5 reasons Auburn will beat Oklahoma ... and 3 reasons it might not
Oklahoma is a 3-point favorite over Auburn in Monday night’s Sugar Bowl for two major reasons. The Sooners (10-2) finished two games better than the Tigers during the regular season; plus, Oklahoma has won nine straight, the third-longest streak in the FBS behind Alabama (25 in a row) and Western Michigan (15).
Despite those factors, Auburn still has a decent shot to win in New Orleans.
Here are five reasons why we think the Tigers will beat Oklahoma:
The Tigers should be at full strength
Auburn’s two most important players on offense are getting healthy at the right time. Quarterback Sean White and running back Kamryn Pettway practiced without limitations this week.
White missed Auburn’s final two regular-season games with an injured throwing (right) shoulder and Pettway sat out the Georgia and Alabama A&M games and was limited in the Iron Bowl.
Auburn could still lose to Oklahoma even with White and Pettway at full strength. But having both in the lineup will give the Tigers a much better chance to prevail.
Oklahoma’s run defense has struggled lately
Behind Pettway and teammate Kerryon Johnson, Auburn has been the top rushing team in the SEC this season, averaging nearly 279 yards per game. Meanwhile, Oklahoma’s last three games have been their worst of the season against the run; in victories over Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State, the Sooners surrendered 817 rushing yards — more than 272 per game.
Auburn has the offensive line and backfield to match or exceed that number. If the Tigers run the ball 50 times against Oklahoma — the number of attempts they have averaged this season — chances are they’ll be in good shape.
Auburn’s defensive line might be the difference
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield has had another terrific season, leading the FBS in passer rating while finishing in the top four of the Heisman Trophy voting for the second year in a row. So stopping him obviously won’t be easy.
Auburn’s defensive line isn’t as good as Alabama’s, but the Tigers’ front four isn’t full of slouches either. Defensive end Carl Lawson (24 QB hurries and 12.5 tackles for loss, including nine sacks) and interior lineman Montravius Adams (15 QB hurries) could wreak enough havoc to disrupt Mayfield’s rhythm and shake up Oklahoma’s offense.
Auburn’s recent bowl history has been better
Oklahoma is 1-3 in its last four postseason games, and admittedly that one victory is a big one – the Sooners’ 45-31 win over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl three seasons ago. But in those three losses, Big Game Bob Stoops and his Sooners have been outscored 118-36 by Texas A&M and by Clemson two seasons in a row.
Conversely, Auburn has won six of its last eight bowl games. Gus Malzahn has been the Tigers’ head coach for both of those losses, but the defeats were by identical 34-31 scores to Florida State in the 2013 BCS National Championship Game and to Wisconsin in the 2014 Outback Bowl.
Auburn’s defense is superior
Oklahoma, which finished the regular season ranked third in the FBS in scoring (44.7 points) and in total offense (557.3 yards per game), arguably has the toughest attack Auburn will face all season. But under first-year coordinator Kevin Steele, Auburn has made major strides on defense.
The Tigers have allowed 15.6 points per game to rank fifth in the FBS. Even though Chad Kelly burned Auburn for 465 yards and three TDs, Auburn managed to beat him and Ole Miss on the road.
On top of that, AU has allowed more than 29 points in a game just once this year, when it lost 30-12 to Alabama in the Iron Bowl. That 18-point loss is Auburn’s largest margin of defeat so far.
Shutting down Oklahoma will definitely be a challenge. But Auburn has proven it will be more than up for it.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that Auburn could lose. Here are three reasons why it might:
Oklahoma’s dynamic duo might dominate
As good as Pettway and Johnson have been, the Sooners’ powerful pair of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine could be better. Mixon has rushed for 1,183 yards and eight TDs while Perine has added 974 yards and 11 scores on the ground.
The Sooners’ other prolific pair might be too much
Not only has Mayfield been the most efficient passer in the FBS this season, the Sooners QB gets to throw to arguably the best receiver in the country in Dede Westbrook. The senior wideout is fifth in the FBS in touchdown catches (16) and seventh in receiving yards (1,465).
Auburn is too one-dimensional on offense
Even though the Tigers like to run the ball 70 percent of the time, they are only 74th in the FBS in time of possession (29:23.25). Oklahoma, which runs at a 60 percent clip, is less predictable on offense, which has allowed the Sooners to rank 26th in TOP (32:11.00).
That more pronounced balance, which OU will try to use to dictate tempo against Auburn, could prove pivotal if one facet of Oklahoma’s offense falters. And if Auburn falls behind, the Tigers don’t have the personnel or the game plan to overcome a big deficit — something they have clearly demonstrated in all four of their losses.