Auburn defenders came into the season hoping to erase the team’s reputation as a push over on their side of the ball.
As the Tigers enter the Sugar Bowl with the fifth ranked scoring defense in the country — giving up a paltry 15.6 points per game — they have made significant progress in the group’s stated goal.
Linebacker Deshaun Davis still sees “naysayers” out there, but Oklahoma coaches and players aren’t among them.
“They're going to test us in every facet of our game,” Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said Friday. “They have done a great job of stopping the run. They are really athletic in the secondary and they rush the passer, you know, as good as anybody in the country. So I mean, those three things tell you why they have done what they have done defensively.”
Riley laughed when asked for his impressions of what Montravius Adams and Carl Lawson do well.
“How long do you have?” Riley said smiling.
Riley made a point to praise the entire line’s depth before circling back to what he sees as a pair of future-NFL successes.
“They're really, really good at what they do,” Riley said. “They're both very versatile players. Both of them are guys that, in my opinion, will play for a while on the next level. So, you know, we have played some good D linemen here in the last few years, but they stack up really well with any of them.”
Oklahoma comes into the game averaging 44.7 points (third in the country) and 557 yards (third) per game, but the Sooner’s imposing resume won’t mean very much if it can’t match physicality.
While very few teams have been able to run against Auburn this season, Riley wants to establish the Sooners’ ground game, which he calls one of the key aspects of the program’s nine-game win streak to close out the regular season.
“We're concentrating on trying to be very physical in this game,” Riley said. “We know it's going to certainly be a key. As you mentioned, we are playing a very talented and physical front, and obviously, our ability to run the football here, you know, over the last couple of months of the season has been very, very important to what we're doing. It will be again.”
Oklahoma will also rely on decorated quarterback Baker Mayfield to provide the offense the spark it needs to get going.
“Baker will be tested, but if there's any guy that will be ready for it, he's the one,” Riley said. “So he has practiced very well. He has had a great run there at the end of the season. I think he has been able to maintain if not get better through these last several weeks and I'm looking forward to him playing that way here in a few days.”