The Sugar Bowl: 9 Takeaways From Oklahoma’s Redemptive Victory

For the second straight night, a shocker went down in the major bowls. Oklahoma nailed Alabama 45-31 in the Sugar Bowl. Here’s the Notebook Nine, our nine important takeaways from the game…

*Bob Stoops put his money—or his team anyway—where his mouth was. The OU head coach drew publicity last summer in saying he was tired of hearing all the talk about the SEC. Stoops got his chance to back it up on the field and they did it the most dramatic way possible—beating the program that has defined college football for the last five years.

college football bowl history*Handicappers call the college bowl season the time of the underdogs, and this result was just another example. Oklahoma winning as a 16 ½ point underdog comes 24 hours after Central Florida won as a 17-point dog. Of the three biggest favorites of the bowl season—Notre Dame, Baylor and Alabama—two of them lost outright, and both losses came by double-digits. Notre Dame failed to cover the number.

*When Stoops took over the Sooner program and won the national championship in 2000, he developed the nickname “Big Game Bob.” A series of tough losses, starting with a collapse at the end of 2003, led some—notably ESPN’s Skip Bayless—to dub him “Big Game Boob.” OU won the Fiesta Bowl following the 2010 season, but that was against UConn. Prior to last night, the last Oklahoma victory in a big bowl over a big-time opponent was the Rose Bowl against Washington State following the 2002 season. It’s fitting that Stoops comes back in the Sugar Bowl against Nick Saban, because that’s where the downfall started in 2003, when OU lost to Saban’s LSU team.

*When did Trevor Knight learn to pass like that? The Oklahoma quarterback, more a runner than a passer all season long as he split time with Blake Bell, suddenly morphed into Jason White, the 2003 Heisman Trophy winner for the Sooners. Knight was 32/44 for 348 yards, his only interception a batted ball. He also completed a beautiful 3rd-and-15 down the sidelines early in the fourth quarter to Lacoltan Bester, perhaps the game’s biggest offensive play.

*It wasn’t a fitting end to A.J. McCarron’s college career, and not just because the Alabama quarterback suffered a rare loss. McCarron got his numbers—19/30 for 387 yards, an insanely good yards-per-pass of 12.9. But he threw two interceptions in the first half that gave Oklahoma confidence at a point when Alabama had started fast and threatened to run the Sooners out of the Bayou. McCarron is at his best when he works within a team concept and plays efficient. Last night, he looked more like Tony Romo.

*Some of the blame for this though, has to come with Alabama’s play-calling early in the game. Oklahoma has a poor run defense, and the Alabama running game had come on strong at the end of the season. Why was Nick Saban throwing the football, especially when his team scored on the first possession? Granted, you don’t expect McCarron to throw two interceptions, but Alabama could have run the ball down OU’s throat. Eventually the playcalling balanced out in favor of the run—35 rushes to 30 pass attempts—but the failure to set the tone early cost the Tide.

*Brennan Clay’s stats show a mediocre night for the Oklahoma running back, 17 carries for 44 yards, and seven catches for a pedestrian 36 yards. What that doesn’t show is he made two huge plays when Alabama had cut the lead to 38-31 and OU was backed up with more than six minutes to play. Clay took a screen pass and third-and-long and got the first down. Then he swept around the right side and picked up 12 more. Clay shifted momentum that seemed to be going Alabama’s way and stabilized his team.

*The clinching touchdown came when McCarron was hit and fumbled, and then OU’s Geneo Grissom scooped up the loose ball and ran into the end zone with 47 seconds left. As everyone celebrated, no one bothered to ask this question—why didn’t Grissom just fall on the ball? Alabama was out of timeouts and all Oklahoma had to do was take a knee. As it was, a couple unsportsmanlike penalties had the Sooners kicking off from the 10-yard line and Alabama still had hope of a miracle finish. It didn’t happen, but these kids need to be taught game situations.

*Does this game mean the end of SEC dominance? It’s certainly a blow, but let’s remember that Florida lost the Sugar Bowl to Louisville last season and it didn’t stop a closing bowl run that showed the conference dominant at all levels—in succession, Ole Miss blew out Pitt, Texas A&M hammered Oklahoma and Alabama delivered the coup de grace with its championship game rout of Notre Dame. What we can say is that the SEC has not yet asserted its customary dominance. The weekend ahead has Missouri and Vanderbilt in action, followed by Auburn in the title game. We’ll see what happens.