By Wade Haugen
Lost in the controversy that has surrounded the Oklahoma Sooner football program over the past few weeks is the fact that this team still has a New Years Six bowl game to play in New Orleans on January 2nd against the Auburn Tigers. The Sooners will be entering the game with a 10-2 record, and a Big 12 title inked on their resume, a title they earned by going 9-0 in conference play this season. This great conference stretch was completely opposite of the Sooners non-conference performance in which they lost two out of three games.
Auburn enters the game with an 8-4 record, and a third-place finish in the SEC West. Much like their opponent, Auburn started the season with a 1-2 record before winning six games in a row. However, injuries down the stretch, especially to their backfield, seemed to halt their winning ways. The Tigers finished the season losing two of their last three games, including a 30-12 beat down at the hands of Alabama to end the regular season.
Here’s some things to look for in the Sugar Bowl:
Oklahoma enters the game with one of the most dangerous offensive units in the country. Ranked 8th nationally in total offense, the Sooners are averaging 319.8 passing yards per game, and 237.5 rushing yards per game. This offense truly thrives off big plays, and they have the horsepower to back up that philosophy. Between Baker Mayfield, Semaje Perine, Joe Mixon, and Dede Westbrook, the Sooners have plenty of big-time playmakers to shoulder the load. The offensive line has proved to be a strong point of this team lead by the Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year, left tackle, Orlando Brown.
It’s fairly simple with this Sooner team. If they’re able to get the ground game going with the two-headed monster of Perine and Mixon, that will open up the passing game for Mayfield, especially the deep passing game between him and Westbrook. Auburn will be blanketing Westbrook all night so the opportunity will be there for Mark Andrews, Geno Lewis, and Nick Basquine to play a big role.
Auburn’s offense is pretty one-dimensional in nature. The Tigers struggled to find a quarterback throughout the season and eventually decided on Sean White to be the man. While White did a respectable job of protecting the ball, he only finished the year with 1,644 yards passing and 9 touchdowns.
This Auburn offense does their greatest damage on the ground, averaging 278.5 yards per game, good enough for 8th nationally. The Tigers struggles at the end of the season directly coincided with Kamryn Pettway having to sit out with a leg injury. He has already been cleared to play in the Sugar Bowl. Auburn’s run/pass splits are 70 percent to 30 percent in favor of the run, so in order for the Sooners to succeed, they must commit to stopping the run.
While Auburn’s passing attack is less than stellar, the fact that Oklahoma will likely have to commit 7 guys in the box to stop the rushing attack will open up one-on-one matchups in the secondary, which hasn’t been a strong suit for this Sooner defense all season.
Oklahoma 42, Auburn 38
In the end, I don’t see much defense being played in this game. Oklahoma’s offense will have too many playmakers for Auburn to stop, but at the same time, I don’t see Oklahoma’s defense having a ton of success slowing Auburn’s rushing attack. However, eventually Auburn’s inability to maintain a consistent passing game will catch up to them and the Sooners will score last, winning a close one in NOLA.