It’s all very simple to Quinnen Williams.
Everyone has been trying to crack the code of this Oklahoma offense for two seasons now, but for Alabama’s star defensive lineman it’s not all that complicated.
“Oklahoma does the same thing that everybody does, they just have a smoother quarterback,” Williams said on Wednesday here in Fort Lauderdale.
By “the same thing that everybody does,” Williams means that Oklahoma, like many other offenses in college football these days, uses variations of those pesky plays that give quarterbacks the option to either run the ball or pass the ball at a moment’s notice. Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is an expert at the RPO offense as well.
An obvious follow-up then. What makes Murray so smooth?
“He really doesn’t need a coach to run their offense,” Williams said. “I feel like everyone looks to him as the general … In the pocket, you see him, the way he runs the read-option and stuff like that, it’s like smooth. It’s not choppy. The way he scrambles. The way he looks down the field. The way he throws the ball deep down the field on the run. Things like that from Kyler Murray are smooth to me.
“He doesn’t get discouraged much when he’s under pressure. He keeps his eyes downfield, and his shoulders square.”
It’s Williams’ job to discourage Murray in Saturday’s Orange Bowl. It’s perhaps the most important task of all among Alabama’s defenders.
Williams was named the best lineman in college football this season, so he’s been pretty smooth himself. Undersized for a traditional interior lineman, the redshirt sophomore has dominated the line of scrimmage this season with a combination of quickness, athleticism and, of course, power.
He is the tip of Alabama’s defensive spear.
“I feel like if I do everything right, then the whole defense is right,” Williams said. “If I’m on, everyone is on.”
If Alabama’s nose guard can disrupt the rhythm of Oklahoma’s Mr. Smooth in the Orange Bowl, then the Crimson Tide might actually have a chance of stopping the Sooners. Emphasis on the word “might” because no one has been able to stop this offense since Lincoln Riley took over as head coach for Bob Stoops in 2017.
Georgia’s 2017 defense, which shut out Alabama in the first half of last year’s College Football Playoff championship game, didn’t stop Oklahoma to advance to that game. The Bulldogs just outscored the Sooners 54-48 in overtime. Texas upset Oklahoma 48-45 this season.
Oklahoma was third in the country in scoring last year (45.1 points per game), and first this season (49.5) leading into the semifinals of the College Football Playoff. Quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman in 2017 after leading the Sooners’ scoring machine, and Murray beat out Tagovailoa for the award this year. Murray led the nation this season in total yards (4,945), points responsible for (306), passing efficiency rating (205.7) and yards per pass attempt (11.9).
Stunningly, Murray has had more offensive yards this season than 68 of the FBS’s 128 teams.
If Alabama’s going to lose to Oklahoma, it’s going to be because of Murray’s gifts as quarterback. Nick Saban’s teams don’t lose many games anymore, but when they do it’s against a team led by a talented, dual-threat quarterback.
Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham was the last to do it, but Alabama has since won 15 straight games. Before that, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was the difference against Alabama in the 2016 national championship game. Ohio State’s Cardale Jones got the best of Alabama in 2014. A young Johnny Manziel famously had success against Saban’s defense, and Tim Tebow before that.
What makes these modern offenses so difficult? The same thing that convinced Saban to adapt his own offense. They give opposing secondary fits.
“It’s very complicated,” said Alabama safety Deionte Thompson. “You got a run coming at you, and then you got a receiver kind of running down field. Your job first and foremost is to play the pass, so as long as the receiver is running down field, you cover him and then play off of that.
Said Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley: “Those are all things that have given [Saban] trouble.
It’s not complicated from Quinnen Williams’ perspective, though. Sometimes the brilliance of things are in their simplicity. See the quarterback. Attack the quarterback.
Joseph Goodman is a columnist for the Alabama Media Group. He’s on Twitter @JoeGoodmanJr.