Brennan Clay

Sneak Peek: 2014 Sugar Bowl

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WHO: 11-1 Alabama (SEC) vs. 10-2 Oklahoma (Big 12)

WHAT: Sugar Bowl (80th Year)

WHERE: Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana

WHEN: Jan. 2, 2014 at 8:30 p.m. ET

WHY: How much energy will Alabama have for this game after coming so close to playing for the SEC championship and a chance to play for their third straight BCS championship? That is the big question for the Crimson Tide, a program well aware of the perils that can come with a lack of interest in the Sugar Bowl. The last time Alabama played in the Sugar Bowl the Crimson Tide were upset by an inspired Utah team. That 2008 Alabama team was one win away form playing for the BCS championship but a loss to No. 2 Florida dropped No. 1 Alabama three spots in the polls and sent them to New Orleans to play the BCS busting Utah. Alabama dug an early 21-0 hole in the first quarter and was unable to climb out of it.

This Alabama team is on a different level from that past Alabama team though. That was Nick Saban‘s first true winning team since taking over the Alabama program. Now Alabama is a proven winner who knows how to prepare for all types of game situations. A lackluster start will not be allowed by Saban this time around as they hook up with Oklhaoma for just the fifth time in history. The Sooners will play the somewhat unfamiliar role of heavy underdog in the Sugar Bowl as well. Although they did not win the Big 12 championship, Bob Stoops and the Sooners are looking to carry the Big 12 banner after Baylor lost to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.

Given the history of verbal exchanges by Stoops and Saban this game has plenty of subplot behind it, but when it comes to X’s and O’s it looks as though Alabama has the advantage everywhere you look. The quarterback situation is much more stable for Alabama with Heisman finalist and Maxwell Award winner AJ McCarron. McCarron makes few mistakes and could benefit from a standout performance in his final game since he will skip out on the Senior Bowl. The duo of Blake Bell and Trevor Knight will give Oklahoma some options but Alabama’s defense can be difficult to fool. Auburn managed to find some holes but unless Bell or Knight transform in to Johnny Manziel it should not be expected either have a great night. The runnings games may be even between Alabama’s TJ Yeldon and Oklahoma’s Brennan Clay, which means this game will be determined mostly in the trenches. This is where Alabama’s advantages come in to play on offense.

If Oklahoma can avoid falling behind early on, the Sooners have a chance to hang with Alabama for a while, but the Tide should manage to pull away in the second half.

PREDICTION: Alabama 34, Oklahoma 17

Breaking down the Big 12 championship picture

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There may no longer be a Big 12 championship game, but the conference’s championship picture certainly should not be forgotten this championship weekend. The fate of the Big 12 will be determined between a pair of games with just one guaranteed BCS spot to be filled. No. 6 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1 Big 12), No. 9 Baylor (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) and No. 25 Texas (8-3, 7-1 Big 12) all have a chance to lay claim to the Big 12 championship and a trip to a CBS bowl game that goes to the winner.

Oklahoma State has the inside track to the conference championship. Already with wins against Baylor and Texas this season, the Cowboys simply need to win their rivalry game against No. 17 Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) to force no less than a tie for first place in the Big 12. As winners of head-to-head contests with the Bears and Longhorns, Oklahoma State will win any tie-breaker scenario possible this weekend, sending the Cowboys to their second BCS bowl game in the BCS era. Oklahoma State won the Big 12 title in 2011 and defeated Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma State is the hottest team in the Big 12, winners of seven straight games after an upset loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys had a little bit of a scare the next week against Kansas State but managed a fourth quarter rally to take advantage of a five-turnover day by Kansas State’s offense. Since then, the Cowboys have been locked in and unbeatable in the Big 12. Back-to-back wins against Texas and Baylor came by a combined score of 87-30.

How will the Cowboys keep that level of play up after a late bye week against the school’s biggest rival, Oklahoma?

The Sooners started the year off with a 5-0 mark but were handled by Texas in the Red River Rivalry, 36-20. Oklahoma’s lack of offense came back to haunt them a couple of weeks later against Baylor. Oklahoma played well on defense early on, but it was only a matter of time before Baylor’s offense exploded on the Sooners, and when it did the points came in a hurry. The Sooners have thrived more on offense when they run the football this season. Running back Brennan Clay had a 200-yard outburst against Kansas State in Oklahoma’s last game.

The Sooners have won nine of the last ten meetings with Oklahoma State, although the Cowboys look to have more going in their favor this time around. Still, if Baylor and Texas fans are looking for something to fall back on then history may be on their side. If Oklahoma can find a winning formula to take down Oklahoma State, then the door is wide open for Baylor and Texas.

Bedlam should be coming to a close as the Longhorns and Bears are kicking off in Waco for the final game in Floyd Casey Stadium. Thinking back to September, fresh after BYU shredded the Texas defense, this game looked like a disaster waiting to drive the final nail in the coffin of Mack Brown’s coaching career if he managed to survive this long. Texas could still have their problems with Baylor’s offense, but the Longhorns have proven to be capable of scoring points as well. The Longhorns outlasted Baylor last season in Austin, 56-50, but Texas continues to be banged up on offense.

