Slow start dooms Sooners

 

By Michael Kinney

MIAMI—Oklahoma promised something different. After losing to Georgia in the playoffs last season, the Sooners kept telling anyone who would listen that this season would be different if they made it into the playoffs.

Well, that is what they did. They secured the No. 4 seed and got to face No. 1 in semifinals of the College Football Playoffs.

Unfortunately, for the Sooners, this time around it was different. Instead of playing a down to the wire contests, they were bombarded from the outset and couldn’t make up the ground as they fell to the Tide 45-34 at the Hard Rock Stadium.

“We just kind of picked a bad time. We kind of just played our worst ball at the beginning. We very simply didn’t get stops, gave up some big plays to them,” Lincoln Riley said. “They made some really nice, competitive plays down the field, and then we just had trouble kind of gaining our traction offensively early. Every time we’d have a good play, we’d seem to kind of shoot ourselves in the foot. We were just a little off early. We obviously didn’t do a good enough job coaching them early. And I thought it took us a little bit longer to settle into this one than it normally does, and it’s like we were just kind of waiting for that spark, and it just took longer.”

In what should be his last game at Oklahoma, quarterback Kyler Murray threw for 308 yards on 19 of 37 passing. He also ran for another 131 yards to go along with his three total touchdowns and no turnovers.

Despite the solid numbers, Murray didn’t have his best game. But he may have had his most gutsy.

“This place has been home to me. I’ve loved every part of it, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Murray said. “I wanted to win a national championship, just fell short.”

Trailing by 18 in the fourth quarter, Murray connected with CeeDee Lamb for a 10-yard touchdown with just over eight minutes left in the game. Riley chose to take the extra point instead of the 2-point conversion and the Sooners trailed by 11.

Alabama responded with a touchdown from Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa to push the deficit back to 18 points.

The Sooners kept on fighting back as Murray scampered into the endzone for an 8-yard TD run with 4:23 left on the clock.

Oklahoma attempted an onside kick, which Carson Meir recovered. However, was flagged for touching the ball to early and possession was given to the Tide.

Alabama ran out the clock the rest of the game as Oklahoma’s defense was unable to get a stop.

“They outplayed us early,” Riley said. “I think it’s as simple as that. It was just a complete tale of two games. I mean, they completely outplayed us early and then we completely outplayed them pretty much the rest of the way.”

Alabama posted 471 total yards against the Oklahoma defense. That included Tagovailoa passing for 318 yards on 24 of 27 passing.

While the Sooners had stretches where they were able to slow down the Tide, linebacker Curtis Bolton was not happy with the team’s performance.

“We just flat out didn’t play good enough,” Bolton said. “You know, I thought we came out on the first drive a little bit too aggressive. I thought they were going to try to out-physical us from the beginning of the game, and they kind of mixed it up on us, and we didn’t adjust to it well enough. I didn’t get off blocks well enough, didn’t tackle well enough, didn’t cover well enough. Just all around, I think it was a night we let the team down. Any time you give up that many points, we’re not going to let anybody else take the blame but us, and as the leader of the defense, that falls on me. Just wasn’t good enough.”

Marquis Brown ended the game with zero catches, despite being targeted several times through three quarters. Brown said he was not at 100 percent after pulling a muscle in his foot during the Big 12 Championship game.

“I didn’t ever think it wasn’t going to happen,” Brown said. “I always got faith. When it didn’t come to me, it didn’t come to me. It just what it was.”

The Tide took the opening possession and drove directly down the field with ease. But on a second down from the 2-yard line, tailback Damien Harris appeared to fumble and it was recovered by Kenneth Murray.

However, after a lengthy review, the ball was given back to Alabama, who scored on the next play.

The Tide led 7-0 with 11:55 left in the first quarter.

Alabama came back on their next possession and did the exact same thing. The Sooners offered very little resistance as the Tide jumped out to a 14-0 advantage.

Offensively, it was just as anemic for OU. Oklahoma’s offensive line was bullied in the first quarter while Murray seemed unsure of what to do against that type of attack.

It was the perfect collision of storms and they all went against Oklahoma.

Trailing 21-0 in the first quarter, Oklahoma had a 4th down and four near midfield. Riley had the offense go for it and Myles Tease failed to come up with a catch.

It led to another Alabama touchdown and a 28-0 advantage.

The Sooners finally got on the board in the second quarter after Murray completed a long pass to  Lamb down to the Alabama two-yard line. It was the first time they had targeted him for a pass.

The next play Tre Sermon scored cutting the deficit to 21 points.

By halftime, OU had cut into the lead at 31-10. They then scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to only trail by 11. However, by twice settling for field goals instead of punching the ball into the endzone pretty much dashed any hopes of a comeback.

“We knew that we were going to make this a shoot-out,” tackle Cody Ford said. “The line, everybody, defense, offense, we were relying on everybody. But we knew. We started rolling and they couldn’t stop us. It was obvious. They knew that. That’s why they had to keep scoring. One stop was going to lose them the game.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Coaches set tone for their teams

 

By Michael Kinney

Fort Lauderdale, FL. – One day before they will lead their teams into the semifinals of the College Football Playoffs, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley and Alabama coach Nick Saban had one last press conference Friday morning.

