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Oklahoma Downs Alabama in 80th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic, 45-31
Thursday, January 2, 2014
NEW ORLEANS - Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight threw four touchdown passes - including scoring strikes of eight and 43 yards to wide receiver Jalen Saunders - while the defense tallied seven sacks and forced four turnovers as the Sooners defeated Alabama, 45-31, in the 80th Annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Classic on Thursday evening in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Allstate Sugar Bowl Photo Gallery
Knight was named MVP after setting a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions and his four touchdown tosses equaled the bowl game's mark originally set by Florida State's Chris Weinke against Virginia Tech in 2000 and tied by Illinois' Kurt Kittner vs. LSU in 2002. With the win, Oklahoma improved to 11-2 on the year as the Sooners won their fifth Sugar Bowl in seven trips to the Crescent City. Alabama, meanwhile, wrapped up the 2013 season 11-2 to fall to 8-6 all-time in Sugar Bowl competition.
Alabama held a 17-14 lead 57 seconds into the second quarter, but Oklahoma ended the first half with 17 unanswered points to take control of the ballgame. The Crimson Tide made it a one-score game twice in the second half, at 31-24 with 8:49 to play in the third quarter and again at 38-31 with 6:22 to go in regulation. The Sooner defense however quieted any comeback bids as linebacker Eric Striker stripped Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron of the ball with a sack before defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped up the loose ball and rambled eight yards for what proved to be the final score with 44 seconds on the clock.
Grissom's scoop and score was one of three Oklahoma touchdowns to come following an Alabama turnover. Striker shared team-high tackle honors with fellow linebacker Frank Shannon at seven apiece, and led all players with Sugar Bowl record-tying 3.0 sacks. Gabe Lynn and Zack Sanchez both had interceptions for the Sooners while Grissom had a pair of fumble recoveries.
The day, however, belonged to Knight, who amassed 348 yards through the air while completing passes to nine different receivers. Sterling Shepard and Brenna Clay led the way with seven catches each and Lacoltan Bester paced Oklahoma with 105 receiving yards, including a 45-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter. Clay headlined the Oklahoma ground game with 44 yards on 17 carries.
Alabama came out of the gates red hot, taking the opening kickoff and marching 75-yards on four plays as running back T.J. Yeldon plunged in from one-yard out to stake the Crimson Tide to a 7-0 lead just under two minutes into the ballgame.
Following interceptions by both teams, Oklahoma capitalized on its forced turnover as Knight found a streaking Bester for a 45-yard scoring strike down the right sideline on the ensuing play from scrimmage to tie things up at 7-all.
Alabama responded with a six-play, 65-yard drive which Cade Foster capped with a 27-yard field goal only to see the Sooners methodically move the ball 78 yards on 13 plays as Knight connected with Saunders for an eight-yard touchdown strike to stake Oklahoma to a 14-10 lead with 1:53 to play in the opening quarter. The Crimson Tide reclaimed the lead momentarily with a 67-yard scoring pass from quarterback AJ McCarron to DeAndrew White before Oklahoma took control of the contest with its second-quarter onslaught.
The Sooners tied the game at 17-all on a 47-yard field goal off the toe of Michael Hunnicut with 11:45 to play before halftime and went ahead for good on a 43-yard toss from Knight to Saunders just less than 10 minutes later. The Oklahoma defense came up big on the ensuing drive as Sanchez stepped in front of a McCarron offering at the Sooner 44-yard line and ran it back all the way to the Alabama 13. One play later, wide receiver Shepard took an end-around handoff from Knight and broke free around the right end to make it a 31-17 game at the half.
Neither team could get much going early in the third quarter, but Alabama got a big play from reserve running back Derrick Henry, who bolted up the middle for a 43-yard touchdown to cut the Oklahoma lead to seven. Oklahoma, however, was far from done as the Sooners marched 76 yards on eight plays, including a 34-yard toss to Bester, and stretched the lead back to 14 on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Knight to Shepard. Alabama made things interesting as McCarron hit Henry for a 61-yard touchdown pass two possessions later, but that would be as close as the Tide would get the rest of the way.
McCarron finished the day 19-of-30 for 387 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Three hundred and one of his yards came in the first half. Amari Cooper led the Crimson Tide's aerial assault with nine catches (for 121 yards) and White led all players with 139 yards (on three receptions). Henry finished the day with a game-high 161 all-purpose yards after running seven times for 100 yards to go with his 61-yard touchdown grab. Defensive back Eddie Jackson paced the Alabama defense with 10 tackles.
[Story by Richie Weaver for the Allstate Sugar Bowl].