Orange Bowl Recap: Crimson Tide Rides Strong Start

Crimson Tide Overcomes the Sooners' Comeback Attempt
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In the words of Yogi Berra, “it’s déjà vu all over again.” The Alabama Crimson Tide started strong. They built a 28-0 lead into the second quarter, and they used their strong start to overcome the Sooners’ comeback attempt. The Tide rolled to a 45-34 victory in this year’s Orange Bowl. And, just like that, Alabama will face Clemson in the national championship game for the third time in four years.

At halftime, with his team down 31-10, Lincoln Riley no doubt delivered a halftime speech that reminded his Oklahoma Sooners of his team’s own loss to Georgia in the Rose Bowl just last year. In that game, the Bulldogs overcame a 31-17 deficit at halftime to beat the Sooners 54-48 in the second overtime. Unfortunately, Oklahoma came up just short.

The Pre-Game Chatter

The story of this game begins with the pre-game chatter. Most members of the sports media, including us, thought the Sooners’ offense would come out hot. Kyler Murray, after all, inched out a Heisman Trophy win over Tua Tagovailoa. And Oklahoma’s offense was indeed one of the most (if not the most) efficient offenses of all time.

Crimson Tide Overcomes the Sooners' Comeback Attempt
MIAMI, FL – DECEMBER 29: Tua Tagovailoa #13 of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks to pass in the second quarter during the College Football Playoff Semifinal against the Oklahoma Sooners at the Capital One Orange Bowl. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Well, Alabama’s defense took that attention personally. Oklahoma had not played a unit as tough and as physical as Alabama’s. The Tide defense was out to prove the media wrong. Meanwhile, Tagovailoa and the Alabama offense also felt snubbed. Murray may have outperformed Tagovailoa in terms of statistical totals, but the latter rarely ever played in the fourth quarter and often only played a few series in the third. That is how good the Crimson Tide’s season has been.

The First Quarter

Alabama set out to make fools of us all. And they did indeed prove everybody wrong. At least for the first quarter. Alabama held the Sooners’ vaunted offense to thirteen total yards through the first fifteen minutes. Thirteen yards over three drives.

And the Tide offense looked just as good. They rolled for 200 total yards and scored without challenge on all three first-quarter drives. Tua looked like a Heisman trophy winner. Murray? Well, he looked out of place. Simply, the rout was on. Oklahoma was outmatched and overpowered.

Not So Fast

But the Sooners would not give up. After going down 28-0 early in the second quarter, Oklahoma fought back. Once they got on the board, the defense then held Alabama to a three and out. On the ensuing drive, the Sooners managed a field goal, and, just like that, they were down 28-10. Alabama returned serve to close the half 31-10, but, because they deferred the opening kickoff, Oklahoma would have the opportunity to draw first blood in the second half.

The Sooners again settled for a field goal after halftime, but the defense forced a rare Tide punt on the next possession. Murray and the offense capitalized, and the Sooners narrowed the gap to 31-20 through the end of the third quarter. After starting off stale, the Sooners outgained the Tide by over 230 yards over the next two frames.

Alabama Holds On

Alabama, however, held strong and got back on the board in the fourth quarter with a slow, methodical drive. The teams traded punches for the rest of the game, with each gaining a pair of touchdowns in the final frame. And for a quarterback who does not play much in the fourth quarter, Tagovailoa handled the pressure just fine. He finished the fourth a perfect five for five for 51 total yards and two touchdowns, including a perfect strike to Biletnikoff winner Jerry Jeudy.

Crimson Tide Overcomes the Sooners' Comeback Attempt
MIAMI, FL – DECEMBER 29: Jerry Jeudy #4 of the Alabama Crimson Tide completes the catch for a touchdown in the fourth quarter during the College Football Playoff Semifinal against the Oklahoma Sooners. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

With strong performances from his offense and defense alike, Head Coach Nick Saban has the Crimson Tide playing for what could be their sixth national championship in ten years. And because of that dominance, Head Coach Lincoln Riley has to be happy with what he saw from his Sooners. They refused to give up and played through the final whistle.

And Murray ultimately proved why he deserved the Heisman Trophy this year. Going up against a far better defense that Tagovailoa did, Murray put up 417 total yards and three touchdowns. He did so against relentless pressure from an Alabama defense that outmatched the Sooners’ offensive line on nearly every play. And while moral victories count for very little, the Sooners acquitted themselves well against the true definition of a dynasty.