The key to this game may be Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, who remains in the thick of the Heisman conversation even if Florida State’s Jameis Winston appears to be the clear favorite. Petty has completed 28 touchdown passes to just two interceptions this season. His accuracy and careful decision-making will make it tough for Texas to slow down the Bears.

Oklahoma Stat has the best shot to come out on top of the Big 12 this weekend, but Baylor could easily make their first BCS bowl trip if the Cowboys stumble. Whatever the case, the only two Big 12 game son the schedule will pack plenty of drama Saturday afternoon while the other conferences play out their conference championship games.

Who needs a conference championship game anyway?

Oklahoma kicks senior RB Damien Williams off team

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Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops revealed Monday that senior running back Damien Williams has been dismissed from the team, via ESPN’s Jake Trotter.

According to the Oklahoman, Williams was suspended for Saturday’s game against Kansas State for a violation of team rules. It was his second suspension for violating team rules, as he missed OU’s Sept. 14 win over Tulsa due to a transgression as well.

Williams topped Sooners running backs with seven touchdowns and was second to senior Brennan Clay with 114 carries and 553 yards. His best game this season also turned out to be his last — Williams carried 10 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns Nov. 16 against Iowa State.

In two years with OU — Williams was a JuCo transfer — he carried 290 times for 1,499 yards with 18 touchdowns.

With Williams gone, expect senior Roy Finch (58 carries, 347 yards) to take on a larger role in OU’s offense. Finch was more of a feature back his first two years with the Sooners, carrying 85 times for 398 yards in 2010 and 111 times for 605 yards in 2011.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 13 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

THUMBS UP

A righteous salute
Daniel Rodriguez earned a Purple Heart and was awarded the Bronze Star for his military service in Afghanistan several years ago.  Rodriguez moved on to become  a wide receiver at Clemson, walking on to the Tigers football team after serving two tours of duty.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with his heartwarming story, you should be.  For those who are, there’s another chapter to add to it.  In the Tigers’ home finale Saturday, Rodriguez caught the first touchdown of his career, a two-yarder from backup Cole Stoudt less than a minute into the fourth quarter.  The best part?  The touchdown came on a Senior Day that also doubled as Military Appreciation Day.  A bona-fide war hero scores a touchdown on a day that honors the military?  It doesn’t get much better than that.  And, dammit, it got dusty in here when that highlight came across my television screen.  God bless Rodriguez for his service.  And God bless Dabo Swinney for not only giving Rodriguez the opportunity to write this story, but for allowing him to add this on-field chapter to it.

OSU wins, as does OSU
Thanks to a team with the same acronym, Ohio State can stuff the phrase “style points” back in the closet for at least another year.  With Oklahoma State’s win over Baylor, the Buckeyes are now the clear-cut No. 3 team in the country, perched just outside of the Top Two and awaiting a stumble — either on the field or off — by Alabama or Florida State to clear a spot in the BCS title game — provided they remain perfect, of course.  The Bears had been poised to leapfrog the Buckeyes in the BCS rankings with a win over the No. 10 Cowboys, standing just .0013 percentage points behind OSU entering Week 13.  Now, not only has BU lost out on what most certainly would’ve been a No. 3 slotting in this week’s BCS rankings, but they’ve given up control of the conference as well.  That honor, of course, now falls to the “other” OSU.  If the Cowboys can upend Oklahoma in the annual Bedlam matchup Dec. 7, they would claim the Big 12’s automatic BCS bid.  If the Cowboys loses, the winner of the Texas-Baylor game the same weekend — if the Longhorns handle Texas Tech on Thanksgiving and the Bears do the same with TCU two days later — would claim the conference title and the BCS berth.  And if there were a three-way tie?  Oklahoma State, on the strength of head-to-head wins over Baylor and Texas, would win the tiebreaker and the conference title.

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Kansas State’s Lockett with 206 yards, 3 TDS in first half vs Sooners

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You may not find a game with contrasting offensive styles having their way today like you will find in the Big 12 match-up between Oklahoma and Kansas State. The Sooners have used the ground game to their advantage and Kansas State has countered with big plays through the air in what has been a back-and-forth game. The Sooners lead Kansas State 24-21 at the half thanks to a late field goal from short distance.

Oklahoma took a 14-0 lead after marching down field on a 98-yard drive in the second quarter. After being pinned down on their two-yard line following a terrific punt coverage job by the Wildcats, Oklahoma ran 14 straight running plays with quarterback Trevor Knight and running back Brennan Clay splitting the majority of the snaps before Knight capped the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run. Clay later broke a 14-14 tie by ripping off a 64-yard run to give the Sooners a lead.

Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters found a wide open Tyler Lockett as Oklahoma’s secondary got caught focusing on the wrong receiver. Lockett ran straight down field for what turned out to be a 48-yard touchdown pass. The deep ball has come through in a  big way for Kansas State in the first half, with a couple more deep passes leading to a game-tying touchdown in the second quarter. Waters and Lockett again connected late in the first half to tie the game at 21-21 with a 90-yard scoring play.

Clay has already rushed for 157 yards in the game to go over 100 yards in a game for the third time this season. His season high of 170 yards came in a win at West Virginia earlier this season, so he should easily pass that in the second half. For Kansas State, Lockett has recorded 206 receiving yards and three touchdowns already against an Oklahoma defense that came in to the day allowing just 187 passing yards per game this season.