Although on paper the Sugar Bowl might not seem enticing, you won’t want to miss this matchup between Oklahoma and Auburn.
The 2017 installment of the Allstate Sugar Bowl features the Big 12 Champion Oklahoma Sooners 10-2 (9-0) against the SEC West runner-up Auburn Tigers 8-4 (5-3). The game will be played in the Superdome in Louisiana on Monday at 8:30 p.m. EST and can be seen on ESPN.
Storylines Coming Into The Game
Joe Mixon Debacle
One of the rather unfortunate incidents clouding the Oklahoma football program was the emergence of this video showing running back Joe Mixon punching a woman. The incident has sparked outrage from many people wondering why Mixon was not kicked off the team for his actions. Head Coach Bob Stoops said that in hindsight, “two and a half years later, dismissal is really the only thing that is possible”, in regards to the situation. For better or for worse, Mixon will be suiting up on Monday for the game as he and Samaje Perine headline one of the deepest and most explosive backfields in the country.
Defense Vs. Offense
It figures that coming from the bowl involving the SEC and the Big 12 we would have the stereotypical defense vs. offense game. But as good as Oklahoma and Auburn have been on offense and defense respectively, they have been equally as bad on the other side of the ball. The game is up for grabs in this strength on strength, weakness on weakness matchup.
Dede Westbrook Heisman Campaign
Dede Westbrook’s Heisman campaign was really out of left field, as last season he had 743 receiving yards and only four touchdowns, his first full season of play as a junior. This season he put up some video game numbers, catching 74 passes for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns. Westbrook has blazing speed, routinely getting behind defenses. Defenses knew Baker Mayfield was looking for him, but it didn’t matter. Now, in the final game of his college career, Westbrook looks to cap his meteoric rise to prominence with a Sugar Bowl victory.
7.4 - Just how good has the Oklahoma offense been? Well their 7.4 yards per play easily leads the nation. If you like offenses that can do it all, then you like this Oklahoma offense. With just 26 yards in this game, Samaje Perine will join Mixon with over 1,000 rushing yards on the season. But don’t forget about who they have under center, or rather, in the shotgun. Baker Mayfield is no slouch either, finishing fourth in Heisman voting a year ago and third this season. This season, he has thrown for 3,669 yards and boasts one of the best TD:INT ratios in the country with 38 touchdowns and only eight interceptions.
34.2% - The Auburn defense has been great all season, but they have been truly elite in the red zone. They only allow 34.2% of red zone drives to end in touchdowns and 71.1% to end in points of any kind, both tops in the nation. Oklahoma has been quite good at finishing out drives, converting at a rate of 87%. In a strength on strength matchup of the Auburn defense against the Oklahoma offense, a telling factor will be how many long Oklahoma drives finish with seven.
466 - If the contrast between Auburn and Oklahoma was already clear enough, Auburn’s leading receiver has just 466 total receiving yards on the season. Dede Westbrook has nine fewer receiving yards than the top six Auburn receivers combined. Oh, and he has five more touchdowns than the entire Auburn receiving corps. This is not surprising since Auburn has relied extensively on running the ball, but if Oklahoma sells out to stop the run, will quarterback Sean White be able to make enough plays to force Oklahoma to back off?
Sean White, QB, Auburn - Auburn doesn’t need Sean White to be a world-beater to beat Oklahoma, but they certainly need him to be a game manager. He has put up decent stats after replacing Jeremy Johnson as the starting quarterback, throwing for 1,644 yards with a completion percentage of 65.2% and nine touchdowns to go against three interceptions. Auburn will want his completion percentage to hover right around 70% with no interceptions against a weak Oklahoma secondary. the Tigers only need White to do enough to make Oklahoma respect the passing game, so look for coach Gus Malzahn and offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee to dial up some rhythm throws and screen passes for White to start the game and get him settled in.
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, LB, Oklahoma - If Oklahoma wants to win this game, they will need some stops on defense, and Junior linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo will certainly be a large factor in any stops they get. Okoronkwo has provided much of the quarterback pressure for the Sooners defense, leading them with nine sacks on the season. The next highest sack total on the team is Jordan Evans with 2.5. Okoronkwo provides more than just sacks for this defense; he also has two forced fumbles, three passes defensed, and is third on the team in total tackles. If he and the rest of the Oklahoma defense can jump on Sean White early, it could be a long day for Auburn fans.
Why Oklahoma Wins
If this game turns into a shootout, Oklahoma has to be the big favorites. They will use their fast, up-tempo offense to try and wear down the Auburn defense. Every time they score, it puts the pressure on Sean White and the inept Auburn offense to put up points, and who knows how many times they will be able to match? Every time the defense can get off the field without giving up points, they will only grow in confidence.
After two losses in their first three games, Oklahoma has been stellar down the stretch, including blowout wins over #14 West Virginia and #10 Oklahoma State in their last two games. This team is focused and has plenty of time to game plan for the different looks the Auburn defense can give them.
Why Auburn Wins
This team is built on defense. In order to beat a talented Oklahoma team, Auburn will need to force Oklahoma into three-and-outs and win the field position battle. The fewer possessions each team has in this game, the better for Auburn. If they can establish the run early and milk the clock from the get-go, they can frustrate Oklahoma. Auburn plays a style that Oklahoma doesn’t really face in the Big 12, so they aren’t used to the physical SEC play. Auburn’s best bet at winning this game is keeping it low-scoring and finding lightning in a bottle on offense.
The first quarter will go a long way towards dictating how this game will go. As mentioned, the fast-paced offensive showdown favors Oklahoma, while the slow, grind-it-out style favors Auburn. Whichever team is able to really put their stamp on this game first will be sitting pretty. Although Auburn has shown the ability to play good teams close, their resume is rather unimpressive with their only quality win being a dubious five point win over LSU. Oklahoma is a proven entity with decisive wins over West Virginia and Oklahoma State. I think they win this one fairly easily.
Oklahoma 34-13 Auburn
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