous with the ball during this season; just about every Sooner receiver contributed to the Oklahoma passing attack.
Nov 26, 2016; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide defensive lineman Jonathan Allen (93) hits Auburn Tigers quarterback John Franklin III (5) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
When the Tigers Have the Ball
Gus Malzhan is widely regarded as an offensive genius. But ever since its national title game appearance after the 2013 season (a loss to Florida State), the Tigers have had their struggles keeping pace in the SEC.
This season didn’t start out so promising, as the Tigers, like the Sooners, limped out of the gate with a 1-2 record after three games.
Starting with a victory over LSU back in September, the Tigers found their groove, reeling off five consecutive victories and outscoring opponents 215-69. During November, however, Auburn came back to earth, losing to both Georgia and Alabama.
So, which Auburn team will the Sooners get?
Injuries were a contributor to Auburn’s woes this season, but the Tigers have had over a month to recuperate and get healthy. That means an Oklahoma defense that has been susceptible to the run will face a healthy Auburn running attack featuring Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson, who combined for 1,985 yards and 18 TDs in 2016.
In its last four games, the Oklahoma defense gave up 947 rushing yards. Combine this with the expected return of quarterback Sean White, who is a competent passer, and the Oklahoma defense has its work cut out for it.
Nov 19, 2016; Morgantown, WV, USA; Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops walks the field prior to their game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports
Final Analysis and Prediction
While the Auburn Tigers have the 21st ranked total defense, they are vulnerable to the pass.
The Tigers ranked 61st against the pass this season, allowing 223 yards per game. Auburn’s 21st-ranked run defense, however, is stout against the run, so the Tigers could have some success slowing down the Sooner rushing attack. But if the Tiger defense sells out too much to stop the run, Mayfield and the Oklahoma receivers have the talent and firepower to make them pay.
Defensively, the keys for Auburn are simple: Shut down the Sooner running attack, make the OU offense one-dimensional and pressure Baker Mayfield into making mistakes. The matchup between the Oklahoma offensive line and the talented Auburn front four will be critical.
When Auburn played intrastate rival Alabama, the Tide racked up 201 rushing yards. Oklahoma’s offense is arguably more explosive than Alabama’s, so in this Sugar Bowl matchup, the advantage belongs to the Oklahoma offense. That said, the Sooner offensive line must play big against Auburn’s talented front four and give Mayfield time to throw and open running lanes for Mixon and Perine.
On the flip side, will the Oklahoma defense be able to stop a talented Auburn run-first offense? The Sooner defense allowed an alarming amount of rushing yards to finish out the season, including a 388-yard hemorrhage against West Virginia.
That kind of defensive effort against Auburn will prove disastrous; Mike Stoops and Co. must slow down the Auburn running attack and get the defense off the field.
This Sugar Bowl will be an offensive barrage. At the end of the day, the talent on the Oklahoma offense will be too much for the Auburn defense to overcome, and the Sooners will emerge with a hard-fought victory: Oklahoma 34, Auburn 31
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