Almost no one is expecting the No. 3-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide to have any difficulties with the 11th-ranked Oklahoma Sooners Thursday night in the Allstate Sugar Bowl.
Besides the appearance that Bama simply has the superior talent, it hasn't lost a nonconference game in six years. Per Covers.com, the Sooners are 16.5-point underdogs.
Check out the keys to victory.
Slow Down Bama's Balanced Attack
Yes, AJ McCarron has proven he is capable of making plays with his arm. McCarron was big-time all season, most notably against Texas A&M and Auburn. He completed 63 percent of his passes, had seven touchdowns and no interceptions in those games.
However, the run game is still the engine for the Crimson Tide machine. Sophomore stud, T.J. Yeldon, is the leading rusher with 1,163 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
If the Sooners are to have any prayer of upsetting Alabama, they have to contain the rushing attack. Bama only failed to dominate on the ground in two games. The Virginia Tech Hokies and Colorado State Rams—of all teams—were the only teams that held the Crimson Tide under 100 yards rushing all season.
It happened early in the campaign and both teams obviously still lost. Is the Sooners' offense better than the Hokies and Rams? Is it better suited to capitalize if the defense can contain Bama on the ground? Those points are certainly debatable.
If defensive coordinator Mike Stoops can dial up a scheme that prevents his front seven from being trampled, that's the first step towards a monumental upset.
Per Marq Burnett of the Anniston Star, Stoops knows what he and his defense are in for. He said this during a press conference in New Orleans on Sunday:
[This] will be the most physical game that we have played all year.
Offensively, they are probably the most complete or they are the most complete team we have faced. When you at the offensive line, you look at the skill, you look at the running backs, you look at the tight ends, they present challenges across board.
Whenever a team is heavily favored, the quickest way to eliminate that advantage and level the playing fields is by turning the ball over. Alabama survived two games during the season in which it lost the turnover battle, but in those games, the talent discrepancy was larger than it will be against Oklahoma.
Which teams wins the turnover battle?
The Tide shook off two miscues against Kentucky and won 48-7, and four giveaways when they beat Mississippi State 20-7.
It's possible that could happen again, but it would be an example of playing with proverbial fire.
The Sooners need to play a near perfect game, and that includes limiting or completely eliminating turnovers. Bama's talent will create its own opportunities, Oklahoma will only make the hill steeper to climb by giving away the football.
Alabama Can't Take the Sooners Lightly
Perhaps the biggest potential problem Alabama might face is overconfidence. This team naturally feels as if it should be playing for a national championship. The Sugar Bowl is merely a consolation prize.
If the players are not engaged, it could open them up to a slow start. ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit thinks the Sooners may surprise some folks. Per Jon Solomon of AL.com, Herbstreit said:
I think Oklahoma definitely has a chance in this game because I think they're going to play with some urgency and with a major chip on their shoulder. I think the game will be much, much closer than what a lot of people who I'm listening to or talking to think.
Allowing Oklahoma to believe it has a chance to win will make the game tougher. The Sooners are already gearing up to shock the world. Running back Brennan Clay said this, per Alabama Sports Now:
Oklahoma RB Brennan Clay on Alabama’s defense: ‘They’re not the gods that everyone (makes) them to be’ (video) http://t.co/l77jKOg5RW— Alabama Sports Now (@BamaSportsNow) December 31, 2013
If Bama comes out with intensity from the beginning of the game—especially on the defensive side of the ball—it should have no problems handling Oklahoma.
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