Sugar Bowl 2014: Players Who Must Step Up in Alabama vs. Oklahoma Showdown

Alex HallCorrespondent IIIDecember 16, 2013

Nov 23, 2013; Manhattan, KS, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Sterling Shepard (3) catches a pass for a touchdown against the Kansas State Wildcats during the first half at Bill Snyder Family Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

This season's Allstate Sugar Bowl boasts two of the nation's most storied football programs in Alabama and Oklahoma, and more than a few explosive players.

While Oklahoma is riding a wave of momentum after defeating Oklahoma State on Dec. 7, Alabama is hoping to bounce back after a heartbreaking loss to Auburn on Nov. 30 that effectively ended its hopes of a third straight national title. This should make for some exciting football.

This bowl game features some premier NFL draft prospects, but both squads will need help from role players as well to earn a win.

Let's take a look at who needs to step up for the Sooners and Crimson Tide in this one.


WR Kevin Norwood, Alabama

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 30:  Kevin Norwood #83 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates his second quarter touchdown against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It seems a little obvious the guy with seven touchdown receptions is a key for the Crimson Tide. The issue with Norwood as of late however, is that he hasn't contributed to the offense in other ways.

Norwood has scored touchdowns in five consecutive games, but the Tide will need to get him the ball with more consistency against Oklahoma. In Alabama's last four games, he's caught fewer than four balls twice and only four catches the other two games.

But he has the ability to make big plays. His yards-per-catch average of 14.9 is actually a career low. Still, he has the ability to turn catches into huge chunks of yards and is effective in the red zone.

Norwood needs to be a reliable target for quarterback AJ McCarron in this game. Sure, the Crimson Tide can hand off to T.J. Yeldon whenever they want to. That doesn't change the fact that No. 10 needs to be able to count on a key member of his receiving corps.


DB Quentin Hayes, Oklahoma

Oct 12, 2013; Dallas, TX, USA;  Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops talks to defensive back Quentin Hayes (10) after a play against the Texas Longhornsduring the Red River Rivalry at Cotton Bowl Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Sooners might not have the nation's best defensive unit, but they do have a sturdy secondary and a stout defensive back in Quentin Hayes. They rank 15th in the country in passing yards allowed, and they'll need that type of success against 'Bama.

The junior Hayes has posted six games with at least seven tackles for his team and has intercepted a pass in two of Oklahoma's last three games.

Considering Alabama scored 38 points against LSU earlier this year, the Sooners will need a few turnovers to slow down the Crimson Tide. At least as of late, there has been no better source for interceptions than Hayes for head coach Bob Stoops.

Hayes, who is 6'0" and 193 pounds, has good size to match up with the Tide's receivers. He needs to continue making key tackles in the secondary and be a difference maker in the secondary.


OL Kellen Williams, Alabama

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 30:  Kellen Williams #63 and C.J. Mosley #32 of the Alabama Crimson Tide take the field for their game against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on November 30, 2013 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

With Jeremy Fowler reporting that Anthony Steen is likely to miss the Sugar Bowl due to shoulder surgery, Kellen Williams must step up at right guard.

He'll need to help create running lanes for teammate Yeldon and make sure the Oklahoma defensive front stays far away from McCarron. Both tasks are easier said than done against a team that forced Oklahoma State to turn the ball over twice and held Notre Dame to just 21 points.

Oklahoma ranks 27th in rushing yards allowed per game (138.3) and will be looking to create pressure up front.

The Alabama offense obviously has some dynamic weapons to utilize, but the offensive line can't afford any chemistry issues. Luckily for the Crimson Tide, Williams already stepped in or Steen once before against Colorado State.


WR Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 28: Sterling Shepard #3 Irish of the Oklahoma Sooners crosses the goal line for a touchdown in front of Austin Collinsworth #28 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 28, 2013 in South Bend, Indiana.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Sterling Shepard had a big day against state rival Oklahoma State when he went off for seven catches and 112 yards. Unfortunately for the Sooners offense, that was just Shepard's second game with more than 100 yards receiving and his first with more than 43 since Oct. 19. 

Shepard is just a sophomore but he has been quarterback Blake Bell's second-favorite target this year. He has six touchdowns and 540 receiving yards on the season.

The Oklahoma City native needs to add to his season totals against 'Bama. The Tide are fifth in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, so it will be a tall task. But there's no doubt Bell will be looking his way on more than a few occasions come Jan. 2. in order to establish momentum on offense.