There would be vengeance. That was the implication packed into social media posts fired off by members of the Alabama Crimson Tide once Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray was announced as the Heisman Trophy winner last Saturday.
“Dec. 29 it’s up,” wrote defensive end Isaiah Buggs.
Just like that, the date of Alabama’s showdown with the Sooners in the College Football Playoff semifinal became a rallying cry in Tuscaloosa, a reminder the Tide could soon gain retribution for sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s loss in the Heisman sweepstakes.
“Do they know not to poke the bear?” long snapper Thomas Fletcher tweeted.
Six days later, the angry beast residing in T-Town was more mellow and reserved. On a dreary Friday afternoon, Alabama practiced for the first time since its victory in the SEC championship game and then paid some respect to both Murray and Oklahoma.
“He’s put up some crazy numbers,” said running back Josh Jacobs. “So, I don’t want to take that away from him. So, congratulations for that.”
Jacobs, left tackle Jonah Williams and safety Deionte Thompson were summoned by Alabama’s sports information staff to play nice as the raw emotion of their teammates’ Heisman reaction still lingered.
So, as good ambassadors, they did — praising an underdog opponent like any top-ranked team would. Thompson, in particular, gushed about Oklahoma’s offense that is No. 1 in scoring and total yards per game.
“They’re very dynamic,” he said. “That’s the perfect word to describe them — dynamic. They have athletes all across the board. Guys that are fast, guys that are good in open space, elusive, can make you miss. Just problems they can impose in multiple areas of the game. From what I’ve seen on film, they dominated all of their competition this year. It wasn’t really much of things that people could do with them just because the athletes they got. They have starting receivers and receivers behind them that can really go, that are very good guys, and that’s something we have to be ready for.”
On the other side, Oklahoma appears shockingly vulnerable. Its Big 12 defense is among the worst in the country, surrendering 32.4 points per game and a yardage total that placed the Sooners second-to-last in a conference the resembles a 7-on-7 league.
Aware of all this, Williams avoided saying anything that could be construed as criticism and instead commended a unit that has been dragged up and down the field all season.
“Watched a couple of games. They’re a really good group,” Williams said. “I think there’s kind of a narrative that they’re not, and that’s a product of the stats that people put up in the Big 12. The way they play their offense, it’s like the offense I played in high school where we’re putting 60, 70 points on everyone. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re bad defenses, that’s just kind of how that offense works. So I think they have talented guys. They’re going to pose a lot of challenges. They fly around. They’ve made big plays in big games.”
Then again so has Murray, which once again raised the question of the Heisman verdict and its impact.
“Obviously you want your teammates to be successful, you want your teammates to win awards,” Williams said. “But I think that [Tagovailoa would] tell you and we’d all tell you the award we care about the most is in January with the national championship.”
To get there — as Williams knows — Alabama must live beyond Dec. 29 and a date with Murray.
Rainer Sabin is an Alabama beat writer for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @RainerSabin