Sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went 24-of-27 for 318 passing yards and four touchdowns as No. 1 Alabama beat No. 4 Oklahoma 45-34 in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl in Miami on Saturday.
Sophomore wideout DeVonta Smith caught six of Tagovailoa's passes for 104 yards and one touchdown.
Junior quarterback Kyler Murray had 308 passing yards and two scores for the 12-2 Sooners. He also added 109 rushing yards and another touchdown on the ground.
Sophomore wideout CeeDee Lamb hauled in eight passes for 109 yards and one touchdown.
The Crimson Tide improved to 14-0.
Quinnen Williams, Alabama DL Will Dominate Trevor Lawrence and Clemson Too
Through one quarter, the Alabama Crimson Tide were up 21-0 on the scoreboard and 200-24 on the yardage board. The Tide's offense proved unstoppable, but the Quinnen Williams-led defensive front was the primary catalyst for Alabama's dominant opening 15 minutes, which created a hole that Oklahoma couldn't dig itself out of despite finding offensive success later in the game.
Although Williams didn't amass much for the box score, he and the rest of the line's ability to put the OU offensive line on its heels knocked the Sooners offense out of rhythm in the first quarter.
Williams' interior pressure, in particular, was exceptional, as he created little room for Murray or any Sooners running backs to operate early on. Alex Byington of the Montgomery Advertiser cited one particular play where Williams' efforts caused OU problems:
Dane Brugler of The Athletic offered high praise of Williams:
And Matt Miller of Bleacher Report did as well:
Looking ahead to the national championship against Clemson, the Tide front could give Clemson a hard time.
Granted, the Tigers aren't exactly slouches, as their front has helped lead a dominant offense en route to a 14-0 record.
However, Alabama's defense outclassed a team that won the Joe Moore Award, which is given to the No. 1 offensive line in Division I FBS. If Alabama was able to handle the best, what will its defensive line do against Clemson?
Also, Clemson hasn't faced a defense near the caliber of Alabama's. According to Football Outsiders, the Crimson Tide were No. 1 in adjusted sack rate (11.5 percent) and fifth-best in opportunity rate allowed, which measures how often a team gave up runs of four or more yards. Alabama had done so on just 38.6 percent of opposing runs.
While Clemson isn't about to get shut out, the Alabama defensive line is more than capable of dictating the game yet again.
Lincoln Riley, Returning Offensive Talent Will Keep Sooners in CFP Conversation Next Season
Looking ahead to next year for the Sooners, OU is losing Murray, who will be playing professional baseball or football next season. Junior wide receiver Marquise Brown could also be entering the NFL draft (he's No. 25 overall on Miller's big board right now).
However, the Sooners have a few things going in their favor that could keep them in playoff talks.
First, head coach and offensive mastermind Lincoln Riley will be calling the shots again next year. He shot down any talk of NFL teams poaching him when he told reporters on Thursday that he's not interested in the pro game right now, per Howie Kussoy of the New York Post.
Under Riley's command, the Sooners finished third in scoring in 2017 and first this year. The two quarterbacks under his charge as head coach (Baker Mayfield and Murray) were Heisman Trophy winners. The passing attack is near unstoppable, and that could be the case even with someone new calling signals next year.
Second, OU is returning a host of offensive talent next year outside Murray.
Lamb will be back in Norman, and the same goes for freshman running back Kennedy Brooks (1,056 rushing yards, 12 touchdowns), sophomore running back Trey Sermon (947 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns), sophomore tight end Grant Calcaterra (six touchdowns) and junior wideout Lee Morris (eight touchdowns).
The key is whether Austin Kendall, OU's current backup quarterback and the presumed 2019 starter provided he beats 5-star quarterback Spencer Rattler and freshman signal-caller Tanner Mordecai, can handle the spotlight. He may be capable of doing so, as noted by some positive comments from Kerry Miller of Bleacher Report:
"(Kendall) is a guy who has been in the Oklahoma system since January 2016, backing up multiple Heisman winners and nearly beating one of them for a starting job.
"It's also a guy who was rated as the 12th-best QB in the 2016 recruiting class—one spot ahead of Jalen Hurts, for what it's worth—thanks in large part to averaging nearly 300 passing yards and just under 4.0 combined passing and rushing touchdowns as a junior in high school, according to MaxPreps. He's a talented player who is (probably) going to finally get his chance to shine."
The schedule gods are also in OU's favor next year, as they have home games against West Virginia and Iowa State, who each finished in the Top 25 of the College Football Playoff rankings. The Red River Rivalry against Texas will occur in Dallas. In fact, OU isn't facing a team on the road that finished better than 7-6 this year (Baylor).
While the Sooners will encounter some tough competition to get into the Top Four (much like they did this year), they have a good shot at making a return for the third straight year.
Alabama will face Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, January 7. The Crimson Tide will be playing for their sixth national title in 10 seasons.