Orange Bowl

Alabama’s strong start carries Crimson Tide to Orange Bowl win, title game berth

The “Roll Tide” chants began before 10 minutes of football had even been played at Hard Rock Stadium on Saturday.

The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide had just scored their second touchdown against No. 4 Oklahoma in their College Football Playoff semifinal against No. 4 Oklahoma — a contested 10-yard pass from Tua Tagovailoa to Henry Ruggs.

It looked like the beginning of a rout.

And while Oklahoma may not have gone down quietly, the game was essentially already decided..

Tagovailoa threw four touchdown passes, the Alabama defense contained Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray enough early to take a commanding lead and the Crimson Tide is once again heading to the national championship game after defeating Oklahoma 45-34 in the Orange Bowl. Alabama will face No. 2 Clemson, which throttled No. 3 Notre Dame 30-3 in the Cotton Bowl earlier in the day. It will be the third matchup in five years between Alabama and Clemson for the national championship.

“It was no surprise to me that they would come back in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I kept telling our players on the sidelines, we have to keep playing, we have to keep grinding. We’ve got to play for 60 minutes. This team is very capable.”

The Crimson Tide did just that.

Alabama’s domination began from the very first play. Tagovailoa dropped back and fired a pass up the middle to receiver DeVonta Smith, who shook past an Oklahoma defender and went downfield for a 50-yard gain. Six plays — and an overturned fumble — later, Damien Harris punched in Alabama’s first touchdown of the night from 1 yard out.

Alabama (14-0) led 21-0 at the end of the first quarter (an Orange Bowl record for most points by one team in the opening period), added another touchdown before Oklahoma could even get on the board and had a 31-10 edge at halftime before Oklahoma made it interesting.

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A 14-play, 66-yard drive to open the second half ended with a 26-yard field goal by Austin Seibert to cut the Sonners’ deficit to 31-13. An Alabama punt on the ensuing drive led to a six-play, 75-yard Oklahoma touchdown drive, with Murray hitting Charleston Rambo in stride in the end zone for the 49-yard score.

A 28-point lead had dwindled to 11.

Oklahoma might be capable, but Alabama proved to be just that much better.

Alabama and Oklahoma then exchanged a pair of touchdown drives — Alabama with a 10-yard pass from Tagovailoa to Smith and Oklahoma with a 10-yard pass from Murray to CeeDee Lamb — before the Crimson Tide struck its final blow.

Tagovailoa, calm and collected like he had been all night, found wide receiver and Deerfield Beach High alumnus Jerry Jeudy for a 13-yard touchdown to re-extend Alabama’s lead to 18 with 6:08 left to play.


Murray gave Oklahoma (12-2) one more trip to the end zone with an 8-yard rushing touchdown, but a failed onside kick attempt sealed the Sonners’ fate.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “Hate that it ends right now, because you’re sick, you feel like you’re right there, being ready to play next week. It was certainly a game we fully expected to win.”

Tagovailoa completed 24-of-27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns. Smith caught six passes for 104 yards. Running back Josh Jacobs ran for 98 yards.

Murray finished with 308 passing yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-37 passing and added 109 rushing yards and another score for Oklahoma. Lamb led all receivers with 109 yards on eight catches.

“Me and Kyler just told each other, ‘Great game,’” Tagovailoa said. “He said, ‘I love you.’ I told him, ‘I love him, too.’ Aside from that, I just told him, ‘Great season.’ He had a great season. He told me I had a great game, and ‘Go win it all.’”

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Jordan McPherson covers the Miami Marlins and high school sports for the Miami Herald. He attended the University of Florida and covered the Gators athletic program for five years before joining the Herald staff in December 2017.