Oklahoma rolls past Alabama

January 9, 2014

Oklahoma is already reaping the benefits of its smashing 45-31 defeat of former No. 1 Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.

  • The Sooners found their quarterback of the future in redshirt freshman Trevor Knight, who shredded the once-mighty defense of the Crimson Tide by hitting a career-high 32 passes on 44 attempts for a career-high 348 yards. He also tied a career high with four touchdown passes.
  • Oklahoma, under criticism for a “lack of talent,” got a verbal commitment from perhaps the best running back in the nation after the Sugar Bowl. And more top-rated prospects are interested.
  • In the last season of the Bowl Championship Series, OU coach Bob Stoops became the first coach to win all four BCS Bowl Games and a National Championship.
  • Stoops outcoached Alabama’s Nick Saban and backed up his comments that the Southeastern Conference (at least some of the teams) were over-rated. And Stoops beat Saban, who beat OU in the national championship game in New Orleans when he was coach of LSU.
  • Pundits all over the nation are writing about the fall of the Alabama “dynasty” and how OU will once again be a national championship contender in 2014.

Stoops said his team was never as bad as the media portrayed them after losses to Texas and Baylor.

“We never were in a position where the outside world tried to portray us however many weeks ago,” Stoops said in the postgame press conference. “That wasn’t us. So this isn’t going to change us. These guys and us in the locker room, you see them nodding their head, we know who we are. These guys held it together. No one flinched. Everybody kept improving. From time to time, in different years, the more inexperience you have, the more injuries you have, you’re going to have some ups and downs. You’re not going to go through undefeated every time.

“I thought these guys, our assistant coaches, managed the injuries, the inexperience early in the year, the injuries throughout the year, in a really positive way. When you’re playing without six starters, that makes a difference. I don’t care what anyone says. And I can say it now when you’re on the positive side of it. You can’t bring it up when you’re not.

“But it’s not easy when you’re losing some key players like we have. But I would say this, with the young team we have and building on it is going to be big and make a huge difference.”

Stoops didn’t reveal his starting quarterback until kickoff. Knight had shared duties with junior Blake Bell most of the season.

But Knight’s four TD passes are the most in a bowl game in OU history and tied for the most in Sugar Bowl history with Florida State’s Chris Weinke (2000) and Illinois’ Kurt Kittner (2002).

Knight is the sixth player in Sugar Bowl history to throw 3 TD passes in a half, and the third to do so in the first half. The other two were Tim Tebow of Florida (2010) and Pepper Rodgers of Georgia Tech (1954).

Knight set the Sugar Bowl record for completions with 32. It was also the fourth highest number of completions in a BCS game.

Knight perfectly engineered OU’s up-tempo offense that kept Alabama’s defense on its heels.

“Throughout the bowl preparation we had the plan of going fast, putting in a few new wrinkles with the huddles there,” Knight said after the game. “I felt when we came out from the very beginning it was working for us, and we kept going with it. It easily could not have worked and go back to our old stuff, but I felt like our plan was great.

“And hats off to Coach Heupel and Coach Stoops for developing that plan, and then hats off to our guys for executing that plan. Things were just clicking and hats off to the seniors. What a way to go out for them. It’s really something special.”

OU scored 31 points in the first half – the most for OU since scoring 31 at West Virginia in 2012. The 31 points are the most allowed in any half by Alabama this season. Entering the game, the Crimson Tide had allowed just 52 points total in the first half all season long.

“I thought Trevor threw into some very tight windows, and I thought our receivers made some really, really competitive, tough competitive catches that were challenged, and they fought for it and came up big in those instances,” Stoops said.

In addition, the 31 points are the most in the first half of a bowl game in the Stoops era (1999-present) and the most for OU since scoring 34 in the first half against Virginia in the 1991 Gator Bowl.

Wide receiver Lacoltan Bester set a career high with six receptions for 105 yards and one touchdown. Bester caught a 45-yard TD reception in the first quarter. Jalen Saunders caught 5 passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

Oklahoma has won 41 straight games when leading at halftime. Only Oregon (60) has a longer streak in the nation.

“They hadn’t seen a lot of tempo teams,” Stoops said. “And the ones that did gave them trouble. So we felt that would play into a positive way for us.

“So we knew in the first half we weren’t worried about clock. We wanted to move the football. We didn’t punt the first half, and the second half we weren’t slowing down until — really we didn’t even think about slowing down until the last five, six minutes, is when we started. We’re two scores ahead, let’s do what we can to use the clock.

“And then at the end, I was really proud of our guys who came off the 10-yard line and got all the way to the other 40 or 45, moving the ball and eating the clock. They used all their timeouts. We put together I don’t know how many first downs in a row. That was big.

“And then I did feel they would have to have to throw the ball to have a chance. And I love the way we were rushing. We already had (seven) sacks. I felt and I know Mike felt we didn’t necessarily have to blitz them to get to them. And, sure enough, we’re not blitzing on that, Eric (Striker) comes off the corner and strips him on the very first play.”

Defensive end Geneo Grissom recorded two sacks and recovered two fumbles, including the first of his career.

“This game was huge,” Grissom said. “The D-line knew we were going to have to play well in order to be successful. And able to come out and execute. Coach Jerry Montgomery got us prepared, and he did a great job.”

Grissom’s second fumble recovery came on a strip sack, which he returned eight yards for a touchdown. He returned the first fumble 26 yards, which was the second longest of the season for the Sooners.

“I thought defensively Geneo Grissom was outstanding along with Eric Striker in particular with their pressure,” Stoops said.

OU’s Zack Sanchez recorded his second career interception in the first half, returning it 43 yards. Defensive back Gabe Lynn recorded his team-leading fourth interception of the season in the first quarter.

The future looks bright for Oklahoma.

“We played how we expected to play, to be quite honest,” Stoops said. “And, again, you’ve heard me start off by I’ve got the absolute utmost respect for Alabama. But we have a lot of confidence in what we do, too.

“And so with as many young players as we have and inexperience we came into the season to start with and the guys we have coming back to the recruiting class we’ve got coming in, we’ve got a chance to really start, to continue to be special, and that’s what we’re going to keep trying to do.”