MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Alabama players knew they’d be impressed by Oklahoma’s offense. They also walked away from the Orange Bowl with respect for the Sooners’ fight.
Alabama’s defense blockaded the Sooners’ offense for the first three drives of the night as the Crimson Tide built a 28-0 lead, but that wouldn’t be the end of the story.
“They put up a fight,” defensive end Raekwon Davis said. “They played great, man. They played with heart.”
The Sooners would pull within two possessions of the lead on three separate occasions, forcing Alabama to fall on two onside kicks to keep control of the game. They scored on all four second-half possessions, including three consecutive touchdowns to end the game.
That was when Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray came on the attack. Oklahoma was alive as long as he was on the field. His final play was an eight-yard touchdown run to finish a 74-yard drive. After halftime, he completed 13 of his 24 passes for 186 yards with two touchdowns. For the game, he finished 19-37 for 308 yards with two touchdowns. He also rushed for 109 yards and a touchdown.
“A guy like that, he’s a crazy athlete,” safety Deionte Thompson said. “He can extend plays. He extended a couple of plays for about seven, eight seconds. We were covering, we were running all over the place.”
Alabama also got their hands on the Heisman winner. The defense had three sacks, and defensive MVP Xavier McKinney batted away four passes.
The Sooners’ second-half rally featured several plays where Murray’s receivers cleared out. When they were covered, he sprinted for the open field before sliding and setting up one more time. For the most part, Alabama’s defense relied on the same foundation it had used all season to help slow things down.
“We trusted what we do,” outside linebacker Jamey Mosley said.
Senior outside linebacker Christian Miller left the game in the second half with a leg injury and did not return. Coach Nick Saban said his status would be evaluated after an MRI on Sunday.
He was the most significant injury in a physical game that saw the two teams finish with a combined 999 yards. Oklahoma posted 478 yards; the second-lowest total for the Sooners this season but the most allowed by Alabama’s defense.
The teams also combined for 141 penalty yards. Trash talk started even before the game.
“I expected it to be physical,” safety Deionte Thompson said. “I expected emotions to run high. You’re playing for a spot in the national championship game. If you don’t think this game is going to be competitive, you’re not supposed to be here. That’s what I expected. I expected guys to be talking trash. Expected guys to be getting nippy.”
The talking continued in the first half as Oklahoma fell behind. The Sooners kept up the fight until their final play.
Alabama’s defense had done enough to win. After the game, all their talk was about respect for the Sooners.
“We let up,” defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs said. “We can’t let up. We have to keep bringing it to opposing teams.”
Reach Ben Jones at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0196.