Big 12 Champion Oklahoma takes on Auburn in what could be a Sugar Bowl shootout.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Jan. 2 at 8:30 PM ET (ESPN)

No. 14 Auburn (8-4) vs. No. 7 Oklahoma (10-2)


How They Got Here

After a 1-2 start that saw Oklahoma drop out of the AP Top 25, the Sooners righted the ship behind one of the nation’s most potent offenses. Oklahoma rolled off nine consecutive wins by an average margin of almost 19 points per game en route to its seventh Big 12 title in 11 years and an automatic Sugar Bowl bid.

Auburn dropped two of its final three games to fall out of SEC West contention but still finished as arguably the second-best team in the SEC. Auburn slid into the conference’s slot in this game when No. 1 Alabama was invited to the College Football Playoff.

When Auburn Has the Ball

Auburn v Georgia
Michael Chang/Getty Images

Auburn is going to run the ball, run the ball and then run the ball some more. The Tigers rank sixth nationally in rushing (278.5 yards per game) but just 112th in passing. During a midseason stretch when everyone was healthy, the Tigers averaged 319 rushing yards and scored 19 touchdowns on the ground during a six-game winning streak. While injuries slowed the offense down the stretch, a month of rest for running backs Kamryn Pettway and Kerryon Johnson (1,985 yards and 18 touchdowns combined) should have Auburn’s running game back to nearly full speed.

That doesn’t bode well for an Oklahoma defense that has been gouged in the running game. Even in the pass-happy Big 12, the Sooners gave up 6.8 yards per carry in their final three games against Baylor, West Virginia and Oklahoma State.

When Oklahoma Has the Ball

Oklahoma v West Virginia
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Oklahoma boasts one of the nation’s top offenses with two Heisman finalists leading way. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has rewritten the Sooner record books, completing 71.2 percent of his passes while throwing for 38 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Meanwhile, star receiver Dede Westbrook has averaged nearly 20 yards per catch and caught 16 touchdowns in his last nine games. Combine that duo with the thunder-and-lightning running back combo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon (2,157 combined rushing yards) and it’s easy to see why Oklahoma ranks third nationally in both total offense and scoring.

But Auburn will be the best defense Oklahoma has faced since an early season loss to Ohio State. The Tigers rank fifth nationally in scoring defense (15.6 points per game) and only allowed three opponents this year to score more than 20 points. Moreover, they have allowed just five rushing touchdowns all year and held seven of their last eight opponents to 135 or fewer rushing yards.

Keys to the Game

Auburn’s run defense is solid enough to at least slow down the Sooner rushing attack. But that might not matter if they can’t pressure Mayfield, who is one of the nation’s most accurate passers when given time. The Tigers’ pass rush isn’t dominant, but the combination of Carl Lawson and Montravius Adams should be able to provide enough pressure to force a few errant throws. Auburn will need to keep Mayfield from getting into a rhythm.

On the other side, Auburn will live or die with its running game. If the Sooners can stuff that early, this one could get out of hand. But if the Tigers can move the ball, this game could be an exciting down-to-the-wire shootout.

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