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Sooners, Dawgs meet for first time in the Rose Bowl

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OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma Sooners are looking to snap a four-game streak of bad luck when in position to win a national championship. LSU beat OU in the 2004 Sugar Bowl to decide the 2003 champion. A year later, USC drubbed the Sooners in the Orange Bowl. Florida edged Oklahoma in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game, and two years ago, Clemson won the College Football Playoff at the Orange Bowl.

Bob Stoops was the head coach in Norman during each opportunity, but maybe that streak can be shed with Lincoln Riley as the new skipper of the Sooner Schooner.

This time, it’s the No. 3 Georgia Bulldogs (12-1) who stand in the way of Oklahoma’s pursuit of an eighth national crown. The No. 2 Sooners, also 12-1, will kick off against the Dawgs at 4:10 p.m. (ESPN) New Year’s Day at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., the first semifinal game of this year’s College Football Playoff.

Monday’s game will pit Riley’s offensive wizardry against Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, a defensive genius. Riley has been in this situation once, as OU’s offensive coordinator in the 2015 CFP. Smart is a veteran on college football’s biggest stage. He served as Alabama’s defensive coordinator when the Crimson Tide played in the national title game five times and winning four championships.

Smart is a reason the Dawgs’ defense will present Oklahoma’s offense its greatest challenge this season. Georgia ranks third in points (13.2 ppg), and fourth in yards (270.9) allowed. The defense is equally as good against the pass (158.3) and the run (112.6).

Junior linebacker Roquan Smith is the ringleader of the Dawg’s defense. The Butkus Award winner recorded 113 tackles, 10.5 for loss, including 5.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries and was named MVP of the Bulldogs’ 2017 SEC Championship Game win over Auburn. Teammate Lorenzo Carter, an all-SEC second teamer, logged 47 stops with 7 behind the line, and 15 quarterback hurries. Linebacker Natrez Patrick, who started the last two games and seven of 13 contests, has been suspended for possessing pot.

The Dawgs’ secondary will be tested by Baker Mayfield. UGA has intercepted 10 passes this year. Safety Dominick Sanders has the most with three picks. Safety J.R. Reed and star back Aaron Davis are the two tallest in the Dawgs’ secondary. The others are under six feet tall. This could be a problem going against John Mackey Award winner Mark Andrews, OU’s tight end who is 6-5 and the leading receiver with 58 grabs for 906 yards and 8 TDs.

Georgia’s defense is rugged in the red zone, yielding touchdowns on 46.4 percent (No. 7 nationally) of opponents’ red zone trips. The Dawgs just don’t give up big plays by allowing only 4.45 yards per play (No. 6).

They’re solid in the red zone, giving up touchdowns on 46.4 percent of their opponents’ red zone trips (No. 7 in the nation), and their 4.45 yards per play average ranks No. 6 in the country. The Dawgs just don’t give up the big plays.

Big plays are what the Sooners do well. Oklahoma owns the nation’s top offense (583.3 ypg) and fourth in scoring (44.9 ppg). OU leads the nation with 8.4 yards per play (12 per pass attempt). The Sooners have 108 plays of 20 or more yards; 34 of 40-plus yards.

Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield has completed 71 percent of his passes for 333.8 yards per game with a TD/INT ratio of 41/5. As Georgia’s defense is equally tough against the run and pass, Oklahoma can get it done running or passing. After a slow start through the first five games, running back Rodney Anderson has rushed for 960 yards and 11 TDs since.

Wideout Marquise Brown also became one of OU’s top receivers—second on the team with 49 grabs for 981 yards and 6 TDs. His production came mostly after the Texas game—31 receptions, 678 yards, and 5 scores.

What the Dawgs do well is run the pigskin. UGA averages 263.5 yards (10th) per outing; the Sooners defense has given up 144.1 per game. Georgia’s tailback duo of seniors Nick Chubb and Sony Michel have combined for 2,123 yards and 26 TDs. Michel has the better per-carry average—7.2 to 6.2.

Freshman quarterback Jake Fromm ain’t too shabby. He’s completed 63 percent of his aerials for 167.1 yards per game with a TD/INT ratio of 21/5. Javon Wims is the leading receiver with 631 catches for 631 yards and 6 TDs.

Both teams have tremendous punters. UGA’s Cameron Nizialek averages 44.5 yards per boot while OU’s Austin Seibert averages 42.6 yards. Seibert also is OU’s placekicker, and he’s been perfect on PATs and connected 15 of 18 field goal attempts. Georgia’s Rodrigo Blankenship has made 15 of 17.

Neither team has returned a punt or kickoff for a touchdown. The Dawgs’ have a slight edge in both categories. Their 24.6-yard average on kickoff returns is five yards better than the Sooners. And, Georgia has a better average on punt returns (9.1-5.7).

The Sooners front line, one of the best in the nation, must neutralize Georgia’s front seven. The Dawgs will try to disrupt Mayfield’s rhythm, which no team was able to do this season. OU’s defense has been criticized much this year, but the unit has adjusted at halftime in many games—more recently holding TCU to zero points and 95 yards in the Big 12 Championship. If Oklahoma’s defense can play as it did against Ohio State and find some big plays, the Sooners will win.

The Dawgs are going to run and run and run to control the clock and keep Mayfield from performing his magic. OU defenders can’t afford too many missed tackles, and wrap up Georgia’s powerful ball carriers. Chubb weighs 225 and Michel is 215. If the Sooners can stymie the Georgia run game, it could force Fromm to make a lot of throws, and the Dawgs don’t want to get into a shootout. Oklahoma must not let its guard down against Georgia’s passing game.

FAST FACTS

*OU’s bowl record: 29-20-1.

*UGA’s bowl record: 30-19-3, including three straight wins.

*UGA is favored by 2.

*OU coach Lincoln Riley’s record: 12-1 (.923) overall; 0-0 vs. UGA; 0-0 in bowl games; 2-0 on neutral fields; 3-0 vs. non-conference opponents; 4-0 vs. ranked foes.

*UGA coach Kirby Smart’s record: 20-6 (.769) overall; 0-0 vs. OU; 1-0 in bowl games; 3-1 on neutral fields; 9-1 vs. non-conference foes; 5-4 vs. ranked opponents.

*OU is 13-10 when meeting an opponent for the first time in a bowl game.

*UGA is 13-10-2 when meeting an opponent for the first time in a bowl game.

*OU is 18-8 in games played on New Year’s Day.

*UGA is 16-7-1 in games played on New Year’s Day.

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

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

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About Red Dirt Report

Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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