College Sports

Alabama eyes another College Football Playoff run. It will start in the Orange Bowl

Alabama coach Nick Saban celebrated Christmas a few days early this year. He didn’t have much of a choice.

With Saban and his top-ranked Crimson Tide landing in Miami on Monday morning to get ready for their appearance in the Capital One Orange Bowl, holiday celebration required some adjustment.

But now, it’s back to the task at hand. Alabama has a football game to play Saturday, a College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 4 Oklahoma. A win would put the Crimson Tide back into the national championship game for the fourth time in five years.

“[It’s] a little bit unusual for us to have to travel on Christmas Eve, but we just moved up Christmas a little bit, watched the grandkids open presents,” Saban said. “Our players all got to go home for a few days. I think we’re here now ready to get re-focused on having the opportunity to play in a playoff game against an outstanding Oklahoma team that presents a lot of challenges. The key to the drill now is to sort of get re-centered, re-focused, get everybody going.”

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Alabama’s toughest task: Containing Oklahoma’s high-powered offense.

The Sooners (12-1) lead the country in total offense (577.9 yards per game), yards per play (8.75) and scoring offense (49.5 points per game).

Quarterback Kyler Murray, who edged out Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa for the Heisman Trophy, has been virtually unstoppable this season. The junior has thrown for 4,053 yards with 40 touchdowns to just seven interceptions. He threw for at least 300 yards and three touchdowns in eight of 13 games this year, including a 432-yard, six-touchdown game in Oklahoma’s 66-33 win over Baylor. His 11.9 yards per pass attempt leads the country.

Alabama, meanwhile, ranks 10th in the country in total defense, giving up an average of just 295.4 yards per game, and fourth in scoring defense (14.8 points per game).

“It’s hard to get somebody to duplicate what [Murray] is able to do in their offense,” Saban said. “He does a fabulous job. Obviously he’s the best player in college football.”

Added Alabama defensive lineman Quinnen Williams: “There’s a lot of preparation to go. I feel like we have to watch film more and have a good week in practice.”

Before the players took off for a short break, Saban said the Crimson Tide opened its bowl prep by taking a “camp-like” approach for the first few practices before shifting to game-planning specifically for Oklahoma.

“We’ve pretty much gone through most of the things we’re going to try to do in this game,” Saban said.

The Crimson Tide will spend the next few days acclimating to the South Florida weather — temperatures are expected to be in the mid-to-upper 70s all week in Miami compared to Tuscaloosa’s highs in the 50s and low 60s — and putting together the final bits of their game plan before playing Oklahoma.

“I don’t think we should really prepare any differently,” Saban said. “The field will be 53 yards wide and 100 yards deep. It’ll have the same markings on it as any field. I think it’s about trying to execute, block, tackle, do the things you need to do to play winning football against a very good team.”

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.