Kyler Murray eventually found a groove against the Alabama defense on Saturday, but it would end up being too little too late. The Crimson Tide held the Heisman Trophy winner without a touchdown in the first half. It was an impressive showing.
Just by looking at the final numbers, it may not appear Alabama held Murray in check very well. The Oklahoma quarterback still had over 300 yards passing and over 100 yards rushing to go along with three total touchdowns. However, ESPN’s Chris Fowler was still very impressed with the defense of the Crimson Tide. There were times in the game when Murray looked human, and Fowler said on The Paul Finebaum Show on Monday that Murray just didn’t look like himself for most of the game.
“[Nick Saban] knew what his team didn’t know, and that was that Kyler Murray wasn’t going to quit,” Murray said. “Oklahoma was still going to be dangerous. There were a few moments there where Oklahoma really flirted with getting back into it, but they could not match Alabama’s ferocity and intensity, especially up front early. For the first time this year, Kyler Murray looked rattled. He didn’t look like himself. He wasn’t comfortable. He held the ball too long, which is something that Mayfield did even in his great year but Kyler Murray hadn’t done. That, to me, was a sign of stress and a little uncertainty. That offensive line hadn’t been overpowered like that all year. “
Some of that discomfort or uncertainty that Fowler is talking about may be reflected in Murray’s completion percentage. The Sooners signal caller connected on 19 of his 37 pass attempts, which amounts to just over 50 percent. On the season, Murray completed 69 percent of his passes. It was a wonderful job by Alabama to not allow Murray to really catch fire and take over the game.
Shortly into the second quarter, the game was already 28-0 in favor of the Crimson Tide, and the Sooners were sputtering on offense. When asked how his defense was so successful against Murray and the Oklahoma offense, Saban said that getting pressure on Murray was key.
“Well, I think we got some pressure on the quarterback,” Saban said. “We had a couple sacks early. We had some positive down and distance for ourselves. We got off the field on third down, and I said, the biggest difference between the points that they scored in the second half and what they didn’t score in the first half was our ability to get off the field on third down. I think they were like 0 for 5 in the first half, and in the second half we weren’t very good at all. Created a lot of third-down situations, and when you play a team like that that’s that explosive you can’t give them another chance, and we just didn’t that too many times.”
After containing Murray, Saban’s next challenge is to do the same with Clemson’s talented young quarterback, Trevor Lawrence. The Crimson Tide will meet the Tigers on Jan. 7 to play for a national title.