Joe Mixon (above) is a dangerous runner and receiver for the Oklahoma offense.
Auburn, Ala.--When the Auburn Tigers take the field against Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2 they will be facing one of the top offenses in the country led by a pair of Heisman Trophy finalists, quarterback Baker Mayfield and wide receiver Dede Westbrook.
With a defense that is fifth in the country in scoring and consistent from start to finish this regular season, Gus Malzahn said the Tigers know exactly what they’re up against when you talk about the Sooners.
“First of all we’re familiar with Oklahoma from the standpoint of traditionally being one of the best programs in all of college football, obviously playing in the four-team playoff last year,” Malzahn said. “This year we got a chance to watch them a little bit on TV.
“I got a chance to watch a little bit of the Oklahoma State game and was very impressed," Auburn's coach said. "You are talking about a big-time offense to go with a very good defense. We have a lot of respect for them.”
That starts with Mayfield and his ability to make plays in the passing game. Averaging 305.8 yards through the air per game with 38 touchdowns and only eight interceptions, the redshirt junior has attempted 330 passes in 12 games. His main target is the speedy Westbrook, who has 74 catches for 1,465 yards and 16 touchdowns this season alone.
It’s not just throwing the football where the Sooners excel, however, with the squad coached by Bob Stoops averaging 237.5 yards per game on the ground. Athletic Joe Mixon leads the team in overall rushing yards with 1,183, but bruiser averages 108.2 yards per game in nine contests and has a team-high 11 touchdowns.
Samaje Perine is a key performer for the OU offense.
Malzahn said the way Oklahoma runs the football makes their passing game that much stronger and that much tougher to defend.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge there’s no doubt about that,” Malzahn said. “We have played consistently good defense all year. That was one of our goals coming into the season. We felt like we had a chance to play good defense. Our impact players stayed healthy. Coach (Kevin) Steele did a super job with our guys. We just played solid all year and we are going to have to play solid again.
“You are talking about a team that is very impressive on offense. Like I said earlier, the thing that really stands out to me is they run the football so well. They have explosive guys down the field and have one of the better quarterbacks in college football. It will be a good challenge. I think that will probably be a key to the game.”
Adding that he’s confident that both Josh Holsey and Johnathan Ford will be “close to 100 percent” by the time the Tigers get back on the practice field on Dec. 14, Malzahn said that’s a big plus in the secondary. With linebackers Tre Williams and DeShaun Davis both having time to heal as well after being less than full speed the second half of the season it will be important because this Sooner team does more than just throw it.
“The thing that stands out to me about Oklahoma is they're one of the better offenses in college football and they run the football so well,” he said. “I know that Baker Mayfield gets a lot of credit, which he's well deserving, throws it well when plays break down, but they run the ball so well so it will be a challenge for our defense.”