(Submitted Photo/Courtesy of OU Athletics Communications)
Oklahoma, Georgia want focus and balance before Rose Bowl
At 6-foot-8 and 345 pounds, Oklahoma offensive tackle Orlando Brown isn’t exactly built for Disneyland.
While the No. 2 Sooners and No. 3 Georgia enjoyed the various rides at the resort’s two theme parks Wednesday, “You won’t catch me on one,” Brown said.
It’s an approach that Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma and the Bulldogs’ Kirby Smart would appreciate as each head coach has stressed discipline heading into the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl on Monday.
The visit to Disneyland and dinner at Lawry’s The Prime Rib steakhouse in Beverly Hills are the only two events associated with the Granddaddy of Them All, but they take on a different context when the Rose Bowl hosts the national semifinal. The focus is on winning and advancing to the championship game, which will be in Atlanta on Jan. 8, not grabbing selfies with Mickey Mouse or gorging in the Beef Bowl.
“Just stay focused,” Georgia offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn said, even as roadsters from the Radiator Springs Racers attraction sped by behind him. “Don’t get distracted. Don’t let this type of stuff affect us. It’s just another business trip this week.”
“We’ve still got work to do and it won’t finish for us until we kick the game off,” Riley said.
That message comes from personal experience for both teams. Smart was the defensive coordinator at Alabama for two playoff appearances, losing in a semifinal in 2014 and winning the national title in 2015, and now has Georgia (12-1) in the final four. Oklahoma (12-1) lost to Clemson 37-17 in the semifinal at the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2015 season when Riley was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator.
Brown sees a more mature Oklahoma team that is benefitting from its previous experience in the playoff.
“When we were in Miami, it was our first time so we had people doing out of the ordinary things,” Brown said. “And with it being our second time in the playoffs, we just had a tremendous amount of focus. We had a bunch of guys that have been here, not too much starstruck by LA. Guys that are wanting to practice, wanting to play in the game, been watching the film and doing all those different things.”
While Oklahoma can lean on its memories, Smart has been relying on his senior class to impart his message of how important the time on the ground can be in the buildup to a playoff game. Finding the right balance between game prep and bowl activities is a challenge, and Smart has seen it go both ways.
“But I think if you explain that to your leadership and they understand that there’s a time for fun, there’s a time for play, there’s a time for practice and focus, as long as you can separate that and you got a senior-laden team you can use that to your advantage,” Smart said.
Smart does want his team to appreciate the Rose Bowl, which he holds in esteem after helping Alabama to the BCS championship in 2009. Not exactly the prone to sentimentality, Smart gushed about the venue.
“The sky was red, and it was a great stadium, and you know the history of that stadium,” Smart said. “So many kids these days don’t know the history of that stadium and they don’t know the people who have played in that stadium prior, but I do and I recognize the Rose Bowl is a special, special moment.”
Oklahoma already showed how its priority is the game by having quarterback Baker Mayfield skip the Disneyland trip because he was under the weather. The Heisman Trophy winner participated in practice earlier in the day, and Riley was “trying to let him rest a little bit.”
But Riley isn’t going to the extremes of famed Ohio State head coach Woody Hayes, who refused to have his teams participate in the visit to Lawry’s when they played in the Rose Bowl.
“You’ve got to have a balance,” Riley said. “You can’t go all football all the time. Our guys aren’t used to doing that anyway.”
Patterson High alum Mykel Jones is a sophomore wide receiver on Oklahoma’s football team. This season, Jones has 16 catches for 310 yards and one touchdown. His longest gain is 55 yards.
Additional reporting by Review Sports Editor Geoff Stoute.