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Previewing The Sugar Bowl Between The Sooners And Alabama

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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana -

Thursday night, the Oklahoma Sooners' 2013 season concludes in New Orleans when the Sooners take on Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

Not many expected the Sooners to be here at the beginning of the season, but a strong closing stretch, capped by a Bedlam win over Oklahoma State, propelled the Sooners into the BCS.

Here's our preview of Oklahoma's matchup with the Crimson Tide, along with all of the stories we've done leading up to the game.

 

Sooners Excited, Not Intimidated To Face Alabama

Lots To Gain, Little To Lose For Oklahoma Against Alabama

Conflict Resolution: Sugar Bowl Pits Newlyweds Against Each Other

OU Notebook: Pre-Sugar Bowl Press Conference

 

Five Keys To The Game

1. Time of possession

The Sooners have had a lot of success running the ball this season, but that success is going to be put to the test against a Crimson Tide defense that allows a paltry 108.3 yards per game (The Sooners are 18th running the ball with 235 yards per game). Regardless, Oklahoma is going to have to figure out a way to grind out the clock and keep the pounding Alabama offense on the sidelines. Or, the Sooners could opt for the alternative and try to go hurry-up like Texas A&M and Auburn did with success. Oklahoma probably won't be able to beat the Tide by running between the tackles on every play, so they'll have to make a decision on whether they want to eat clock or go for quick strikes.

2. Alabama's motivation

This is a biggie. Unfortunately, with Alabama an overwhelming favorite, some of the success the Sooners have will be attributed to the Crimson Tide not being excited about playing in this game. Alabama had dreams of a three-peat as national champions, but those were squashed in the Iron Bowl against Auburn. Alabama could be one of two things. 1. They could be hopping mad about the loss and come out ready to prove they're still the best team in college football. 2. They could come out flat, still depressed over the loss and disappointed to be anywhere else but the national championship. It's a big factor in the game and the Tide's attitude could determine how much success OU will experience in New Orleans.

3. Establishing the passing game

Much has been made about the Crimson Tide's defense, but the back half of their defense hasn't exactly been impenetrable this year. While the Crimson Tide is fifth in the nation with 166 passing yards allowed per game, they gave up 241 yards to LSU's Zach Mettenberger and a whopping 464 to Johnny Manziel. Neither Blake Bell nor Trevor Knight is as good as those quarterbacks, but the Sooners have to be able to throw the ball to keep the Crimson Tide from stacking the box against the run. The problem with Manziel's performance is that it came in Alabama's second game of the season and the Tide has gotten significantly better since then. However, it offers a bit of hope for an OU team that needs a lot of things to go its way to have a chance in this one.

4. Stopping or limiting the Alabama run game

OU has been plagued once again with a suspect run defense. After losing defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson, the Sooners have slipped to 27th in the country with 138.3 yards per game. Oklahoma retooled this defense in the offseason to be faster against the high-powered offenses of the Big 12. It's not built to stop a ground-and-pound rushing attack like the one Alabama possesses. The Sooners do get linebacker Jordan Evans back for the Sugar Bowl, so that should help keep the linebackers fresh throughout the game. It's a bit too much to ask to completely shut down T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake, but if the Sooners can at least prevent them from running roughshod over them, OU has a good enough secondary to limit AJ McCarron through the air.

5. Have fun with it

There is literally nothing to lose here for the Sooners. The whole country (and a lot of Sooners fans) thinks OU is going to get its doors blown off. Only good can come from this game. Lose big and nothing changes. Play the game close or even win and the current perception of the program is altered drastically and gives the Sooners a lot of momentum going into 2014. That said, there's no reason why Oklahoma should leave anything in the playbook for this one. Fakes and crazy blitzes should be the norm in New Orleans. After all, the Sooners are playing with house money at this point. No one expected them to be here as recently as 1:46 remaining in the fourth quarter of Bedlam. Yet here they are. Expect a very loose Oklahoma team.

Three key players for Alabama

1. QB AJ McCarron- 67.6 comp. %, 2,676 yards, 26 TDs, 5 INTs

McCarron will end his career as arguably the greatest quarterback in Alabama history. He's only lost three games in his career and has zero plans to lose a fourth one. McCarron has a solid arm and has a great group of receivers to throw to. He isn't asked to throw Alabama to wins, but he won't cost them a game either, hence his reputation as a great game manager. McCarron is much more than that. He's an elite-level quarterback that will have a solid career in the NFL. The Sooners can't expect him to make mistakes. Turnovers will have to be great play on the defense's part.

2. RB T.J. Yeldon- 1,163 rushing yards, 6.1 ypc, 13 TDs, 105.7 ypg

Last year, Yeldon was the second back in the two-back combo with Eddie Lacy. This year, Yeldon has been the main man. He's not quite as powerful as Lacy, but is faster and taller. He's a load to bring down, so the Sooners will have to be very sure on tackling to prevent him from getting more yards than he should. The one drawback to Yeldon is that he has a tendency to fumble. Yeldon has fumbled four times this year, losing three of them. This comes after his freshman year when he lost two of his three fumbles. For coach Nick Saban, that's about 10 fumbles too many.

3. LB C.J. Mosley- 102, tackles, 9.0 TFL, 5 pass breakups, 8 QB hurries

Mosley is the next in a long list of terrific linebackers that have come through Alabama since Saban took over as head coach. Mosley is the leader of the defense and leads the team in both tackles and tackles for loss. If the Crimson Tide chooses to have a spy on quarterback Trevor Knight, Mosley would be that guy. He has great speed and hits like a truck. He's the quintessential Nick Saban defender.

Key Matchup: Battle in the Trenches

In a game against any physical team like Alabama, the key is winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. Alabama's dominant offensive line paves the way for its terrific ground game, while the defensive line is the backbone of another stifling defensive unit. It might be a bit much to ask Oklahoma to win the battle on both fronts, but if the Sooners don't at least make those battles competitive, the Crimson Tide is going to have a field day. The OU offensive line is the most likely to have success in this battle because they're a veteran unit and have had success all year long paving the way for the OU rushing attack. The Alabama defensive line is very stout, but it's possible to move them around some. The Sooners are going to have to figure something out for the defensive line to have success against the Bama offensive line. It's a tall order, but the Sooners have to get creative in order to both generate pressure and bottle up the run game.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Oklahoma 20

This will be closer than a lot of people think, with Alabama scoring a late touchdown for the final margin. The Sooners are talented and will come in with nothing to lose. They'll play loose, while the Crimson Tide could still be suffering a major hangover from the Auburn loss. This clash of college football titans should be really exciting.

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