Riley admits to being superstitious.

“I’m a little superstitious. The bowl schedule makes that a little bit tougher on a day like today. But yeah, I’ve got my little superstitions,” Riley said. “I think it’s just more you kind of get into your mode during the week and you kind of — especially in this job now for me, what’s different, still running the offense, is trying to be as efficient as I can be with my time. And so trying to create a pattern to which I know where I’m going to be, what I’m going to be working on at certain points of the day and really that continues all throughout the week. So my superstition is more related to being efficient and making sure I’m doing the best job I can and covering all the bases that I need to cover.”

Can Kyler Murray do it all?

Riley was asked about the future of quarterback Kyler Murray. As the months as gone on, Riley has become more and more publicly confident in that his signal caller can find a place in the NFL.

“Regarding Kyler’s NFL prospects, everybody knows he’s got a big decision to make, which he’ll — he, his family, anybody else that he wants involved will sit down and visit once the season comes to an end. He’s in a great situation,” Riley said. “I mean, the guy is already the ninth overall pick in the Major League Baseball draft, and I think he’ll probably be somewhere around the same spot if he chooses to go football-wise. I realize those — there’s a lot that goes into that, what teams are selecting, what their needs are, but we just had a guy go first overall the year before, and I think this guy is that kind of impact player, and certainly a rare athlete, one of those that you very well may go through the rest of your career coaching and never have one like that again. I mean, he’s that unique.”

But which will sport will he choose?

“He’s either going to be a Major League Baseball star or he’s going to be a Pro Bowler, he just needs to decide which one,” Riley said. “Maybe both.”

Stopping Murray

Saban didn’t give away any secrets or game plans on what his Tide have in store to slow down Murray. But he did heap high praise on him.

“I think the guy is one of the most dynamic players that I have ever seen in college football in terms of his skill set. He can beat you with his feet. He’s got great speed. He’s very athletic. He’s a good passer,” Saban said. “They have an outstanding scheme that really challenges you defensively and takes advantage of his skill set in every way, which is pretty obvious by the production that they’ve had all season long in terms of their ability to score points, make explosive plays, his ability to make explosive plays, and to distribute the ball in a way that all the other players on his team have an opportunity to make explosive plays. And they have great balance, so it’s not just one-dimensional. They run the ball effectively. They make explosive plays in the passing game, and I think it all starts with the system that they have, his ability to execute that system pretty flawlessly for the most part, and it takes advantage of his skill set to a tee.”

Does time off help or hurt?

It’s been more than three weeks since the last time Oklahoma and Alabama have played a game. Riley was asked if that much time off favors a great offense or great defense more.

“I don’t really know what the answer is. I think at the end of the day, you’ve got your processes again that you go through to game plan like you do every week of the year,” Riley said. “This is probably to me more similar to the first game of the year or maybe even after a bye week, just because you do have a little bit of extra time. It’s not like you’ve got the entire month, with the early signing day where it is now and that signing day really has become the true National Signing Day, and we both were in conference championship games. So we lost a week of recruiting. You’ve really got two weeks that’s one of the most critical times of recruiting, getting out to see these prospects, their families before that first signing date.
“A lot of our time was spent there, but yeah, you get — you’ve kind of got two weeks to roll on it, and hopefully you’re able to get some guys healthy,” Riley continued. “Hopefully you’re able to get a good feel for what your opponent does and again, what is your formula for winning and what do you need to do better than maybe you did in the previous game, and taking those next steps to continue to be the team that you feel like you can be.”

Consistently dominant

Riley said the foundation of consistency of Alabama’s defense begins on the recruiting trails.

“They’ve done a great job recruiting and developing players,” Riley said. “They’ve got really outstanding players at every single position. This year, in particular, the defensive tackle, 92, is as good as I’ve ever coached against. So he’s certainly in a group of great players, really stands out. And they play well together, like most great defenses. If you’re going to score some points or get any yards, you’re going to have to earn every single bit of it. They’re not going to give you anything, and they make a lot of big plays themselves. They’re certainly as good as we’ve gone up against.”

Game plan changes

Riley was asked does facing a great defense effect how he coaches all three phases of the game.

“I think each team has their formula for winning, and not every team’s formula is the same. So certainly we look at the opponent, break them down into different phases and what we need to do to be successful on offense, defense or special teams, but then that’s where my job comes into play, where you have to look at all three of those together and how could — maybe how good Alabama is on offense affect what you do in other phases of the game or vice versa,” Riley said. “So it’s like a puzzle. You’ve got to put it together. You’ve got to find a formula to find a way to win against a very good football team. So it certainly has an effect, and it’s certainly part of our preparation.”

A new trend

With the playoff committee seemingly overlooking the troubles of the Sooner’s defense, Riley was asked if he is now carrying the flag for teams with great offenses but bad defenses.

