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By Kyle Salomon
NEW ORLEANS – If OU head football coach Bob Stoops could convince his team the world is against them in every game, the Sooners might win a national championship every year.
For the third consecutive game this college football season, Oklahoma played the underdog role when they faced Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, and for the third consecutive game the Sooners came out winners.
Oklahoma hammered heavily favored Alabama 45-31 in the final Allstate Sugar Bowl in the last chapter of the BCS era.
The Crimson Tide came into the game with the Sooners favored by 14 points. The so-called “experts” were partially right in their prediction as the final difference was in fact 14 points, but the other way around as it was Oklahoma with the bigger number on the scoreboard when the clock hit all zeros.
Both teams finished with identical records this season as OU and Alabama finished at 11-2 overall.
“I’m very excited and proud of our football team and the way they competed and fought through the entire year and played a tough, hard-fought game here tonight and make the plays they did,” Stoops said. “I thought just some parts of the game, Trevor Knight, of course, were exceptional. I think he showed the whole country what we have been watching the last two years in our practices.”
The two college football giants met on the gridiron for the fifth time when they took the field in New Orleans on Jan. 2. The Oklahoma win improved the Sooners record against Bama to 3-1-1, and Stoops stayed perfect against the Tide as he moved to 3-0 in his head coaching career against Alabama.
Most college football fans and experts across the country were picking Alabama to win the game with ease. The talk centered around the Crimson Tide’s ability to manhandle the Sooners in the trenches with their bigger and more physical offensive and defensive lines.
However, Oklahoma answered the bell as they more than held their own against the ferocious attack of the Tide.
With the Sooners’ entire left side of the offensive line out of the game with injuries, Stoops decided to roll the dice and move starting right guard and former Mustang offensive lineman Bronson Irwin to right tackle, move starting right tackle Daryl Williams to left tackle, and slide 340-pound guard Dionte Savage to left guard to give OU more size inside.
The moves worked out for Oklahoma as OU kept Alabama’s stout defensive front off quarterback Trevor Knight most of the night, which allowed the redshirt freshman quarterback to play the game of his life.
Knight finished the game completing 32 out of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s one hiccup came on the Sooners’ first drive of the game as he was high on a pass to senior receiver Jalen Saunders. The ball tipped off Saunders’ fingers and into the hands of an Alabama defensive back for OU’s only turnover of the game.
Defensively, the Sooners defensive line used its athleticism and quickness to navigate around Bama’s massive offensive linemen and put pressure on Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron. Junior defensive end Geneo Grissom had a big night as he pressured McCarron throughout the game. Grissom also recovered two fumbles including the game-sealing fumble return for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
The game didn’t start the way Oklahoma wanted it to as Alabama took the opening kick and with its first possession of the night drove 80 yards in four plays to take a 7-0 lead.
Oklahoma’s first possession was the Knight interception off Saunders’ hands, but on the Crimson Tide’s very next play McCarron threw into triple coverage and senior DB Gabe Lynn picked the ball off, giving OU’s offense another shot.
Knight hit senior receiver Lacoltan Best for a 45-yard touchdown pass on the first play of the following series to tie the score at seven, and the game was on for Oklahoma.
The Sooners sealed the stunning win late in the final quarter as they led by seven, 38-31. Bama had the ball at its own 20-yard line ready to go on a game-tying drive. On the first play McCarron took the snap and dropped back to pass. Sophomore linebacker Eric Strike blitzed on McCarron’s backside and forced a fumble which was recovered by Grissom and taken into the end zone, making the score 45-31 with less than a minute remaining.
“I thought defensively our pressure was exceptional,” Stoops said. “We had I think, seven, eight sacks, stripped the ball for a touchdown. We were on the quarterback all game.”
Oklahoma finished the game with 429 yards of offense compared to Alabama’s 516. OU passed for 348 yards, while the Tide threw for 387. The Sooners had just 81 yards on the ground, and Bama totaled 129 yards rushing.
Oklahoma finished the night with 24 first downs compared to Alabama’s 20. The Sooners won the turnover battle as they committed one turnover, which was Knight’s interception. The Crimson Tide committed five turnovers in the game. Bama had three fumbles and two interceptions.
The Sooners finished the game with 11 penalties for 95 yards, while the Tide totaled six penalties for 45 yards.
Oklahoma running back Brennan Clay finished the game with 49 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries. Receiver Sterling Shepard had 63 yards and one touchdown on seven receptions. Bester finished with 105 yards and one touchdown on six catches. Saunders had 75 yards and two touchdowns on five catches.
Sooner place-kicker Michael Hunnicutt was 1-of-1 in the game from 47 yards.
Striker totaled seven tackles and one forced fumble in the game. Linebacker Frank Shannon finished with seven tackles. Cornerback Aaron Colvin had six tackles. Lynn had one interception. Cornerback Zack Sanchez finished with one INT, and Grissom had two fumble recoveries.
McCarron finished the game with 19 completions out of 30 attempts for 387 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Running back Derrick Henry totaled 100 yards and one touchdown on eight carries. T.J. Yeldon finished with 72 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries.
Bama receiver Amari Cooper finished the game with 121 yards on nine receptions. DeAndrew White had 139 yards and one touchdown on three receptions.
Tide DB Eddie Jackson had nine tackles on the night. Landon Collins had nine tackles and one interception, and linebacker Trey DePriest had seven tackles against Oklahoma.