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Kyler Murray’s Heisman gives Alabama Orange Bowl motivation

The tweets started pouring in minutes after Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray was awarded the 84th Heisman Trophy. They were from Alabama players past and present, voicing their pure displeasure with the outcome.

“Fake news,” Crimson Tide long snapper Thomas Fletcher tweeted. Then, a couple minutes later“Do they know not to poke the bear…?”

Former wide receiver Parker Barrineau sent a tweet that said, “TUA WAS ROBBED because of a sprained ankle.” And there were more.

The grumbling was a direct response to Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa coming in second place. Murray ran away with college football’s most famous award, capturing 517 of 878 first-place votes and 2,167 points. Tagovailoa earned 299 first-place votes and 1,871 points, the most points by a runner-up in Heisman history.

That wasn’t good enough for Tagovailoa’s teammates and supporters. And now the Heisman has somehow become College Football Playoff bulletin board material for Alabama, a team that’s already a two-touchdown favorite against Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl on Dec. 29. You can bet Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran, known for his supercharged motivational tactics, will have a field day with this one.

Punter Mike Bernier and offensive line coach Brent Key both tweeted the weekend’s simple rallying cry: “#Dec29.”

Tagovailoa had been the clear frontrunner all season. The sophomore produced one of the finest seasons by a quarterback in Alabama history without playing a full game. He didn’t throw an interception until Nov. 3 (against LSU) and finished the regular season completing 67.7% of his passes for 3,353 yards with 37 touchdowns and only four interceptions. His explosiveness powered Alabama to score a touchdown on its opening drive in 10 of 13 games, and those possessions averaged 1:55 in length.

His candidacy took a hit in the SEC championship game when he completed 10 of 25 passes with one touchdown and two interceptions (doubling his season total at that point), and ultimately left the game with a high ankle sprain. He had surgery a couple days later and wore a walking boot during last week’s Heisman festivities in New York City. Alabama trainer Jeff Allen taped him up for the ceremony so that if he won, he wouldn’t have to accept the award while wearing such a bulky brace.

But it was Murray who became Oklahoma’s second Heisman winner in as many years—and seventh all-time. The two-sport star threw for 4,053 yards, rushed for 892, and scored 51 total touchdowns on the way to leading the Sooners to a fourth consecutive Big 12 championship.

The Heisman Trophy is not a Most Valuable Player award, but Murray impressively carried Oklahoma to narrow November wins over Texas Tech, Oklahoma State and West Virginia and then avenged a loss to Texas in the conference title matchup. He’ll lead OU to its third playoff semifinal in five years before joining the Oakland Athletics organization, which selected him ninth overall in last spring’s Major League Baseball draft.

Alabama players don’t care too much for that stuff. Even if Tagovailoa should be the obvious 2019 Heisman frontrunner, they wanted him to be recognized this year.

“Disappointing that @HeismanTrophy voters recognize and reward gross stats against extremely weak competition more than extraordinary & consistent efficiency in the toughest conference,” former defensive back Will Lowery tweeted. “Or maybe it’s just #Bamafatigue. Maybe they’ll recognize when it’s Bama by 50 in a few weeks.”

Murray won every region and nearly won the South. Suffice to say, the Orange Bowl will now double as a Heisman rematch.

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