The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Sports

January 3, 2014

Sooners get the last laugh

ENID, Okla. — The swagger is back in Oklahoma’s football program.

Forget the losses to Baylor and Texas, the legacy of the Sooners’ 2013 team changed overnight with a 45-31 win over defending national champion Alabama.

Arguably, it’s the second biggest win in the Bob Stoops era, next to the 13-2 win over Florida State in the 2001 Orange Bowl (a.k.a. BCS National Championship.)

It might have been even sweeter to a degree, being it was Alabama, the program which was supposed to blow OU off the field, from the so-called powerful Southeastern Conference.

ESPN was practically Alabama cheerleaders before the game, downgrading the Sooners.

Lou Holtz was the kindest, saying Alabama was going to win 35-21, noting OU did have a chance.

Mark May predicted a 48-10 blowout.

Brian Griese, from the Orange Bowl, said the Tide would crush the Sooners 38-10.

One Oklahoma City sports talk station was running a promo of an announcer saying Blake Bell would be in the game flinging passes in the second half because the Sooners would be so far behind.

Of course, 13 years ago people were saying Florida State was going to be doing the same things to the Sooners — one show almost was demanding a rematch of one-loss Florida State and Miami over the unbeaten Sooners.

ESPN was giving OU coach Bob Stoops a backhanded compliment, saying this was the ninth BCS bowl he was going to, but his record was 3-5 and 1-4 against the SEC in bowls (lone win being over Arkansas in the 2002 Cotton Bowl).

OU has been its best under Stoops when it’s playing with a chip on its shoulder. Remember, many were saying the Sooners would be going 8-5 after losing to Baylor 41-12.

Instead, OU finished at 11-2 with strong road wins at Kansas State (41-31) and Oklahoma State (where OU was a double-digit underdog).

Of course, the Sooners were a double-digit favorite against Texas and lost 36-20. One will always shake their head about how the Sooners could beat Alabama and lose to a Longhorn team that was embarrassed by Oregon in the Alamo Bowl.

Everyone said Alabama’s offensive line would dominate the Sooners’ front seven. OU, though, would get seven sacks against a team that had allowed only 10 throughout the season.

Undersized Eric Striker, who was supposed to be too small to attack the Tide, had three sacks and seven solo tackles. As ESPN’s Brad Nesler said before the game, Striker was living up to his name.  

The Sooners, who forced only 20 turnovers in the regular season, forced five against the Crimson Tide.

Those 12 plays were able to offset an impressive performance by Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron (19 of 30 for 387 yards and two touchdowns) and Derrick Henry, who rushed for 108 yards on only eight carries and caught a 61-yard touchdown pass.

OU’s offensive line, which had only one original starter (center Gabe Ikard) in his opening day position, kept the Alabama front seven off Trevor Knight, who was sacked only once. That the line played so well is a tribute to Ikard’s leadership. In his 53 years of following OU football, there might not a better gentleman and a scholar to play for the Sooners than Ikard.

Knight might have shocked the world by hitting 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He carved up the Alabama defense like his mentor (offensive coordinator Josh Heupel) did for the 2000 national championship team. He hit nine different receivers as OU was 7 of 15 in third down conversions.

The key for OU was supposedly how it ran the ball. The Tide shut down the running game (81 yards on 30 carries), but Knight’s arm took care of the Tide just fine. There was no mention of how strong SEC defenses were on the ESPN broadcast.

This should be the ultimate tribute to Knight’s character, who refused to let the adversity of losing his starting job in the third week of the season get him down.

One might have thought the game was going to be a rout when Alabama went 75 yards on four plays to score on its first possession and Knight threw an interception in OU’s first series.

But the Sooners stepped up and made big play after big play. They scored 14 points in the first period — a quarter they had scored only 47 points this season. They had 31 points at halftime — the Sooners’ best offensive output of the season.

Think of this how many programs can say they beat Notre Dame (on the road) and Alabama in the same season.

That might have been better than winning the Big 12 this season. How much momentum or excitement would a win over Central Florida have made for the OU program? A loss would have even more of an negative effect than last year’s  41-13 loss to Texas A&M.

ESPN made the point over and over again OU hasn’t been revelant in the national championship picture for several years (2008).

It’s a much-needed shot in the arm for the Big 12, which took a big hit when Central Florida dominated Baylor. It’s funny how many times double digit underdogs win bowl games — remember 1978 Orange Bowl (Arkansas 31, OU 6) or this year’s Holiday Bowl — Texas Tech 37, Arizona State 23.

The upset of Alabama makes OU revelant again for sure. The Sooners played their best football the last three games of the season (K-State, OSU and Alabama).

For one night, “It’s hard to be humble when you’re a Sooner.’’ OU fans laugh at the ESPN “experts.’’

Campbell is a News & Eagle sports writer.

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