Slow start dooms Sooners

 

By Michael Kinney

MIAMI—Oklahoma promised something different. After losing to Georgia in the playoffs last season, the Sooners kept telling anyone who would listen that this season would be different if they made it into the playoffs.

Well, that is what they did. They secured the No. 4 seed and got to face No. 1 in semifinals of the College Football Playoffs.

Unfortunately, for the Sooners, this time around it was different. Instead of playing a down to the wire contests, they were bombarded from the outset and couldn’t make up the ground as they fell to the Tide 45-34 at the Hard Rock Stadium.

“We just kind of picked a bad time. We kind of just played our worst ball at the beginning. We very simply didn’t get stops, gave up some big plays to them,” Lincoln Riley said. “They made some really nice, competitive plays down the field, and then we just had trouble kind of gaining our traction offensively early. Every time we’d have a good play, we’d seem to kind of shoot ourselves in the foot. We were just a little off early. We obviously didn’t do a good enough job coaching them early. And I thought it took us a little bit longer to settle into this one than it normally does, and it’s like we were just kind of waiting for that spark, and it just took longer.”

In what should be his last game at Oklahoma, quarterback Kyler Murray threw for 308 yards on 19 of 37 passing. He also ran for another 131 yards to go along with his three total touchdowns and no turnovers.

Despite the solid numbers, Murray didn’t have his best game. But he may have had his most gutsy.

“This place has been home to me. I’ve loved every part of it, I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Murray said. “I wanted to win a national championship, just fell short.”

Trailing by 18 in the fourth quarter, Murray connected with CeeDee Lamb for a 10-yard touchdown with just over eight minutes left in the game. Riley chose to take the extra point instead of the 2-point conversion and the Sooners trailed by 11.

Alabama responded with a touchdown from Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa to push the deficit back to 18 points.

The Sooners kept on fighting back as Murray scampered into the endzone for an 8-yard TD run with 4:23 left on the clock.

Oklahoma attempted an onside kick, which Carson Meir recovered. However, was flagged for touching the ball to early and possession was given to the Tide.

Alabama ran out the clock the rest of the game as Oklahoma’s defense was unable to get a stop.

“They outplayed us early,” Riley said. “I think it’s as simple as that. It was just a complete tale of two games. I mean, they completely outplayed us early and then we completely outplayed them pretty much the rest of the way.”

Alabama posted 471 total yards against the Oklahoma defense. That included Tagovailoa passing for 318 yards on 24 of 27 passing.

While the Sooners had stretches where they were able to slow down the Tide, linebacker Curtis Bolton was not happy with the team’s performance.

“We just flat out didn’t play good enough,” Bolton said. “You know, I thought we came out on the first drive a little bit too aggressive. I thought they were going to try to out-physical us from the beginning of the game, and they kind of mixed it up on us, and we didn’t adjust to it well enough. I didn’t get off blocks well enough, didn’t tackle well enough, didn’t cover well enough. Just all around, I think it was a night we let the team down. Any time you give up that many points, we’re not going to let anybody else take the blame but us, and as the leader of the defense, that falls on me. Just wasn’t good enough.”

Marquis Brown ended the game with zero catches, despite being targeted several times through three quarters. Brown said he was not at 100 percent after pulling a muscle in his foot during the Big 12 Championship game.

“I didn’t ever think it wasn’t going to happen,” Brown said. “I always got faith. When it didn’t come to me, it didn’t come to me. It just what it was.”

The Tide took the opening possession and drove directly down the field with ease. But on a second down from the 2-yard line, tailback Damien Harris appeared to fumble and it was recovered by Kenneth Murray.

However, after a lengthy review, the ball was given back to Alabama, who scored on the next play.

The Tide led 7-0 with 11:55 left in the first quarter.

Alabama came back on their next possession and did the exact same thing. The Sooners offered very little resistance as the Tide jumped out to a 14-0 advantage.

Offensively, it was just as anemic for OU. Oklahoma’s offensive line was bullied in the first quarter while Murray seemed unsure of what to do against that type of attack.

It was the perfect collision of storms and they all went against Oklahoma.

Trailing 21-0 in the first quarter, Oklahoma had a 4th down and four near midfield. Riley had the offense go for it and Myles Tease failed to come up with a catch.

It led to another Alabama touchdown and a 28-0 advantage.

The Sooners finally got on the board in the second quarter after Murray completed a long pass to  Lamb down to the Alabama two-yard line. It was the first time they had targeted him for a pass.

The next play Tre Sermon scored cutting the deficit to 21 points.

By halftime, OU had cut into the lead at 31-10. They then scored 10 unanswered points in the third quarter to only trail by 11. However, by twice settling for field goals instead of punching the ball into the endzone pretty much dashed any hopes of a comeback.

“We knew that we were going to make this a shoot-out,” tackle Cody Ford said. “The line, everybody, defense, offense, we were relying on everybody. But we knew. We started rolling and they couldn’t stop us. It was obvious. They knew that. That’s why they had to keep scoring. One stop was going to lose them the game.”

Michael Kinney is a Freelance Content Provider

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