The Alabama Crimson Tide have been one of the most dominant teams in the country for a number of years, and they will complete another quality season at the 2014 Sugar Bowl. 'Bama's explosive offense will be taking on the stingy defense of the Oklahoma Sooners, who are coming off a season-defining win over Oklahoma State.
In the Sugar Bowl, sophomore running back T.J. Yeldon will be on display in one of the biggest games of his career.
The Sooners will be getting a full dose of Yeldon on Thursday night, an unenviable task by most standards. Although Oklahoma has a stellar defense, Yeldon will find some success after being named an all-conference player by The Associated Press.
DE Charles Tapper on defending Bama, "We have to stop the run game. We have to stop T.J. Yeldon from making the amazing plays..."— CC Machine (@CCMachine) December 30, 2013
As a sophomore, the running back has made statement after statement en route to a 1,163-yard, 13-touchdown season—all while splitting carries with Kenyan Drake. He has notched 133-plus yards in each of his last three starts and will carry that momentum into this game.
The young runner from Daphne will become the face of Alabama football with the departure of A.J. McCarron, and this will be his coming-out party. Yeldon has received praise from many, including Oklahoma defender Chuka Ndulue, per AP:
For a guy to be that strong, you don't expect him to be able to move side-to-side. You need more than one guy to bring him down on most of the film we've watched and that's what jumps out to me.
Alabama has an efficient passing attack behind McCarron, but Yeldon will be the true star of the show on Thursday night in more ways than one. He does a whole lot more than run the ball, and that will be important for Alabama. He has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and make guys miss in space, and he is a good blocker in pass protection as well.
He plays a big a role in the passing game for 'Bama, but not just with catching the ball. Alabama has a reputation for an explosive offense, but it wouldn't have nearly as much success with the pass if Yeldon wasn't such a threat on the ground.
Believe it or not, he is also a part of the Tide's defense. He may not line up with the rest of the defense, but his ability to sustain long drives keeps the other team's offense off the field and the ball in Alabama's possession.
Coming into this game, Yeldon is averaging 102 yards per game, third most in the SEC. He's progressed immensely from his freshman season, improving his numbers in every major stat category. When asked about how this season went, he modestly said it went "pretty well," according to Chris Kirkpatrick of the Decatur Daily.
Barrett Sallee, Bleacher Report's SEC Lead Writer, believes that the 2014 Sugar Bowl could spark a Heisman campaign for the soon-to-be junior. Yeldon could start his case for the Heisman with a powerful performance in this game and ride that into his junior season.
While it is too early to have any firm candidate for the next trophy, one thing is for sure—Oklahoma will have its hands full with No. 4.