How Oklahoma can end on a high note with a Sugar Bowl win
The Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. EST Monday) will see the Auburn Tigers of the SEC take on the Oklahoma Sooners of the Big 12. While both of these teams would’ve liked to have been playing in a playoff game, this one still has meaning for both. For Auburn, it’s a chance to finish on a strong note after a tough four-loss season. For Oklahoma, it’s a chance to end the year on a 10-game win streak after a rough start that essentially cost them their playoff hopes. There are a lot of big-time players and matchups in this game, so let’s take a look.
What to watch for when Auburn has the ball
It’s no secret what Auburn wants to do in this game. All year their mantra has been to run the ball, and they do so very effectively. They are led by the RB duo of Kerryon Johnson (74.6 overall grade) and Kamryn Pettway (64.9), who together have combined to rush for 1,970 yards on 355 carries and 18 touchdowns. They’ve forced a combined 48 missed tackles. Expect a heavy dose of running that will force Oklahoma to move up to play the run, at which point QB Sean White (69.3) will work off the play action. While White’s 89.4 QB rating without play action is nothing to scoff at, it jumps to 123.9 when using play action. His yards per attempt of 11.6 off of play action ranks seventh among all QBs.
Across the ball, Oklahoma will try to counter Auburn with a strong run defense. While nobody on the defense is particularly amazing at defending the run, almost all of them are above average. In fact, Oklahoma’s defense has 12 players with significant snaps that grade above 70.0 in run defense. One player to keep an eye on is DT Matt Romar (80.7). He’s been battling injuries all year, but should be healthy for this one and is very good at clogging up the middle of the offensive line. In coverage, LB Jordan Evans (83.7, coverage grade of 87.2) is the man to watch out for. He’s great at sitting in coverage, reading the quarterbacks eyes and making a play on the ball, evidenced by his four interceptions and five pass breakups this season.
What to watch for when Oklahoma has the ball
Despite the incredible play of QB Baker Mayfield (93.7) and WR Dede Westbrook (88.4), Oklahoma is a run-first team. They utilize the impressive RB tandem of Samaje Perine (76.5) and Joe Mixon (85.8). Perine is the power back, doing most of his work between the tackles. He’s gained 977 yards this year on 179 carries, and averaging an impressive 3.24 yards after contact per rush. Mixon is the ultimate weapon, having rushed for 1164 yards on 165 carries, caught 33 passes for 456 yards, scored 13 touchdowns and forced 54 missed tackles. And when they do pass the ball, the Maybrook connection is one of the strongest in college football. Mayfield-to-Westbrook has resulted in 57 catches on 72 targets for 1305 yards and 16 touchdowns (152.5 QB rating) since Week 4.
On defense, Auburn will try to do what they’ve done all season. Auburn’s run defense ranked 20th in the country in terms of yards allowed and surrendered just five rushing touchdowns all season. Led by defensive tackle Montravius Adams (84.4) who finished the year with a run-stop percentage of 9.2 percent, 34th in the country. When Oklahoma passes the ball, Auburn will rely on edge rusher Carl Lawson (87.7) to make life difficult for Mayfield, as he is by far their biggest pass-rushing threat. With nine sacks and 60 total pressures, Lawson is one of the best pass-rushers in the nation. He will have to do some damage early and often as Auburn’s secondary doesn’t really have anyone that matches up well with Westbrook.
PFF stat to know
Baker Mayfield has a QB rating of 131.9 on plays in which he holds the football for more than 2.6 seconds. Mayfield is arguably the best QB in the country at extending plays and keeping his eyes downfield when the pocket breaks down. He’s thrown 22 touchdowns to just five interceptions on those long-developing plays. He also leads the nation with a QB rating of 115.7 when he’s under pressure. The key for Auburn will be the likely matchup of CB Joshua Hosley against Dede Westbrook. Hosley’s allowed just 24 catches on 49 targets for 288 yards and one touchdown this year, with three picks and four pass breakups. But he hasn’t gone against a receiver like Westbrook. If Auburn wants to win, they’ll need Hosley to cover Westbrook for sometimes five or six seconds on a play.
Prediction: Oklahoma 38, Auburn 30
This should be a high-scoring game featuring plenty of offense. What it ultimately comes down to however is that Baker Mayfield, Dede Westbrook and the entire Oklahoma offense are playing at a level that very few teams can compete with right now. They’ll make big plays and score points, while the defense should do just enough to hold on to a win.