LOS ANGELES – From Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley on down, the Oklahoma Sooners threw, well, rose bouquets at both the Georgia defense and offense here Saturday morning as both teams – every single player and every member of the coaching staff – participated in Media Day leading up to Monday’s College Football Playoff semifinal game in the Rose Bowl.
With more than 500 credentialed print and electronic media in the room, the scenario nearly resembled the same event which is held each year prior to the NFL’s Super Bowl.
But the Sooners’ contingent had nothing but praise for the SEC champions and 12-1 Bulldogs while, at the same time, clearly expression optimism they will be up for the challenge when the ball is kicked off Monday afternoon at the famous stadium in nearby Pasadena.
“Georgia defensively has great speed,” said Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley. “There’s just not many holes. Great defenses I believe make you earn every single yard and they don’t give you anything. To play well offensively against a group like them you’ve got to be razor sharp and if you’re not, they can expose you in a heartbeat. They’ve got great players all across the board and they’ve got a great leader in the middle (Roquan Smith), really good depth and a great scheme so they’re as good as we’ve faced in a long time.”
Orlando Brown is the Sooners’ mammoth left offensive tackle at 6-8, 345 pounds, who hails from Duluth, Ga. (Peachtree Ridge High). He’s really anxious to play against his home-state guys come Monday.
“Georgia is in the playoffs for a reason and they’ve got one of the top four defenses in the country,” said Brown. “Their defense is similar here and there to a few in the Big 12 schematically in what they do. They’re just real physical. But we’ve had plenty of time to prepare for them, taking care of business over these last few days and just staying in the film room,” said Brown. “Like I say, they’re a defense with a lot of speed, very physical, very strong and they play hard.”
The Sooners’ leading rusher this season, sophomore running back Rodney Anderson, said he didn’t see a defense like Georgia’s in Big 12 competition this season.
“I don’t think we can compare Georgia to anybody,” Anderson said. “They’re a great defense and a new defense we’re facing but it’s a new challenge we’re ready to face. With all this time, we could do nothing but prepare for this game and I feel like we’re ready. Really, their whole defensive squad, they’re stacked. They’ve got big, athletic players at every position so it’s definitely going to be a challenge.
But, added Anderson, “I feel like our run game and the pass game complement each other very well, as well as the receiving position, and our offensive line always does a great job blocking for us.”
Oklahoma’s top defensive player, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, a 6-1, 240-pound senior linebacker, compared the Bulldogs’ potent running game to that of Ohio State, whom the Sooners whipped 31-16 in the “Horseshoe” in Columbus, Ohio this season.
“Georgia is a power running team, their talent level kind of like we faced in Ohio State,” Okoronkwo said. “We’ve faced offenses like Georgia before. We’re just ready to play. We know they’re going to run the ball … we’ve been working on it for a month now. We’re just ready to play, like I said. “
Okoronkwo said he thinks the lengthy practice time leading up to the Rose Bowl has been beneficial to the Sooners.
“I love this long break we’ve had,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of guys back and a lot of guys are fresh and ready to go. A lot of guys have had ample time to watch film and we feel like with all this time, it can only help us.”
Someone then asked Okoronkwo about the challenge of facing a running back like Georgia’s Nick Chubb, the No. 2 all-time career rusher in the SEC. “A back like Nick Chubb, you just got to tackle him,” he said, laughing. “He’s going to get the ball, you tackle him.
“Ever since summer conditioning started, we put ATL on our shirts,” the Oklahoma linebacker offered, alluding to the fact a win over the Bulldogs would put the Sooners in the Jan. 8 national championship game at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium. “You can’t go a day in that locker room without hearing someone say ATL. That’s been our motto. That’s all it’s been about. The Big 12 (title) was our first goal, now the National Championship is the next one.”
Meantime, one Oklahoma player finally made his first press conference of the week. That would be Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield, who said he’s been battling flu-like symptoms though hasn’t missed a beat in the Sooners’ daily practice sessions here.
And at the start of Saturday’s media day session, an announcement was made that Mayfield wouldn’t be attending this one, either, after a podium had been set up for him in the corner of the vast room.
But more than halfway through Oklahoma’s allotted 45-minute time period, Mayfield strolled in and dutifully began to field one question after another about his health status.
“Why did you decide to come today,” one reporter asked. “So my teammates had to stop answering questions for you guys,” Mayfield replied. “No, there was something going around. A couple of other guys on the team have had it. It’s flu-like. I wouldn’t say it’s the flu, but it’s pretty much like that.”
Someone mentioned to Mayfield that the Bulldogs’ defense will be maybe attempting to keep the record-breaking quarterback bottled up in the pocket in the semifinal showdown, in other words try to prevent him from breaking containment and completing passes on the run, which he’s very adept at.
“Our team has a lot more weapons than just me,” Mayfield answered. “We have a special team. We have a great offensive line, talented running backs, talented receivers. You know, I think that we’ve been able to exploit this season is what a team wants to focus on, we go otherwise. We’ll see. That’s actually how they want to game plan us, but we’ll be ready to adjust.”
And about the Bulldogs putting a defensive spy (maybe Roquan Smith) on him Monday, Mayfield said opposing defenses have done a good bit of that this season.
“You know, that’s something that teams that have had a little bit of success, they’ve done that,” he said. “You know, they drop into coverage and have a couple people for spies. Based on our scramble drill and what we like to execute when people aren’t open. That’s something we’ll be ready for.”
Flu-like symptoms, bad head cold or whatever’s bothered Mayfield this week, you can bet he will be at his best in leading the Sooners’ offense two days from now but then, you can also look for the talented Georgia defensive unit to be at its best in bringing pressure on the quarterback wearing the No. 6 red jersey on Monday.
Recent Articles by Murray Poole