NEW ORLEANS – For the last month all the Oklahoma coaches and players heard was about how the Sooners didn’t have a chance against Alabama.
Out of the 50 states polled, Oklahoma was the only one to pick OU. Head coach Bob Stoops said he never cared. His players said they never cared.
Thursday night they showed they did care, and they played with that fire and intensity that hadn’t been seen too often in recent years stunning the heavily favored Crimson Tide 45-31 in the 2014 Allstate Sugar Bowl.
As has been the case all season, things didn’t start out well for OU. But as has been the case all season, the Sooners found a way to claw back and then, in something few saw coming, it was OU dictating play and finding its quarterback of the future in the process.
Before the game the speculation was who would start between redshirt freshman Trevor Knight and junior Blake Bell. That question was answered emphatically by Knight who played the best game of his young career.
“I was extremely impressed by the throws Trevor made, but I was not surprised at all by the way he performed,” co-offensive coordinator Jay Norvell said. “Wasn’t surprised at all.”
But most of the country certainly was. By halftime Knight had already set career highs in completions, yards and touchdowns. He finished his magnificent night 32 of 44 passing for 348 yards with four touchdowns and one early interception.
The early interception could have swayed things early. Alabama was already up 7-0 when a tipped pass off the hands of Jalen Saunders fell into the arms of Landon Collins.
Instead of folding, OU came right back as Knight’s next pass was a 45-yard touchdown pass to LaColtan Bester as OU’s pace continued to fluster Alabama throughout the night.
“Throughout the bowl preparation we had the plan of going fast, putting in a few new wrinkles with the huddles there,” Knight said. “I felt when we came out from the very beginning it was working for us, and we kept going with it.”
Again and again. By the time halftime rolled around Knight had already throw for 206 yards and three touchdowns as the Sooners held a 31-17 lead at the break.
The OU offense stumbled in the third quarter, producing just 28 yards but woke up once again in the fourth quarter as Knight found Shepard for a 9-yd touchdown pass.
“The more snaps you get, the more comfortable you feel,” Knight said. “The more completions you get, the more comfortable you feel. And it’s all about just getting in that rhythm, hitting a few shots early and setting the tone for the game.”
Knight was able to spread the ball all night. Shepard had seven catches for 63 yards. Saunders added five catches for 75 yards and two touchdowns. Bester had six catches for 105 yards.
And then the defense carried the day. Eric Striker’s third sack of the night led to a fumble and touchdown recovery for Geneo Grissom as OU had seven sacks in the game.
“Oklahoma really outplayed us,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “And I really can’t blame it on the lack of focus.”
Stoops put himself out there earlier this year talking about the SEC conference and defending the Big 12 conference. In the Sugar Bowl, his players showed they had his back even if they were more than a two-touchdown underdog.
Never one to get too boastful, Stoops said what he felt after the game.
“I’m not going to expound on that,” Stoops said. “I won’t have to dodge any punches. I guess you could say that. But I would say, as I started off, I have the utmost respect for Alabama.
“And I think this shows that obviously we can play with anybody.”