No one gave Oklahoma a chance to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. No one except a small section of the OU faithful, and the players that would actually play the game.
Turns out, those are the only ones whose opinion matters. The Sooners punched the Crimson Tide in the mouth in the first half and then hit them with the knockout punch in the fourth quarter in a stunning, 45-31 victory in the Sugar Bowl.
Not only was the win especially sweet in the present, but it painted an exciting picture for the future of the Oklahoma program. Nothing did this more than the performance of redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight.
Coming into the game, no one outside the Oklahoma locker room knew who would start at quarterback for the Sooners. OU coach Bob Stoops kept his cards close to his chest, but when the Sooners trotted out on offense for the first time Thursday night, it was Knight who lined up behind center.
Knight made Stoops and the offensive coaching staff look like geniuses, throwing for 348 yards on 32-of-44 attempts with four touchdowns. All this against an Alabama defense many considered the best in the country.
The Sooners came into Thursday night's game with absolutely nothing to lose and played like it in the first half. Oklahoma held nothing back, particularly on offense, where the OU coaching staff probably had to go to the archives to dig out some of the plays OU ran against the Tide.
Everything was on the table. Reverses, screens, lots of different formations, you name it. The Oklahoma offense did it in the first half, bamboozling the Crimson Tide to the tune of 31 points and 270 first half yards. Yet the beginning was less than ideal for the Sooners.
Alabama came out quickly, scoring a touchdown on their opening possession, covering 75 yards in just four plays. On the Sooners' opening possession, Knight was intercepted by Landon Collins off a tipped pass to Jalen Saunders. It looked like everyone's prediction of a Bama blowout would come to fruition.
However, Gabe Lynn intercepted AJ McCarron's first pass on the ensuing possession and on the very next play, Knight hit Lacoltan Bester for a 45-yard touchdown to tie the score.
Minus a 67-yard touchdown pass from McCarron to DeAndrew White to start the second quarter, the first half belonged to the Sooners. Beginning with the touchdown pass to Bester, the Sooners scored on five consecutive possessions, three of those coming on touchdown passes from Knight. The Sooners also forced two more turnovers, one a T.J. Yeldon fumble that came inside the OU 10-yard line.
The biggest scores came at the end of the first half and put all the momentum in favor of OU. After converting a 4th-and-1 just past midfield, Knight hit Saunders with a 43-yard bomb to put Oklahoma up 24-17. On the next Alabama possession, Zach Sanchez—who had a wild, up-and-down night—picked off McCarron and returned it to the 13-yard line. On the next play, Shepard took an end-around handoff from Knight and wound his way to the end zone, sending the OU fans into hysterics.
After the half, OU struggled to maintain the momentum gained in the first two quarters, punting on their first four possessions while gaining just a single first down and going three-and-out on three of those possessions. Meanwhile, Alabama worked its way back within a single score, thanks to the legs of running back Derrick Henry. Henry's 43-yard score with 8:49 in the third made the score 31-24, and it seemed only a matter of time before the Tide took control.
However, the Oklahoma defense stiffened, particularly in the passing game. McCarron had 320 yards passing through three quarters, but had just 67 yards in the fourth quarter and was sacked seven times for the game.
The Sooners finally got things rolling on offense during the first possession of the fourth quarter, but several penalties left them with a 1st –and-30 situation. After whittling it to 3rd-and-15, Knight again hit Bester for 34 yards to the Alabama 9-yard line. Two plays later, Knight escaped pressure and threw across his body to Sterling Shepard for the touchdown to extend the OU lead to 38-24.
Alabama and Henry weren't done yet. The big back took a screen pass from McCarron and weaved his way through several feeble OU tackle attempts and dashed 61 yards to cut the lead to one score again with just over six minutes remaining. Henry finished the game with 100 rushing yards on eight carries to go with his 61-yard touchdown reception.
With the game on the line, the Sooners were able to take 5:26 off the clock, aided by a key pass interference penalty on 3rd-and-eight that gave the Sooners a first down. The Sooners had to punt, but gave Alabama just 56 seconds to go 82 yards for the tie.
On first down, Eric Striker got around Alabama left tackle Cyrus Kouandijio and sacked McCarron while forcing a fumble. Geneo Grissom picked up the ball and fell into the end zone to cap the improbable OU victory.
There won't be any talk of Alabama coming out flat or unmotivated in this one. The Sooners just flat-out beat the Crimson Tide and now, the future looks suddenly bright in Norman.