The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (13-0) got back to work to pursue their third National Championship in five seasons. Alabama started their first practice against the fourth-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (12-1), who are led by Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Kyler Murray. The Tide and the Sooners will meet in the 2018 Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida on December 29th. This will be one of the semi-final matchups for this year’s College Football Playoffs. The first practice of the bowl season comes with major storylines and expectations of both teams. Here are the top storylines from Alabama starting bowl preparations for Oklahoma.
Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley to coach through the postseason
For the fourth season in a row, the Alabama Crimson Tide will be losing one of their coordinators to another program to be a head coach. Offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will depart from the Crimson Tide program to be the head coach of the Maryland Terrapins next season. Locksley spent three seasons with the Tide, two as an offensive coordinator. Locksley spent four seasons, prior to Alabama, with Maryland as the offensive coordinator/quarterback coach. He will coach the Tide’s seventh-ranked scoring offense (47.9 points per game) and seventh-ranked total offense (528 yards per game) through the playoffs.
In 2015, defensive coordinator Kirby Smart accepted the head coaching job of the Georgia Bulldogs. Smart coached Alabama in the playoffs where they won the National Championship over the Clemson Tigers. In 2016, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin accepted the head coaching job of the Florida Atlantic Owls. Kiffin coached the Tide in the semi-finals but he was forced out by head coach Nick Saban before their National Championship loss to the Clemson Tigers. Last season, defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt accepted the head coaching job of the Tennessee Volunteers. He coached the Tide to their overtime victory over the Georgia Bulldogs in the National Championship. Locksley will coach the playoffs with the Crimson Tide despite already rebuilding the Maryland Terps football program.
Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa recovering well
Since the beginning of the season, the spotlight has been on Alabama and their star playmaker in quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He suffered some bumps in the road with a slight knee injury in the middle of the season but recovered with poise. Tagovailoa had the Heisman Trophy won until the conference championship week in the SEC Championship game against the Georgia Bulldogs. In the game, he experienced inconsistencies and left with an injury. Tagovailoa passed for 10 completions out of 25 attempts (for a completion percentage of 40%) for 164 yards, averaged 6.6 yards per completion, one touchdown, two interceptions, and accounted for 15.1 QBR. He suffered a high ankle sprain from the high velocity of the pressure of Bulldog pass rushers that required minor surgery. The procedure to repair the injury was not as severe as Jalen Hurts in the middle of the season.
Tagovailoa had surgery a week after the SEC Championship game. The expected recovery time was originally two weeks. He took part in the first practice with almost no limitations in the mobility drills and the passing drills. Tagovailoa was moving freely while he was running as he was rolling out with no problems. He missed out on one mobile drill as he still experienced slight discomfort. Tagovailoa continues to exceed expectations whether it comes to his playing ability, his impact on the team, or in recovery time. If Tagovailoa is in the lineup at 100% against Oklahoma, he will need to play more consistently than he did against Georgia. The Tide offensive line was not at their best performance but Tagovailoa must be healthy in order to beat Oklahoma.
Deonte Brown moved to second string guard; Lester Cotton becomes the starter
The Tide’s offensive line is one of the most consistent units in the nation. They are currently tied for 119th in sacks allowed through the season (13). While the Tide have a tackle in Jonah Williams that may be a high pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, the rest of the offensive line is also consistent. Guard Deonte Brown plays a huge role in the consistent unit that has made the Tide an explosive offense. Brown, however, has hit some injury bugs late in the season. He suffered a turf toe on November 10th against Mississippi State then missed the following week against the Citadel. Brown has not been the same player since he suffered the injury in early November. He had to leave during the SEC Championship game due to the continuing turf toe injury.
In the first preparation on the field for the matchup against Oklahoma, Brown practiced with the second team unit. Senior Lester Cotton is currently listed as the first team starting left guard for the Crimson Tide. Cotton has been inconsistent while playing for the Tide’s offensive line for multiple seasons. If Brown is still facing difficulties while trying to recover, Cotton will get the nod over Brown.