No. 1 Alabama keeps No. 4 Oklahoma, Murray in check early, holds on for 45-34 semifinal win
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Quinnen Williams stopped mid-sentence. He knew better than to finish his thought.
“I feel like Kyler Murray is not what everybody …,” Williams began before abruptly pausing and then awkwardly clearing his throat during Alabama’s appearance at Thursday’s Orange Bowl media day.
When the reporter followed up with “what’s that?” Williams quickly declined: “Nah, I'm good.”
The Crimson Tide’s fun-loving sophomore nose guard responded two days later.
No. 1 Alabama (14-0) held Murray and the top-ranked Oklahoma offense at bay through much of the first half of a 45-34 victory over the No. 4 Sooners in Saturday night’s Orange Bowl national semifinal at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.
Williams and the rest of Alabama’s defense repeatedly frustrated and harassed the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback. Oklahoma’s high-powered offense had just 191 first-half yards and finished with 471 Saturday. The Sooners entered with a nation's-best 577.9-yard average.
Alabama (14-0) advances to its fourth consecutive national championship appearance, where it will again face No. 2 seeded Clemson, which beat No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 earlier Saturday in the Cotton Bowl semifinal.
The title game is at 7 p.m. Jan. 7 from Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California.
It’ll be the fourth playoff meeting between the Tide and Tigers in the last four years.
Alabama is 2-1 with victories in the 2015 national championship game (45-40) in Glendale, Arizona, and last season’s Sugar Bowl semifinal (24-6) in New Orleans. Clemson claimed beat the Tide in the 2016 national title game when the Tigers rallied for a last-second victory (35-31) in Tampa, Florida.
On Saturday, Alabama came out firing from the word go, with sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Murray — connecting with fellow sophomore DeVonta Smith on a 50-yard completion on the game’s first offensive play.
That was only the beginning. The Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on its first four offensive possessions, including a 27-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa to junior running back Josh Jacobs — an Oklahoma native — to lead 28-0 less than 2 minutes into the second quarter.
Tagovailoa, who had nearly 300 less points in the Heisman Trophy race than Murray, outdueled his counterpart with 318 yards on 24-of-27 passing. His four passing touchdowns gave him 42 on the season.
Murray, meanwhile, racked up 417 total yards, including 308 on 19-of-37 passing. Much of that damage was done in the second half, including three touchdowns in the game’s final 18 minutes. Murray had just 168 total yards in the first half before flashing the big-play potential in the second half that helped him win the Heisman Trophy.
With Alabama leading 31-10 coming out of halftime, Oklahoma started its second half surge with a 26-yard field goal by kicker Austin Seibert. Seibert set college football’s all-time scoring record with the kick with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
From there, Murray turned on the juice with a 49-yard touchdown strike to Charleston Rambo to pull within 31-20 with 3:03 remaining in the quarter. It was the first of three straight touchdown drives for Oklahoma, including Murray's 10-yard scoring pass to receiver CeeDee Lamb with 8:31 to go.
But each time the Sooners found the end zone, Tagovailoa responded. He connected with Smith and sophomore receiver Jerry Jeudy on touchdown passes of 10 and 13 yards, respectively.
Jacobs finished with 158 total yards, including a game-high 98 rushing yards on 15 carries, while senior tailback Damien Harris added 48 yards and a pair of 1-yard touchdowns to help the Tide take a 21-0 first-quarter lead.