How two was better than one all night for Alabama vs. Oklahoma in the 2018 Orange Bowl
The Crimson Tide had something the Sooners did not in a solid defense and a standout defender
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The Heisman Trophy winner ran circles around the No. 1 team in the country on Saturday night in the Orange Bowl. Kyler Murray made spectacular downfield throws, dizzying, darting runs and looked like, well, a Heisman Trophy winner.
But his entire performance was a postmortem show. The death blow had been delivered long before Murray started tearing apart No. 1 Alabama as the Tide took a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter. And it wasn't just the Heisman runner-up who took it to No. 4 Oklahoma early and often at the start of the game. It was a player across the line of scrimmage who also has a case for being considered the best player in the country.
Tua Tagovailoa, lining up behind center, and Quinnen Williams, lining up in front of center on defense, gave the Sooners 17 minutes of hell. By the time OU had its footing, even six straight scoring possessions weren't enough to erase the deficit Tagovailoa, Williams and their supporting cast had created.
The beauty of the performance of both Tagovailoa and Williams is the way they unlock the rest of Nick Saban's mighty roster. Tagovailoa was masterful, almost perfect, completing 24-of-27 attempts for 318 yards passing with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Wide receiver Devonta Smith was his favorite target, and he jabbed the Oklahoma defense with slants for 104 yards on six catches. In total, a 2018 team record nine players caught passes for the Tide, including backup quarterback Jalen Hurts.
By his own admission, Tagovailoa was only 80-85 percent healthy on Wednesday. About 72 hours later, he looked 100 percent by any human standard. He was active in the pocket, successful scrambling and precise as a passer. Even when he did experience his first serious contact on the Tide's second drive of the game, he threw a touchdown pass one play later. After some injury-hampered outings against Mississippi State, Auburn and Georgia, Tua looks like Tua again, and the offense is back to juggernaut status.
Of course, Oklahoma has a way of bringing out the best in an opposing offense. This is, after all, the same Sooners team that gave up 40 to Kansas. It also has a tendency to bring out the worst in a defense, though. It even made Alabama look very uncharacteristic on Saturday but not before Williams got his paws on it for 17 minutes.
During that decisive 28-0 start, Williams was dominant. Like Tagovailoa, Williams's domination helped to spread the production around. He only had one tackle himself on the night, but he was creating chaos on nearly every snap in that first quarter.
Behind Williams and the rest of that Alabama defensive front, Oklahoma's award-winning offensive line looked overmatched. It took a full quarter for that unit to adjust to the best defender in college football. By the time it did, Oklahoma had been outgained 200-24, giving up two sacks and going 0 for 3 on third down tries. And it was down by three touchdowns.
Alabama's two stars were better than Oklahoma's one. It's two units -- including a defense able to contain Murray, if only for a quarter-plus -- were better than one. Alabama was better than Oklahoma, and it was clear from the start that what we all expected rang true: The Sooners were good but flawed.
And in this era of college football, with Alabama and Clemson playing at such an elite level, flawed teams need not apply.
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