Oklahoma used big plays on offense and defense and kept Alabama in check in a 45-31 upset of the 3rd-ranked Crimson Tide to win the Sugar Bowl on Thursday night at the Superdome in New Orleans.
Alabama struck quickly at the start, going 75 yards in just 1:49 on a short T.J. Yeldon scoring run after a big 53 yard pass from A.J. McCarron to Amari Cooper.
But the Sooners showed they had some striking power themselves, when starting QB Trevor Knight just missed a wide-open Jalen Saunders on what would’ve been a TD pass, but the ball deflected off Saunders and Alabama got the interception.
However, McCarron threw an interception to the Sooners Gabe Lynn on the first play after Alabama’s oskie, and OU wasted no time in tying the score.
On the 1st play after the turnover, Knight threw a strike to LaColtan Bester for a 45 yard touchdown play and the game was tied 7-7.
Alabama kicked a short field goal for a 10-7 lead before the Sooners came up with perhaps their best drive of the season.
OU went 78 yards in 13 plays, taking up more than 5-minutes off the clock with Knight hitting Saunders from 8 yards out for the score and OU led 14-10 after the opening period.
In the quarter, OU had 161 total yards to 149 for Alabama and the Tide was held to just 18 yards rushing. The Sooners also converted 4-of-4 on 3rd down plays in the opening 15-minutes.
Alabama regained the lead early in the second quarter, with McCarron throwing deep to DeAndrew White for a 67-yard touchdown to put the Tide back on top, 17-14, with 14:03 to play in the first half.
OU’s defense helped them dominate the rest of the half.
The Sooners scored touchdowns on the first play of two possessions after Alabama turnovers.
Geneo Grissom recovered an Alabama fumble and rumbled 20 yards upfield before the last Crimson Tide player with a chance made a touchdown-saving tackle at the OU 35.
Knight then struck again, finding Saunders on a deep pass for a 43-yard touchdown, with Saunders making a great over-the-shoulder catch to give the Sooners a 24-17 lead with 2:59 to play in the first half.
On the next Alabama possession, McCarron didn’t handle an OU blitz and he threw it right to Sooners freshman CB Zach Sanchez, who returned the oskie 43 yards to the Tide 13 yard line.
On the very next play, Sooners WR Sterling Shepard raced 13 yards around right end for the shocking 31-17 lead and the pro-Alabama crowd inside the Superdome was absolutely shocked.
To top off the impressive first half, Alabama rolled down the field kicker Cade Foster was wide on a 32-yard FG try and the Sooners danced to the locker room with the lead…with massive applause from their delirious fans.
In the first half, OU scored 21 points off Alabama turnovers, more than the 20 the Crimson Tide had allowed all season off turnovers.
The Crimson Tide gave up 42 points in an early-season game to Texas A&M and 34 in their regular season finale, their lone loss to Auburn.
Other than that, Alabama hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in any one game this season.
And yet, OU never punted in the opening half and scored 30+ points in a 1st half for the first time since the West Virginia game in 2012.
OU’s 31 first half points were the most a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team has ever surrendered.
Oklahoma’s momentum didn’t last into the third quarter, and Alabama inched closer.
The Sooners had the ball on four possessions, and only gained 28 total yards as ‘Bama cut their 14-point halftime deficit in half on Derrick Henry’s 43 yard touchdown jaunt with 8:49 left in the period.
Early in the fourth quarter, the Sooners doubled their lead, with Knight passing to Bester for a gain of 34.
That set up the next Sooner touchdown, as Knight rolled right and spotted Shepard in the back of the end zone for a 9-yard touchdown to make it 38-24 Oklahoma with 10:44 to play.
Alabama got back within seven midway through the quarter, with McCarron dumping off a short pass to Henry, who zipped 61 yards through poor OU tackle attempts to cut the Sooner lead to 38-31 with 6:22 to play.
Oklahoma took over the ball and moved the ball downfield, converting a critical 3rd and 9 with a pass from Knight to Clay for a gain of 10 yards.
Knight found Roy Finch for a gain of 15, then Brennan Clay gained 12 yards on a run.
The Sooners then got a critical pass interference penalty on Alabama on 3rd and 8 that kept OU’s drive alive with just under 3 minutes to play.
OU’s drive stalled, though, and they had to punt to Alabama with just under a minute to play.
Alabama took over on their own 15-yard line, and on the first play of the drive, the Sooners clinched it.
Eric Striker rushed in from McCarron’s blindside, sacking him and knocking the ball loose.
Grissom scooped it up at the nine-yard line, and returned it, stretching the ball over the goal line for a touchdown with 47 seconds left to put Oklahoma on top 45-31, and sending the Sooner fans into delirium.
On the ensuing kickoff, a squib kick ricocheted off an Alabama player and OU recovered.
Trevor Knight took a knee on the final play and the Sooners had won 45-31, for their first Sugar Bowl win since 1972.