New Orleans – Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops could finally talk in detail about what this season was like. All the injuries that happened. Once the Sooners thought they had adjusted, another one would pop up to force a readjustment.
And with most of the country laughing at OU's battle with 17-point favorite Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl, Stoops had one more adjustment up his sleeve.
A pressuring defense combined with an uptempo offense with a lot of movement gave the Crimson Tide fits all night as OU pulled out a 45-31 upset victory.
Upset victory on paper but certainly not to those who wear the crimson and cream.
"I feel that's our team this year," redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight said. "We had guys step up all year. It's very easy when you're not playing, sitting on the sideline, to put your head down. But that shows that our team – that we just stayed the course.
"We kept battling every day at practice so when it was our time to shine, we could go out and do that."
The injuries have been well chronicled with the loss of senior team captains like Trey Millard and Corey Nelson and the absence of defensive tackle Jordan Phillips was felt throughout the second half of the season.
But the Sugar Bowl gave another challenge and this time it was with the offensive line. Two starters were out, and guard Dionte Savage made his first start of his career as usual guard Bronson Irwin moved to right tackle.
"At practice all you see guys doing, it's like musical chairs," Stoops said. "Bronson goes to guard, someone comes in for him, he goes to tackle. They just move around every series in practice. And Coach (Bill) Bedenbaugh did an incredible job keeping those guys together."
Despite the musical chairs lineup, OU was physical at the point of attack and protected Knight to give him time to make things happen. The Sooners accumulated 429 yards of total offense and only gave up one sack. Conversely, the Sooners were able to get to star quarterback A.J. McCarron seven times for 54 yards in sacks.
Following OU's loss to Baylor, many people had written off this edition of the Sooners. Stoops never did and neither did his players. He said with the inexperience and injuries, you're not going to go through undefeated every time.
And when the Sugar Bowl matchup was announced, a lot of people expected a cakewalk for Alabama, who many people still believed was the best team in the country.
"We've won some games around here," Stoops said. "We played how we expected to play, to be quite honest. We have a lot of confidence in what we do, too."
Nobody exuded that confidence more than Knight. He threw for a career-high 348 yards and four touchdowns while completing 32 of his 44 passes.
Some saw this as a measuring stick game for the program, but the Sooners never felt that way 100 percent. The reason being OU has always known who it is as a program and has always believed it was there with the Tide to begin with.
"When you have that OU on the jersey, you get measured every single week," co-offensive coordinator Josh Heupel said. "A win like this with the way we played, though, speaks volumes for where we are as a program."
With all the talent coming back, there's no reason to believe the Sugar Bowl wasn't just a taste of what's to come.
"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 recruiting class we've got coming, 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," Stoops said.