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Oklahoma, Auburn to battle in The Big Easy

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The seventh-ranked Oklahoma Sooners (10-2) and No. 14 Auburn Tigers (8-4) meet for just the second time in history at the 83rd Allstate Sugar Bowl on January 2 (7:30 p.m. ESPN) in New Orleans. OU won the first meeting, 40-22, 45 years ago.

The Tigers arrive at this Sugar Bowl with the second-best record in the Southeastern Conference. The SEC champion usually would play in this contest, but Alabama is one of four College Football Playoff contenders. So, Auburn got the bid to play the Sooners, champions of the Big 12 Conference.

Now, don’t let Auburn’s record fool you. Two of its losses were by a combined six points. The Tigers lost their season opener, 19-13, to Clemson, one of the four playoff contenders. The other close loss was a 13-7 setback at Georgia.

Running back Kamryn Pettway was sidelined with a leg injury in the Georgia tilt. Pettway led AU with 1,123 rushing yards (sixth in the SEC) although he missed three games.

The Tigers were soundly beaten in their other two losses. They lost to No. 17 Texas A&M by 13 and No. 1 Alabama by 18. Late in the season, quarterback Sean White suffered a shoulder injury that limited his playing time in Auburn’s final four games and he missed the final two contests.

AU’s greatest quality win was an 18-13 victory over 18th-ranked LSU in the fourth week of the season.

The Tigers will bring a sound defense to New Orleans. They rank fifth nationally with 15.6 points and 20th with 342.8 yards allowed per game. They are better at stopping the run (124.8) than defending the pass (223.6).

Defensive End Carl Lawson, an all-SEC first team selection, is the ringleader of the Tiger’s defense. He recorded 12.5 tackles for loss including 9 sacks and also logged 24 quarterback hurries in 2016. Safety Tray Matthews leads the team with 73 tackles and cornerback Joshua Holsey leads AU with 3 interceptions and has broken up 10 passes.

Oklahoma has the country’s third-best offense (44.7 points and 557.3 yards). The Sooners are 11th in passing (319.8) and 21st in rushing (237.5). The key for Auburn’s offense will be to contain OU quarterback Baker Mayfield, who has the nation’s best passing efficiency (197.7) rating. The Austin, Texas junior has completed 235 of 330 passing for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns and 8 interceptions. He can scramble out of trouble and wait patiently for an open receiver or run for additional yards.

Dede Westbrook is Mayfield’s go-to guy. The 2016 Biletnikoff Award winner is fourth in the nation with 122.1 yards per game (74 catches for 1,465 yards and 16 TDs).

Running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon are like thunder and lightning. Perine pounds the ball up the gut and has 974 yards (5.4 per carry) and 11 TDs albeit missing three games. Mixon puts on the speed in the open field. He has averaged 8.4 yards each time he touches the ball on offense—1,234 yards rushing and 449 receiving. He has returned kickoffs for 494 yards with one score and 25 yards on punt returns. Mixon averages 195.5 yards per game, second in the country.

White is healthy and expected to return under center for the Tigers. But passing isn’t their forte. They are 112th with 170.8 yards per game. White has completed 129 of 198 for 1,644 yards with 9 TDs and 3 INTs. The ground game, with Pettway leading the way, is their bread and butter. AU is sixth with 278.5 yards per game. The Tigers average 32.3 points per outing (47th).

Oklahoma’s defense must plug Auburn’s running game and force White to hit the airwaves. OU is susceptible to the deep pass, so the Sooner secondary can’t go to sleep. Oklahoma has allowed 160.7 rushing yards per game, but West Virginia gashed them for 323 yards in the second to last game of the season. The defense has yielded 279 passing yards (119th) and 29.7 points per game in 2016.

All-Big 12 linebacker Jordan Evans leads OU with 89 tackles and 4 picks. Linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo leads with 10.5 stops behind the line and 9 sacks.

Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson was voted the SEC’s Special Teams Player of the Year. He led the conference in scoring (127 points) by connecting all 43 of his conversions and 26 of 30 field goals. Carlson kicked six field goals in Auburn’s win over LSU. Punter Kevin Phillips averages 41.4 yards per kick.

OU’s Austin Seibert pulls double duty as kicker and punter. He has made 67 of 69 PATs and 11 of 15 field goals, and 40.8 yards per punt.

The Big 12 hasn’t been too impressive this year (16-11 in non-conference games compared to 42-13 for the SEC teams). The conferences evenly split the only two meetings this year. The SEC gets all the love from the media, so a win over an SEC team is always a good thing.

OU coach Bob Stoops has won 6 of 10 against SEC teams in his 18-year career, including three straight wins.

The Tigers’ defense won’t make it easy for the Sooners to pick up chunks of yards and move the chains. Mayfield will have to take charge and show the national why he was a top three Heisman finalist. Offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will have to develop good trick plays, and if successful, could determine the game’s outcome.


*OU leads the series 1-0.

*OU is favored by 3 points.

*OU is 28-20-1 in bowl games; 5-2 in the Sugar Bowl.

*AU is 23-15-2 in bowl games; 22-1 in the Sugar Bowl.

*Stoops is 189-48 (.797) overall; 0-0 vs. AU; 8-9 in bowl games; 1-1 in the Sugar Bowl.

*AU coach Gus Malzahn is 44-20 (.687) overall; at AU: 35-17; 0-0 vs. OU; 1-2 in bowl games; 0-0 in the Sugar Bowl.

*OU is 1-5 in games played on January 2.

*AU is 3-0 in games played on January 2.

*OU is 15-10-1 when meeting a lower ranked team in bowl games.

*OU’s Arthur McGinnis, Cody Ford and Mykel Jones played highs school in Louisiana; McGinnis in New Orleans. 

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Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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