38th Annual Sugar Bowl Classic ~ January 1, 1972


#3 Oklahoma 40 (Final: 11-1-0, #2)
#5 Auburn 22 (Final: 9-2-0, #12)


How Oklahoma and Auburn Met in the 1972 Sugar Bowl

This should have been a spectacle.

Oklahoma, averaging 566 yards a game in a 10-1 season, was the most efficient offense in NCAA history.  The Sooners were so potent they punted only 26 times in those 11 games.  Auburn was no slouch either, averaging 393 yards.

Whereas Oklahoma inflicted most of its damage on the ground, with its devastating wishbone offense, the Tigers were air-minded.  Quarterback Pat Sullivan passed for 2,012 yards and 20 touchdowns that season, and Terry Beasley, a superb receiver, caught 12 of those TD passes.

If the luster of a 9-1 record was smudged by the 31-7 defeat to Alabama, Auburn coach Ralph "Shug" Jordan expected that to be a psychological weapon for the Sugar Bowl.  "We have a chance to redeem ourselves," said Jordan, whose team was a 10 point underdog. 

But there would be no redemption for Auburn, and only Oklahoma was spectacular.

Like the 1971 Tennessee-Air Force game, the suspense in the 1972 Sugar Bowl ended shortly after the coin toss.

On the night's first play from scrimmage, quarterback Jack Mildren gained 17 yards on a keeper and the Sooners, as they say, never looked back.

On the 13th play of the 77-yard drive, six minutes removed from the kickoff, Leon Crosswhite scored from the 4.

Sullivan misplaced a handoff onto the hip of a tailback, and Ray Hamilton recovered for Oklahoma on the Auburn 41.  In eight plays, with the OU offense humming near-perfectly, the Sooners were back in the end zone.  Faking to Crosswhite, who took the Tiger defense with him, Mildren went in from the 5.  John Carroll, who missed the first, made the PAT to lift the score to 13-0.

Joe Wylie was the next Sooner to touch the ball.  David Beverly punted to Wylie at the Oklahoma 29.  Joe gathered in the kick, slipped through two onrushing Tigers and headed down the right sideline.  Mark Driscoll chopped down the last man with a chance of catching the runner, and Wyle skipped into the end zone.

"It was as if we had put it on the drawing board," Wylie laughed.  "It was perfect...I ducked behind the wall. I thought I could go all the way when the wall formed."

As nobody could catch Wylie, at this point, with a three-touchdown lead and the first quarter not even over, nobody was going to catch Oklahoma either - despite the Sooners missing on five after-touchdown conversions.

"I just started playing bad," Sullivan offered afterward.  "As big and strong as they were, I knew they were going to score a lot, and we were just going to have to out-score them.  We just weren't able to."

There were many reasons why things got out of hand for Auburn.  Sullivan may have found the best one when he sighed, "If there is a team in the country better than Oklahoma, I'm sure glad we don't have to play them."

The only balm for Auburn was the Orange Bowl.  Alabama played a better team than Oklahoma and Nebraska ground up the Crimson Tide in another game that was over pretty quickly.

Recap excerpted from the book "Sugar Bowl Classic: A History" by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

 

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