Oklahoma tops 'Bama, sends message to SEC
NEW ORLEANS -- Sometimes with a touch of derision, Southeastern Conference fans called Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops "Big Game Bob."
The ease with which Stoops won big games early in his career at Oklahoma slowed in recent years, but the 11th-ranked Sooners' 45-31 upset of third-ranked Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Thursday night was sweet solace for the coach who was openly critical of the perceived national dominance of the SEC over the past decade.
At one point in the preseason, Stoops called it SEC "propaganda."
"We weren't coming in on a load of wood," Stoops said. "We've won some games around here. That's what we feel anyway. We played how we expected to play, to be quite honest. I've got the absolute utmost respect for Alabama, but we have a lot of confidence in what we do, too."
Asked specifically about the reputation of the SEC, Stoops said he didn't want to "expound on that." But he couldn't help himself.
"I won't have to dodge any punches, I guess you could say," Stoops said. "I have the utmost respect for Alabama, and I think this shows that, obviously, we can play with anybody. So, enough of that. I think sometimes the comparisons aren't necessarily very true."
Making Stoops' point was Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight, who flew so low under the radar that Stoops would not even name him the starter before kickoff. All the redshirt freshman did was complete 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns against the nation's second-ranked scoring defense.
"We've been battling the underdog story all year long," Knight said. "To show the world that the Sooners are back is really something special."
Knight made only one mistake, and it came in the first series after Alabama took a 7-0 lead on a 1-yard run by running back T.J. Yeldon. He threw high over the middle to wide receiver Jalen Saunders, and the ball parachuted into the hands of Alabama safety Landon Collins.
Aside from that errant throw, Knight completed 18 of 22 first-half passes for 206 yards, leading the Sooners to a 31-17 lead at the break. His three first-half scoring passes covered 45 yards to wide receiver Lacoltan Bester and 8 and 43 yards to Saunders.
Then, when Alabama closed the deficit to 31-24 midway through the third quarter, Knight took the Sooners 76 yards in eight plays and capped it off with an improvised 9-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Sterling Shepard, putting Oklahoma up 38-24 with 10:44 left.
On the drive, the Sooners (11-2) overcame two penalties that put them in a first-and-30 hole. Bester bailed out the offense by hauling in a rainbow pass from Knight for a 34-yard gain on third-and-15. The play went down the left sideline to the Alabama 9-yard line.
"That was a key moment," Stoops said. "Trevor threw two great passes, in particular the one that was third-and-forever. Trevor put it where (Bester) had a chance to go run it down, and he did. I think it's just an example of the resilience we've had throughout the season to never give in, to keep competing, and we did that to the end."
Alabama outgained Oklahoma 516-429, and the Crimson Tide averaged 12.9 yards per play, but they were doomed by two interceptions from quarterback AJ McCarron and one fumble each by McCarron and Yeldon.
"We probably gained enough yards, but we had four turnovers that led to 28 points, and one turnover in the red zone and one missed field goal in the first half, and those things probably were a big difference in the game," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "But we're all responsible for that, and as a coach and as a coaching staff, we need to do a much better job of getting our players prepared to be able to go out and play."
Alabama, which lost its final two games of the season to finish 11-2, narrowed the deficit to seven points with 6:22 left on a 61-yard catch-and-run by freshman running back Derrick Henry.
With the Crimson Tide defense needing one more stop, Oklahoma picked up four critical first downs, moving the ball from its 12 to the Alabama 41, leaving just 56 seconds to go.
"I was really proud of our guys who came off the 10-yard line and got it to the other 40, moving the ball and eating the clock," Stoops said.
Then, with Alabama having a first down at its 18, linebacker Eric Striker hit McCarron from the blindside, forcing a fumble that was picked up by defensive end Geneo Grissom, who returned the ball for the final score.
"You (can) put it all on me," McCarron said. "I had two (interceptions), and they ended up scoring 14 points, and we lost by 14. It's football. It happens. I'll definitely take the loss and definitely take the blame because of a lot of it is probably my fault."
NOTES: Alabama QB AJ McCarron threw just two interceptions since September until he overthrew WR Kevin Norwood in the first quarter and was intercepted by CB Gabe Lynn. ... Before Thursday, Alabama allowed only 86 touchdowns in its previous 66 games. The Tide defense gave up five touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl. ... A bizarre sequence occurred in the first half as Oklahoma DBs Julian Wilson and Lynn started jawing at each other for lining up incorrectly, and their confrontation almost turned physical. Coach Bob Stoops called timeout to calm things down.