NEW ORLEANS – Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops declined to announce a starting quarterback before the Sugar Bowl, and when freshman Trevor Knight took the field on the Sooners’ first possession, Alabama’s defenders couldn’t have anticipated what was in store.
Knight completed a Sugar Bowl-record 32 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns, and No. 11 Oklahoma took down third-ranked Alabama 45-31 on Thursday night.
Knight’s completion percentage entering the game was 52.2. He had completed 47 passes all season, before a breakout performance in which two of his TDs went for more than 40 yards.
Oklahoma (11-2) needed him to play that well in the 80th Sugar Bowl, the first in which quarterbacks for both teams threw for more than 300 yards.
The victory was a sweet one for Stoops, who last offseason called talk about the Southeastern Conference being the best league in college football “propaganda.”
His Big 12 team vanquished an Alabama (11-2) squad that had been ranked No. 1 much of the past three seasons, winning the previous two national titles before its shot at a third straight was derailed by Auburn on the last play last month in the Iron Bowl.
AJ McCarron passed for 387 yards and two TDs, but his two interceptions set up Oklahoma TDs, and his fumble, returned for a score in the final minute, sealed Alabama’s first two-game skid since its Sugar Bowl loss to Utah in January 2009. McCarron, meanwhile, lost his last two starts after going 36-2 before those games.
Freshman Derrick Henry’s 43-yard run in the third quarter pulled Alabama to 31-24.
The Crimson Tide defense forced four punts while giving up one first down in the third quarter.
But Alabama was unable to add another score before the Sooners starting moving the ball again early in the final quarter.
Knight lofted a perfect pass to Lacoltan Bester for a 34-yard gain to the Alabama 9.
Shortly after, Knight rolled left all the way to the sideline before rifling a touchdown strike to Sterling Shepard, making it a two-touchdown game again with 10:44 left.
Henry, a 6-foot-3, 238-pound true freshman, pulled Alabama back within a score once more when he turned his first career completion into a tackle-shedding 61-yard TD with 6:22 still to go.
But Oklahoma was able to burn several minutes off the clock, and then Oklahoma registered its seventh sack when Eric Striker stripped McCarron, and Geneo Grissom returned it 8 yards for a score.
Both teams entered the Sugar Bowl with defenses ranked in the top 15 nationally.
Quarterback play dominated a first half highlighted by five passing plays of 43 yards or longer, three of which went for scores.
But McCarron threw two interceptions twice, each time setting up Sooners TDs on the next play.
McCarron’s second interception, snagged by Zack Sanchez and returned to the 13, set up Shepard’s 13-yard score around the right end, giving the Sooners a 31-17 lead.
The Tide drove into field-goal range in the final minute of the half, but Foster missed a 32-yarder, leaving Oklahoma with two-TD lead at halftime.