Shootouts are a rare experience for Alabama football. The Crimson Tide has ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense for 11 straight years, including 2018.
But matchups like the Orange Bowl are also rare. Oklahoma boasts the nation’s No. 1 offense, scoring 49.5 points per game. That’s just a couple notches better than Alabama, which checks in second nationally with 47.9.
The possibility for a high-scoring semifinal exists, at least on paper. Players have heard the talk about the possibility of the game becoming a back-and-forth battle on the scoreboard.
“As a defense, we take it personal because that’s not something that we just let people talk, like, ‘It’s going to be a shootout,’” inside linebacker Mack Wilson said. “Nah, like we’ve got a good defense, so it’s something our defense is definitely taking personal. But we’re just going to work, continue to work until it’s time to go play ball.”
The last time Alabama played a game in which both teams scored 35 or more points was in 2016, when the Crimson Tide rallied to beat Ole Miss 48-43. More recently, Alabama beat Arkansas 49-30 in 2016 and 65-31 this season. Alabama had a late-game cushion on both games, though. The 2016 national championship against Clemson was a 35-31 loss between two elite teams.
High-scoring games aren’t even fun for offensive players all the time. Running back Josh Jacobs said he might prefer to play in a defensive struggle. In a low-scoring game with a good defense, one score can be enough to swing the outcome.
“With a shootout, you never know,” he said. “That’s probably the most intense for me.”
Defensive players don’t like the idea any better.
“As a defensive player, I don’t think that’d make Coach Saban happy,” safety Deionte Thompson said. “So no shootouts.”
Oddsmakers have pegged the over/under at about 80 points, according to Bovada.lv. Only two postseason games in school history have produced that many points. Alabama won the 2015 national championship against Clemson 45-40 but lost the 1969 Liberty Bowl 47-33 to Colorado.
Running back Damien Harris said he’d be OK with a blowout, a shootout, a defensive struggle or an urgent comeback as long as it produced a win. Alabama survived one test against Georgia. Oklahoma will present another one later this month.
“I think that (shootouts and low-scoring games) can both be intense,” left tackle Jonah Williams said. “I think back to LSU my freshman year (in 2016) and it’s 0-0 going in the fourth and there’s just all this pressure that we just need to do something. You know what I mean? Because the dam is going to break on one side. And then obviously in shootout games, we haven’t had a whole lot of them I can think of. But Georgia for example, people are scoring touchdowns, you might get down 14 and you got to rally back. So I think we’re built for it. We’re built for adversity. And it’s not going to be the first time we’ve faced a good team, we’ve faced adversity, so I think we’re ready for it.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.