Tigers vs. Sooners
Date and Time: Monday, January 2, 2017, 8:30 p.m. ET
Location: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
Sugar Bowl Odds at BookMaker.eu: Oklahoma -3, O/U 62.5
Auburn vs. Oklahoma TV Coverage: ESPN
When Auburn Has the Ball…
Auburn has had major trouble moving the ball through the air for a second straight season and will instead look to keep the ball on the ground as much as possible. The Tigers are averaging 100 more yards per game rushing than they are passing and tore up non-elite rush defenses throughout the year. They shredded teams like Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Mississippi State with their ground game and set an SEC record for rushing yards in a conference game with their 543 rushing yards against Arkansas.
Those numbers could spell trouble for a Sooners defense that hasn’t been great at stopping the run this year. Oklahoma has allowed 4.6 yards per carry despite playing in the pass happy Big 12 and advanced metrics have its run defense as a middle of the pack unit. The defensive line hasn’t been able to get much of a push all season and that killed the Sooners against teams that could run the ball.
The key for Oklahoma will be to shut down the running game. None of the three quarterbacks that Auburn has used this season are good passers and if the Sooners can force third-and-longs the game will be in their hands. Otherwise, it will be a long night for OU.
When Oklahoma Has the Ball…
This is the match-up that everyone is looking forward to seeing. The Baker Mayfield to Dede Westbrook connection has been one of the best in college football this season. Westbrook tallied at least 100 yards receiving in 8 of his 9 Big 12 games and caught at least one touchdown pass in each game in conference play. Meanwhile, Mayfield was incredibly effective against all opponents not named Ohio State and his gaudy 11.12 yards per pass attempt is easily the best mark in the country.
Bill Connelly’s S&P+ Ratings have the Sooners as the best passing attack and best offense in the nation by a mile thanks to the play of Mayfield and the combination of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon in the backfield. Perine and Mixon combined for over 2000 yards and 19 touchdowns on the ground, but although Mixon is explosive he has fumbling issues. He fumbled once every 35 carries this season and this could be an area that Auburn exploits despite ranking 87th in the country in forced fumbles.
The X Factor
This game will come down to whether or not Mayfield can throw the ball on Auburn’s pass defense, which is the most aggressive unit in the country. The Tigers rank first in the nation in percentage of incomplete passes defensed according to Connelly’s numbers and the secondary likes to press and sit on routes.
Auburn’s aggressive nature will make Mayfield try to loosen up the defense by hitting deep balls. The Sooners have completed 10 passes of 60 yards or more this season, tied for most in the country, and this is the first offense Auburn has faced since its season opener that can make you pay. Expect Oklahoma to try a deep shot or two early on.
Additionally, Carl Lawson could be huge in this game. Mayfield’s offensive line has done a much better job protecting him this season than it did last year when he was sacked 39 times, but Lawson is an elite-level pass rusher. If Lawson can put pressure on the quarterback and not allow Mayfield the time he needs, Auburn will have a great chance to pull off the upset.