The Oklahoma Sooners shockingly defeated No. 3 Alabama 45-31 in Thursday night's Sugar Bowl, riding a 31-point first half and an incredible performance by quarterback Trevor Knight to one of the most improbable wins of the BCS era. The Sooners (11-2) ran up 433 yards of total offense against the vaunted Alabama defense and did just enough to keep Alabama from catching them during a defense-heavy second half. The Crimson Tide (11-2) lost their first bowl game since the 2008 Sugar Bowl, and lost back-to-back games for the first time since that 2008 game.
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops made news during the offseason by criticizing the depth of the SEC, a criticism that blossomed into a back-and-forth with Alabama coach Nick Saban. Most believed that the Sugar Bowl would be the place of Stoops' comeuppance, the night where Saban would put Stoops and his conference in their place.
But if Stoops was going down, he was going to do it in Big-12 style. The Sooners punched the accelerator on their offensive tempo with the game's first series and never let up. The speed, combined with the effective passing of quarterback Trevor Knight, knocked the vaunted Crimson Tide defense back on its heels. Knight completed 18 of 24 pass attempts in the first half, racking up 206 yards and three touchdowns. His sole mistake, an interception on Oklahoma's first offensive series, was quickly nullified by an Alabama turnover. Most importantly, two late touchdowns gave the Sooners an improbable 31-17 halftime lead. It marked the first time since 2003 that the Crimson Tide had given up more than 30 points in one half.
On the other side of the field, Alabama halfback T.J. Yeldon ran for 47 yards on 11 first-half carries, but fumbled when he ran into offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio, setting up another Oklahoma score.
Heisman Trophy finalist A.J. McCarron threw for a staggering 301 first-half yards against the Sooner defense, but a pair of interceptions led to two Oklahoma touchdowns. Alabama did not have to punt in the first half, but managed only 17 points.
Then the second half started, and it looked like Oklahoma's chariot turned back into a pumpkin. The Sooners' offense generated just 28 yards and four punts in the third quarter as Alabama's defense harassed Knight and swarmed to tackle his receivers. It looked like Saban had finally figured out Oklahoma's offense and was methodically strangling it to death.
Alabama's running game found its footing, as well, with backup halfback Derrick Henry taking the starring role. Henry ran for 78 yards on five third-quarter carries, including a 43-yard touchdown run that narrowed the Oklahoma lead to just seven points.
And yet, Oklahoma's defense responded, sacking McCarron four times in the next three Alabama possessions and keeping the Crimson Tide out of scoring position.
The Sooner defense held up against the Tide just long enough for Knight to find his form. The redshirt freshman quarterback, who set career records for completions and yards in the first half alone, completed eleven consecutive passes over three series. The last of those eleven, thrown while scrambling from the Alabama pass rush, found Sterling Shepard in the end zone to cap a 92-yard touchdown drive.
The Crimson Tide was not done, however. With just under seven minutes to play, McCarron hit Henry on a swing pass. The freshman broke two tackles, threw a stiff arm, and ran past the rest of the Oklahoma defense on a 61-yard touchdown sprint.
Oklahoma's two biggest problems -- penalties and the running game -- conspired to hurt them late. With six minutes to go, a seven-point lead to protect, and a desperate need to run some clock, the Sooners committed a holding penalty on the kick return, ran ineffectively into the line once, and were left facing a third-and-9.
Oklahoma went back to its most effective play of the night: The screen pass. Knight tossed a screen pass to Brennan Clay, who dodged a defender, followed a block, and willed himself to a first down. Two plays later, another screen earned Oklahoma another set of downs. A Brennan Clay 12-yard carry moved Oklahoma into Alabama territory and forced Nick Saban to start using his timeouts. On third-and-8, Alabama defensive back Jarrick Williams was called for pass interference, and Oklahoma could run the clock down to 60 seconds.
After a punt dropped Alabama to its own 10, McCarron was stripped by Eric Striker on the Sooner sophomore's third sack of the night. Geneo Grissom scooped up the loose ball and dove for the game-sealing score. Boomer Sooner.
Box Score Hero: All of the accolades go to Trevor Knight, who finished 32-of-44 for 348 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Oklahoma had a perfect gameplan for Alabama's defense, and Knight executed it to perfection.
Rankings Ramifications: Alabama will drop precipitously, and could possibly end the season outside the Top 10 for the first time in three seasons. Oklahoma will vault into the Top 10 and should be the highest-ranked Big 12 team in the final poll.
But Did They Cover? Alabama was a 17-point favorite at kickoff. They did not cover, obviously.
For More On This Game: For more on Tide football, visit Alabama community Roll Bama Roll, plus SEC community Team Speed Kills. For more on OU football, visit Oklahoma community Crimson And Cream Machine.
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