Alabama’s offense has played to its potential, as expected. But it was the Crimson Tide defense, angry after a month of hype for their counterparts, that dominated the first half of Saturday night’s Orange Bowl, allowing No. 1 Alabama to jump out to a 28-0 edge en route to a commanding 31-10 halftime lead over No. 4 Oklahoma.
Oklahoma won the toss and chose to put its defense on the field first, and Alabama immediately punished them for it when Tua Tagovailoa hit Devonta Smith — the same connection that won last season’s national championship — for a 50-yard gain. Damien Harris converted a 3rd-and-5 with a 15-yard reception, putting the ball at the OU 5-yard line. He then appeared to fumble the ball away at the 1, but the play was overturned upon review and he barreled in for a touchdown on the next snap. It marked the 41st time in 48 tries an Oklahoma opponent found pay dirt on a red zone penetration, the worst ratio in the country.
Trailing 7-0, Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma offense took the field for the first time — and went three-and-out. After a 3-yard keeper on first down, Murray was sacked by Anfernee Jennings on second down and engulfed by Christian Miller on third.
After Austin Seibert‘s punt — a short one, just 35 yards — Alabama knifed 45 yards in seven plays, with Tua completions of nine, 13 and 11 yards, setting up a 10-yard scoring lob to Henry Ruggs III on third-and-goal and putting Oklahoma in the danger zone at 14-0 less than 10 minutes into the game.
Oklahoma managed to achieve a first down on its second possession, but a 5-yard loss by Trey Sermon and two incompletions to Marquise Brown forced another Seibert punt. Tua hit Jerry Jeudy for a 40-yard bomb two plays later and all of a sudden the Tide were in the OU red zone again. After two Jalen Hurts touches put the ball at the 1, Harris powered in for his second score, putting Alabama up 21-0 at the 1:33 mark of the first quarter.
To that point, Alabama wasn’t just shutting Oklahoma out on the scoreboard. The Crimson Tide led in total yardage 191-0.
Oklahoma pushed into positive yardage on its third possession but, sensing any shot at a comeback hung in the balance — with 10 seconds to play in the first quarter, mind you — Lincoln Riley decided to go for a 4th-and-4 from his own 48. Murray’s pass was incomplete.
Taking over in Sooners territory, Alabama needed only five plays to push its lead to 28-0. On a 3rd-and-6 from the OU 27, Tagovailoa hit a wide-open Josh Jacobs on a swing route, who ran untouched until he demolished Sooners safety Robert Barnes at the goal line, who had to be helped off the field.
Down four touchdowns, Oklahoma’s offense finally got off the mat. Keyed by a 39-yard catch-and-run completion to fullback Carson Meier, Murray pushed the ball to the Alabama 2 with a 32-yard strike to CeeDee Lamb, allowing Sermon to put the Sooners on the board at the 11:48 mark of the second quarter.
Sparked by that score, Oklahoma’s defense forced its first stop — a three-and-out, no less — allowing the Sooners to take over at midfield, but Murray threw incomplete for Grant Calcaterra in the end zone on a 3rd-and-5 from the 8, forcing a 26-yard Seibert field goal and pulling OU within 28-10 at the exact midpoint of the second quarter.
Alabama leaned on Oklahoma’s forgiving run defense on the ensuing drive, consuming 7:01 of the remaining 7:30, but a false start prevented Nick Saban from going for a 4th-and-1 from the OU 15, forcing a 38-yard Joseph Bulovas field goal.
In a pair of stats that tell the story, Murray was 6-of-13 for 122 yards, while his Heisman runner-up counterpart was 15-of-17 for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Murray led all runners with 46 yards on nine carries, barely edging out Jacobs’ nine carries for 45 yards, though Jacobs also caught three passes for 47 yards and a thundering touchdown.
Oklahoma will receive to open the second half.