2017 Sugar Bowl Preview: Oklahoma Sooners vs Auburn Tigers
In the final game of the bowl season before the National Championship, the Oklahoma Sooners will face the Auburn Tigers in the 2017 Sugar Bowl.
This match-up will take place nearly 25 years to the date of the last meeting between the Sooners and the Tigers, where Oklahoma defeated Auburn 40-22 in the Sugar Bowl game in 1972. This will only be the second time that the schools have met.
WHAT: SUGAR BOWL: OKLAHOMA SOONERS vs AUBURN TIGERS
WHEN: Monday, January 2nd, 2017 8:30 PM EST
WHERE: Superdome, New Orleans, Louisiana
LINE: Oklahoma by 3
Auburn is coming into this game as a bit of a surprise participant in a New Year’s Six Bowl Game. Lofty expectations were not predicted for this Tiger football team. After climbing to as high as ranked ninth in the country, a 13-7 setback to Georgia derailed any playoff hopes. The season got off to a slow 1-2 start, losing to both Clemson and Texas A&M. Auburn reeled off six consecutive victories before losing two of it’s last three games of the season.
The biggest reason for the turnaround this season was due to play on the defensive side of the ball. Auburn ranks 21st nationally in total defense. The Tigers improved from giving up 27 points per game in 2015 to only 16 points per game in 2016. Auburn will need to continue that solid defensive play against an explosive Oklahoma Sooner offensive team.
In the typical Gus Malzahn fashion, the running game was the strength of the offense this season. Their offense was sixth in the FBS with 3,342 rushing yards. Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson have paved the way for that prolific rushing attack. Pettway has 1,123 yards and seven scores while Johnson has 862 yards and 11 touchdowns. With a suspect Oklahoma defense, look for Auburn to utilize the ground game early and often.
From the quarterback position, Sean White has had a solid season. He doesn’t have the flashy numbers, but he has been very solid. Most importantly, he has been both efficient and careful with the football. He has completed 65% of his throws and thrown nine touchdowns to only three interceptions. His favorite target has been Tony Stevens. Stevens has hauled in 29 receptions for 466 yards and 3 scores on the year.
Conversely, Oklahoma had very high hopes coming into 2016. A preseason No. 3 ranking provided a very high ceiling for the Sooners. But, after an opening weekend loss to Houston and a demoralizing loss to Ohio State, the playoffs were out of sight. After that loss, the Sooners ran off nine consecutive victories to end the season. Despite some key deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball, Oklahoma captured its second conference title in as many years.
Despite losing key contributors along the offensive line and receiving corps, Oklahoma was very explosive offensively. Oklahoma was right on the same pace from a year ago, scoring 45 points a game this season. The Sooners ranked number three in the country in total offense that helped gain 10 wins on the year.
Baker Mayfield was the catalyst for that continued success. He improved in nearly every statistical category in 2016. Baker completed over 71% of his throws while amassing 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns against only eight interceptions.
The Sooners also have an outstanding pair of running backs in Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine. Mixon and Perine are arguably the best running back combo in the country. Leading the nation in all purpose yards this season with 1,183 on the ground and 449 through the air was Mixon. Perine missed two games this season, but still nearly managed to cross the 1,000 yard mark. 974 yards and 11 touchdowns provided an outstanding 1-2 punch for the Sooners ground game
Perhaps the most surprising and dominant player for the Sooners was DeDe Westbrook. The senior won the Biletnikoff Award as top receiver in the country. Westbrook had 1,465 yards and 16 touchdown grabs on the season for Oklahoma. With the fact that the next leading receiver had less than 500 yards on the season, Westbrook’s statistics are that much more impressive.
While the Oklahoma offense has been consistent all season, the defense has not. The Sooners gave up 30 points per game which was good for 88th in the country. Astronomical yards and points became the theme this season. The defense gave up over 40 points on three occasions and allowed 59 points to Texas Tech. The low point of the season came when Red Raider quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for 734 yards and five touchdowns. The defense did show signs of improvement towards the end of the season holding Oklahoma State to only 20 points.
This is one of the most evenly matched bowl games of the season. Not only evenly matched, but big star power. You will be hard pressed to find a better set of running backs than what will be displayed in this game.
From Auburn’s perspective, they will want to play ball control and run the football. The best match-up to watch in this game will be the Oklahoma offense against the Auburn defense. This is a true strength versus strength with the third ranked offense of Oklahoma and the 21st ranked defense at Auburn.
Oklahoma 34, Auburn 31