There’s an old saying that in the south, football isn’t just a sport, but a religion. That’s never been truer for the state of Alabama in the last 6-7 years. The SEC has become a powerhouse conference where real football is played and the rest of us are lucky to breathe the same air as them. The name alone carries hype and power with it as it’s the example of what to strive for. However, in the mid-west there’s an old ball coach with a simple visor on his head that reigns in the palace on the prairie; This coach has made football a way of life and is primed to spoil the SEC party…once again.
Auburn was on pace for much of the season to boast one of the top defenses in the nation, holding its opponents to 20 or less in each game. They also played in one of the worst Offensive leagues in the nation so here may not be much merit to that. Lucky for them, Oklahoma has put 34 or more points up on the scoreboard in each victory, and are on a 9 game winning streak. While Mayfield receives much of the attention on Oklahoma’s offense, it’s the Sooners’ running game that keeps the offense rolling. Oklahoma enters the Sugar Bowl having run for at least 250 yards in each of its last three games. Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon have pounded their way for over 2,000 rushing yards in the Sooners backfield and form arguably the most dangerous rushing duo in the nation behind a mountain O-line that is young but physical. Auburn’s rushing defense boasts some strong overall numbers, but a closer look reveals that those stats may be padded by some dominant performances against weaker opponents. When facing the SEC’s elite rushing attacks, Auburn struggled to contain the run game. Alabama, Texas A&M, and LSU each rushed for over 200 yards against the Tigers defense. When Auburn gets settled and can stop the run their Defense can completely overwhelm their opponent. If Auburn can’t contain Mixon and Perine, it’s difficult to imagine the Tigers hanging with Oklahoma in this matchup. Especially when Oklahoma Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has weapons on the outside to deploy a lethal play-action attack. The Sooners just have too much firepower on offense and should be able to roll to their second Sugar Bowl victory in the last four seasons. If I’m Auburn I would do two things to try and come out with a victory and that finds a way to stop Dede “the flash” Westbrook. The JUCO product has terrorized the Big 12 and found himself in New York as a Heisman finalist. If I had the answer on how to stop him I would be making 6 figures coaching D1 football. 2nd I would find my best running QB and use them against Mike Stoops. John Franklin III has the potential to be the nightmare on Elm Street for Mike Stoops but the Auburn offense doesn’t seem to work when he’s in the game. Maybe a few weeks of practice for the bowl game could help?
What concerns me going into this game is the same thing that has worried all Sooner fans every week. Can the Defense get some stops? Auburn Quarterback Sean White is supposed to be healthy after missing the last two games of the season, and if that is true, the Auburn offense will have some of its firepower back. Still, establishing the running game with Kam Pettway and Kerryon Johnson will remain important to give White time in the pocket. I can see OU giving the Auburn offense some trouble because if they can get pressure on White, he isn’t a major mobile threat. The wide receivers for Auburn are young, but after a full season and another month of practice, they could be hungry for a breakout game against a Sooner secondary that has looked nearly blind at some points in the season.
The Tigers have been solid all season long in Kevin Steele’s first season as defensive coordinator. Defensive lineman Carl Lawson is a stud that will definitely be able to put pressure on Mayfield in his last game as a Tiger before entering the NFL Draft. We can’t block him, that’s just a given but the tempo and misdirection that Lincoln Riley will throw out there could help quite a bit. There’s also the overwhelming factor that Auburn hasn’t faced an offense nearly as comparable, besides Alabama, to Oklahoma’s. Auburn’s defense is just filthy on paper and on film and I don’t expect anything to come easy for OU.
The hunter named Bob is going after his favorite target this bowl season, the SEC. He holds one of the most explosive offenses as well as a lot of experience in the Sugar Bowl. Auburn hopes to regain their momentum and keep their coach by a convincing win over the Crimson and Cream. This will be a fun game that should have most people gripping their seats. It’s another battle in the Big Easy so as always; see you on Saturday Gameday!
Sugar Bowl: January 2nd on ESPN