ORANGE JUICED: Alabama holds on after keeping Oklahoma, Murray in check
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Quinnen Williams stopped mid-sentence. He knew better than to finish his thought.
“I feel like Kyler Murray is not what everybody …,” the Alabama defensive lineman began before abruptly pausing and then awkwardly clearing his throat during the Tide’s appearance at Orange Bowl media day Thursday.
When a reporter followed up with “what’s that?” Williams quickly declined: “Nah, I’m good.”
The Crimson Tide’s fun-loving sophomore responded two days later as No. 1-ranked Alabama held Murray and the vaunted Oklahoma offense at bay through much of the first half of a 45-34 victory. The win over the No. 4 Sooners in Saturday night’s Orange Bowl national semifinal puts Alabama into the national title game Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. at Santa Clara, Calif.
Williams and the rest of Alabama’s motivated defense repeatedly frustrated and harassed the Sooners’ Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback while holding Oklahoma’s high-powered offense to 471 total yards Saturday, which is more than 100 yards off its nation-leading average (577.9) coming in.
The Tide will make its fourth straight title game appearance, where it’ll match up once again with No. 2 Clemson, which routed No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 earlier Saturday in the Cotton Bowl.
It’ll be the fourth playoff meeting between the two rivals in the last four years, with Alabama leading 2-1. The Tide beat Clemson for the 2015 championship, and the Tigers returned the favor in 2016.
Against Oklahoma, Alabama came out firing from the word go, with sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting to Murray — connecting with fellow sophomore DeVonta Smith on a 50-yard completion on the game’s first offensive play.
That was only the beginning as the Crimson Tide scored touchdowns on its first four offensive possessions, including a 27-yard touchdown pass from Tagovailoa to junior running back Josh Jacobs — an Oklahoma native — to go ahead 28-0 less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Tagovailoa, who had nearly 300 less points in the Heisman Trophy race than Murray, outdueled his counterpart with 318 yards on 24-of-27 passing and four touchdowns to give him 42 on the season.
Murray, meanwhile, managed to rack up 417 total yards, including 308 on 19-of-37 passing, though much of that damage was done in the second half, including three second-half touchdowns coming in the game’s final 18 minutes. Murray was limited to just 168 total yards in the first half before flashing the big-play potential that helped secure him the Heisman Trophy late in the season.
With Alabama leading 31-10 coming out of halftime, Oklahoma started its second half surge with a 26-yard field goal by kicker Austin Seibert, who set college football’s all-time scoring record with the kick, with 9:42 left in the third quarter.
From there, Murray turned on the juice with a 49-yard touchdown strike to Charleston Rambo to pull within 31-20 with 3:03 remaining in the quarter. It was the first of three straight touchdown drives for Oklahoma, including a 10-yard scoring pass to receiver CeeDee Lamb with 8:31 remaining.
But each time the Sooners found the end zone, Tagovailoa responded in kind, connecting with Smith and fellow sophomore receiver Jerry Jeudy on touchdown passes of 10 and 13 yards, respectively, to hold serve with Murray and company.
Jacobs finished with 158 total yards, including a game-high 98 rushing yards on 15 carries, while senior tailback added 48 yards and a pair of 1-yard touchdowns to help the Tide take a 21-0 first-quarter lead.