EditorsNote: Edit 3: Write-thru with quotes; subbed photo
Any questions over the health of Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa went out the window on the first play of Saturday’s Orange Bowl in Miami Gardens, Fla.
Tagovailoa hit DeVonta Smith for a 50-yard completion on the game’s first play as the No. 1 Crimson Tide eventually streaked past No. 4 Oklahoma 45-34 at Hard Rock Stadium.
Alabama advances to play the Clemson Tigers on Jan. 7 in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game in Santa Clara, Calif.
Tagovailoa completed 24 of 27 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns, outdueling the quarterback that beat him out earlier in the month for the Heisman Trophy, Oklahoma quarterback Kyler Murray.
“My left ankle is still uncertain right now, we’re still trying to get better with it,” Tagovailoa said after the game. “I don’t know if it was better tonight, but right now it’s all right.”
Murray was sensational as well, though things came much more difficult for him. Murray was 19 of 37 for 308 yards and two scores and ran for 109 yards and another touchdown to keep the Sooners in the game even after Alabama built a 28-0 lead by early in the second quarter.
But Alabama’s defense showed its teeth early, sacking Murray on two of Oklahoma’s first three offensive plays and making a Sooners offense that had made things look so easy all season work hard for every yard.
“The biggest difference between the points that they scored in the second half and what they didn’t score in the first half was our ability to get off the field on third down,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “I think they were like 0-for-5 in the first half and in the second half we weren’t very good at all.”
Oklahoma was 6-for-8 on third downs in the second half.
But it wasn’t enough, as the Sooners could never pull closer than within 11 points.
“I thought we had one little lull in the game once we got ahead 28-0 where we had a few penalties, stopped ourselves a couple times,” Saban said. “They took advantage of those opportunities and got themselves back in the game. But it was no surprise to me at all that they were able to make some plays that got them back in the game.”
Oklahoma scored on all four of its second-half drives — three touchdowns and a field goal — but each of the first two times the Sooners pulled within 11, the Crimson Tide responded with a touchdown on their ensuing drive.
“We just flat out didn’t play good enough,” Oklahoma linebacker Curtis Bolton said. “Just all around, I think it was a night we let the team down. Any time you give up that many points, we’re not going to let anybody else take the blame but us.”
Alabama put up 528 total yards on the Sooners, the fifth time this season a team has posted 500 or more yards on Oklahoma. That was nothing new for the Crimson Tide, though, as Alabama has topped 500 yards in all but two games.
“I thought we did a great job of controlling the game today the way our offense played,” Saban said. “The only time that we really got stopped was when we stopped ourselves with penalties and a couple missed assignments and broken plays. But all in all, the players played hard for 60 minutes in the game, and that’s what it took, and we knew that’s what it would take.”
Alabama is in the CFP title game for the fourth consecutive season. The Tide will play Clemson in the game for the third time in four seasons.
For Oklahoma, it’s the third semifinal loss in four seasons.
“We’ve still got a bunch of Big 12 trophies,” Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. “We’re going to hold that tall skinny one here in a couple years and we’re going to hold it in large part because of the fight from these seniors in this program, all the players, the staff.”
—Field Level Media