Preview of Alabama vs Oklahoma: Getting to know the Sooner’s offense
By Dave Friedman
The Crimson Tide are preparing to take on Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. While Alabama is widely considered a big favorite in the game, Nick Saban and his staff are learning a lot about the Sooners and their tendencies. Here is a bit of what they likely found when examining the OU offense.
As a whole, nobody would characterize Oklahoma as a potent or high-octane attack. They are 54th in the NCAA in total offense gaining a shade over 422 yards a game. They score just under 32 point a contest, also perfectly average. However, given the right opportunity, their ground game can dominate a contest.
The combination of running backs Brennan Clay and Damien Williams combined for 13 touchdowns, over 1450 yards, and averaged 5.4 yards a carry this season. Williams was dismissed from the team in November, but that hasn’t slowed down Clay. He scampered for a score of over 60 yards in three separate games this year while surpassing the 200 yard mark against Kansas State, the first contest Clay missed. Quarterback Trevor Knight is also a factor on the ground. Over the final three games of the season he carried 35 times for 252 yards, more than seven yards a carry, and two touchdowns.
The OU rushing attack ranks 18th in the nation, right between Missouri and Alabama, but with the NCAA’s 99th best passing game, they fit in the neighborhood of Kentucky and Florida. Knight, who is an excellent runner, is an inconsistent passer. He played a lot over the first two games of the year but after completing 44-percent of his throws while being picked off three times in wins against Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia, he saw his playing time take a major hit. He returned to a regular role in the lineup late in the season, and over the final three games of the year connected on 61-percent of his passes but threw for just one touchdown. Blake Bell, who is a better passer than Knight, is also unreliable. Twice this year he completed 70-percent of his throws in blowouts of Tulsa and TCU. However, he was awful against Texas and Baylor, combining for one touchdown, four interceptions, and completing 44-percent of his throws in the Sooners only two loses.
On the outside, Jalen Saunders and Sterling Shepard are Oklahoma’s go to targets. Saunders has caught nearly 200 passes in his career and surpassed 3,000 yards. He has 24 career touchdowns. Of the two, Saunders is more consistent. He topped 100 yards in a game just once this year, catches a handful of passes each game, and made just one grab over 50 yards. In a word, Saunders is reliable. Shepard is more dangerous though also disappears from games. He caught two passes or fewer five times this year. However, he surpassed 100 yards twice, and was a nightmare against Tulsa, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma State averaging more than 15 yards a grab in each game.
Up front, the Sooners offensive line is anchored by center Gabe Ikard. A Big XII first team selection, Ikard has been an all league player for three seasons. He has not allowed a sack this season and leads the team in knockdown blocks. Ikard is joined by right tackle Daryl Williams who was named a second team Big XII honoree after being an honorable mention pick last year. The offensive front is an area of depth for OU. In a win against Kansas State, starters Adam Shead and Tyrus Thompson, who are expected to start on the left side against Alabama, both got dinged up, but reserves Bronson Irwin, Nila Kasitati, and Derek Farniok stepped in as the Sooners rushed for more than 300 yards in the win.
Oklahoma’s offense doesn’t appear to be a unit that will gash you time and time again, however, they are solid up front, want to run the ball a lot, and if they get decent quarterback play, they have weapons on the outside who are capable of producing big plays.