Oklahoma football: Kyler is the centerpiece, but far from the only piece

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 06: Kyler Murray #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs for a touchdown against the Texas Longhorns in the fourth quarter of the 2018 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 6, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 06: Kyler Murray #1 of the Oklahoma Sooners runs for a touchdown against the Texas Longhorns in the fourth quarter of the 2018 AT&T Red River Showdown at Cotton Bowl on October 6, 2018 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

We are under 24 hours away from settling one of the big questions this postseason: Can Oklahoma football stay in a game with arguably college football’s most dominant team this season in No. 1 Alabama.

light. Related Story. How the Sooners could suprise Bama, and everyone else

The two prime matchups everyone will be eyeing in the Orange Bowl national semifinal game between the 12-1 Sooners and the 13-0 Crimson Tide will be:

  • The Oklahoma offense against the Alabama defense, both of which are outstanding, and
  • the Alabama offense, which statistically is comparable to OU’s high-octane outfit, against a far inferior Sooner defense that has had trouble stopping virtually everybody on the schedule this season.

Simple logic leads us to the conclusion that about the only chance that the Sooners have of defeating this Alabama team, perhaps one of the best that has played for Nick Saban, is to outscore them…and good luck with that.

Practically everybody who has an opinion or a prediction on this game has conceded that the Sooners are going to score some points, no matter how well the Bama defense plays, but the reverse is equally true. After all, we’re talking about the No. 1 and 2 teams in the country in points per game.

The record-setting Oklahoma offense starts and stops with the player who touches the ball on every offensive snap: quarterback Kyler Murray. Every Sooner offensive play, good and bad, goes through the player symbolically wearing jersey No. 1. Very few thought this possible after the season Baker Mayfield had a year ago at Oklahoma, but Murray’s numbers not only have matched those of his predecessor but exceeded them in most categories.

Going into the College Football Playoff contest with Alabama, Murray leads the nation in total yards (4,495), points responsible for (306), passing efficiency rating (205.7; the FBS record is 198.9 set last season by Mayfield) and yards per pass attempt (11.9; the FBS record is 11.1). He ranks second best among FBS teams in passing touchdowns (40), yards per completion (16.8) and completion percentage (70.9).

Oklahoma Sooners
Oklahoma Sooners /

Oklahoma Sooners

Murray also holds the distinction of being the only player in the country this season to average more than 300 yards passing and 50 rushing yards per game, and his 96.1 QBR (quarterback rating) is the highest since ESPN started tracking this measurement in 2004.

With a single-season resume such as this, it’s easy to understand why Murray was highly deserving of this year’s Heisman Trophy, the second year in a row that an Oklahoma player has won college football’s most prestigious individual honor.

As spectacular a season as Murray has enjoyed as the OU starting quarterback this season, his only one as the Sooner QB, he would be the first to tell you that his success is as much the result of all the talented weapons he has at his disposal as anything he has done. That may sound a bit modest to anyone who has seen this year’s Heisman Trophy winner in person, but it goes without saying that the Sooners are loaded at all the offensive skill positions.

Oklahoma’s high efficiency in execution of its spread formation, Air Raid offense is largely the result of the Sooners effectiveness running the football. Between Murray, Trey Sermon and Kennedy Brooks, OU has amassed over 1,800 rushing yards this season and close to 7.5 yards per carry. As talented as the Sooner running backs are, they are made even better by the guys blocking for them upfront. The Oklahoma offensive line was voted the best on college football this season, winning the Joe Moore Award over Alabama and Georgia.

Seven Sooners have caught seven or more passes this season, and 19 OU receivers have caught at least one pass in 2018. The bulk of this receptions have been divided between two speedy playmakers: Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, one of the fastest players in the college game, and CeeDee Lamb. That duo is responsible for 52 percent of Oklahoma’s 255 total receptions this season and a combined 20 touchdowns.

Oklahoma is very close to becoming the first FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) team to produce a 4,000-yard passer (Murray enters the Orange Bowl game with (4,053), two 1,000-yard rushers (Brooks has rushed for 1,021, Sermon for 928) and two receivers with over 1,000 yards (Brown has 75 catches for 1,318 yards; Lamb has 57 receptions for 1,049 yards).

The Sooners are loaded with speedy playmakers on offense, which certainly makes Murray’s job, at the center of things, easier and helps explain why Oklahoma has been able to put points on the scoreboard on 61 percent of its total possessions this season and touchdowns on 51 percent of its offensive possessions.

OU is on a record-setting pace, averaging 8.7 yards per offensive play in 2018 (the current record is 8.6 by Hawaii in 2006). Sixty-two of the Sooners 80 offensive drives this season have taken less than three minutes off the clock.

The Alabama defense will concentrate its efforts on pressuring Murray and giving him different defensive looks to disrupt his rhythm and force him into bad decisions.

The OU quarterback is certainly the biggest part of the Sooner offense, but he is far from alone, which is what makes Oklahoma so dangerous and is why they are never really out of a game, even when they are down by a couple of scores.

Next. Young OU defense could surprise folks in College Football Playoff. dark

Much of the statistical information that appears in this article was extracted from the Oklahoma-Alabama Game Notes prepared by the communications staff in the OU athletic department.