Alabama beats Oklahoma 45-34 to play Clemson (again) for national title

Get ready for Alabama and Clemson to play each other in the College Football Playoff. Again.

The Crimson Tide rushed out to a 28-0 lead in a 45-34 win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal on Saturday night. The victory means the Crimson Tide will play the Tigers for the national title on Jan. 7. It’s the third time in four seasons that Alabama and Clemson will have met for the title and the fourth straight season when the teams have met in the College Football Playoff.

Alabama scored on its first four possessions as Oklahoma punted twice and turned the ball over on downs on its first three possessions. By the time the Sooners’ historically prolific offense got rolling, Alabama was up 28-0 and Oklahoma was having to play catchup the rest of the night.

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That’s not a strategy that works well. Especially when you have a defense like Oklahoma’s. The Sooners’ lack of defensive strength was on full display in the first half and while the Tide scored just 17 points the rest of the game, the four-touchdown gap was far too much for OU’s offense to overcome against a talented Alabama defense.

Oklahoma did a decent job of chasing the score the rest of the night but the chasing was of more concern to bettors who had the spread (14 or 14.5) than to Alabama’s chances of winning.

Alabama running back Damien Harris (34) scores a touchdown, during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Oklahoma, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
Alabama running back Damien Harris (34) scores a touchdown, during the first half of the Orange Bowl NCAA college football game against Oklahoma, Saturday, Dec. 29, 2018, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

That chasing was also done oddly. Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley chose to kick a field goal on a fourth-and-5 at the Alabama 9 midway through the second quarter with his team trailing 28-7. He made the same decision on a field goal in the third quarter on a similar situation. Austin Seibert cut the lead to 31-13 after Oklahoma had six yards to go on the Alabama 9.

Converting those fourth downs is no guarantee. But had Oklahoma done so – the offense averaged 8.6 yards per play in the regular season – and scored touchdowns, the score would have been 31-21 instead of 31-13.

The Sooners cut the margin to 11 points at 38-27 with just over eight minutes to go in the fourth quarter. But a touchdown pass from Tua Tagovailoa to Jerry Jeudy put the lead back to 18 points and 45-27 with 6:08 to go and made the lead insurmountable.

Kyler Murray shines

The game solidified why the Oklahoma quarterback won the Heisman over Tagovailoa. Murray rushed for 109 yards and threw for 308 yards while accounting for three total touchdowns in the losing effort. He was the catalyst and the impetus for Oklahoma’s offense on Saturday night like he had been all season for the Sooners.

Murray also put in that performance without a healthy Marquise Brown. The Sooners’ top wideout tried to play through a hamstring injury but didn’t record a catch.

While Murray was Oklahoma’s MVP, the defense took far too long to play decently. Oklahoma was simply overpowered by Alabama in the first half as the Tide’s four scores came via 25 plays for 239 total yards.

The man Murray beat for the Heisman had four touchdown passes and three incompletions. He was pretty damn good too.

Alabama wasn’t great

Yeah, the Crimson Tide ran out to a four-score lead. But Alabama could have won by a lot more if it put together a consistent game. Alabama committed nine penalties and didn’t execute consistently on offense in the middle of the game. Yet Alabama coach Nick Saban is going to be coaching for his seventh national championship.

“There’s a lot of things that we could do better,” Saban told ESPN after the game. “We got a lot of untimely penalties in this game that really either extended drives for them or stopped us so there’s a lot of things that we need to focus on to improve.”

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Nick Bromberg is a writer for Yahoo Sports.

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