“No. Not really. We’re just here trying to win. Just like we’ve tried to win all the other ones. Again, it sounds like a broken record, what’s your formula for winning,” Riley said. “We’ve found ways to win games. We want to continue to get better on all three sides of the ball going into this game and into the future years of our program. There’s no doubt about that. But we found ways to win, and we’re going to try to do it again.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

Orange Bowl notebook: Teams get media day out of the way

By Michael Kinney

MIAMI — For the second straight day, both Kyler Murray and Marquise Brown participated in practice sessions with the Sooners. Neither seemed to show any ill-effects and looked ready Saturday’s Orange Bowl.

However, Brown would not say he is playing for sure in the College Football Playoff Semifinal. Yet, he did say he is close to 100 percent and anticipates being on the field at the Hard Rock Stadium.

Murray just chalked up his brief sickness to a busy schedule since the end of the regular season.

“I was surprised I made it this long, flying, Oklahoma, Atlanta, New York, back home, going to Dallas, all this stuff,” Murray said. “I actually hadn’t felt anything up until this point. I think for me, just trying to just be as healthy as possible come Saturday.”
The Blueprint

Lincoln Riley has often said the best is ahead for Oklahoma. Despite the success he has had as a head coach and offensive coordinator, he sees bigger things for the Sooners.

Riley was asked at the Orange Bowl Media Day if that means following the path Nick Saban has done in building Alabama into a powerhouse.

“I would never say anybody exactly because I think each program is in a different scenario, but you can’t ignore the success that they’ve had and how consistent they’ve been,” Riley said. “And so I think there’s a lot of things that they do in their program that are outstanding that I think any program in the country would want to do or try to have the same type of success or setup. But at the end of the day, each place is different. Each place has different resources and a different part of the country, kind of has their own path to success. We’re just trying to be the best Oklahoma that we can be, and we think this thing can get a lot better.”

Secondary staying confident

“We are playing a whole lot better than what we’ve been doing,” cornerback Tre Brown said. “We’re not where we want to be at. But we’re going to keep continuing to grow. We’re very young. We’ve got a lot of young, good talent. This is a game to finish it off, to show what we can do.”

Sticking together

When the secondary has been lit up or had bad days, Tre Norwood said different players have spoken up to keep everyone focus.

“We have older guys like Parnell Motley, Jordan Parker. I’m not much of a talker, but I will say stuff here and there,” Norwood said. “We just kind of come together as one. Keep each other up, pick each other up. Things are going to happen, especially at our position. We’re going to have good plays, we’re going to have bad plays. You just have to shake it off and keep on going.”

Brothers in the room

When the Sooners went into last year’s semifinal game against Georgia, Rodney Anderson was the clear No. 1 tailback and going to get the overwhelming majority of the carries. But since he went down at the start of this season, the runningback room has had to become a group share who all lean on each other.

“We are like brothers,” Kennedy Brooks said. “We go in there and compete every day and try and make each other better. Trey (Sermon), TJ (Pledger), we all just trying to make each other better at the end of the day. I think I’ve improved every game. Just seeing how they work makes me want to work harder.”

Savoring the moment

Despite it being the third time Oklahoma has made the College Football Playoffs in the past four years, players such as Curtis Bolton still realize how special the opportunity is.

“I remember back when we were in this spot two years ago, and everybody was just like, we don’t know if we’re going to be here again, so let’s make the most of it, and we didn’t capitalize last time,” Bolton said. “So that’s what I’m kind of trying to get the younger guys to realize, like it’s a blessing to be in this spot, but we were two, three plays out — two, three plays we don’t make and we’re not sitting in this spot, and you don’t know if it’s going to go down like that a year, two years, three years from now, so you’re here, and we’ve got a shot, so let’s go take it.”

Fullback surprise

In the second half of the season, fullback Carson Meir has been an integral part in the passing game. He can be the same in the Orange Bowl.

“For me, it’s all about getting the opportunity,” Meir said. “I’m not like Marquise (Brown) or CeeDee (Lamb) over there. Guys that are getting 10 receptions a game. I’m getting one or two passes thrown to me. I have to go make them count. I have to do whatever I can to come down with the football because I’m not going to get too many chances.”

Hollywood’s impact

Riley was asked what has Marquise Brown meant to the Sooner’s program.

“He’s meant a ton. I mean, his growth has been as much as anybody I can remember in such a short amount of time. I mean, keep in mind, last year even about halfway throughout the season, he was a reserve for us,” Riley said. “He was a two. Really took off the second half of last year, has gained confidence. He’s continued to practice hard, practice fast, plays that way. Been very coachable, and he’s just continued to get better and better. He’s been one of the more explosive players in the country now for about a year and a half, and it’s been a huge part of our offense.”

Going to be a brawl

With Alabama being known for having a physical style of play, the Oklahoma defenders are expecting a long night.

But Bofton said he is ready.

“Yeah, they are physical,” Bolton said. “Their O-line fires out. I’ve seen numerous times on film their lineman flying six yards down the field, throwing linebackers out the club. I feel like I have too much pride. That is something I have been thinking about all week. I’m not going to get on TV and get myself embarrassed. So, seeing how strong they are and how physical they are, if I don’t have the mentality to go punch them in the mouth back, I’ve already lost the battle.”

Game time is set for 8 p.m. (eastern) Saturday.

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Producer

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