Alabama loses 45-31 to Oklahoma in Sugar Bowl
NEW ORLEANS (AP)
AJ McCarron got up slowly and walked alone to the sideline with the full weight of another dispiriting loss weighing him down.
In a painful twist, McCarron ended his illustrious college career by losing twice in a row after going 36-2 in his first 38 games at Alabama. Oklahoma, a 17-point underdog, scored two touchdowns off his interceptions in the first half before capping the upset by returning his third turnover for a score.
''You put it all on me,'' a disconsolate McCarron said. ''I had two turnovers, they ended up scoring 14 points, and we lost by 14. You know, it's football. It happens. I'll definitely take the loss and definitely take the blame, because a lot of it is probably my fault.''
History repeated itself in the worst possible way for Alabama (11-2), which followed a stunning, last-play loss to rival Auburn with a disheartening defeat in the Superdome. It was strikingly similar to what happened in 2008, when the undefeated Crimson Tide lost to Florida in the SEC championship game and followed with a flat performance against Utah in the Sugar Bowl, losing 31-17.
Alabama had not lost two in a row since, winning BCS championships in 2009, 2011 and 2012 before coming oh-so-close to a shot at an unprecedented third consecutive national title this season.
Wide receiver Kevin Norwood immediately jumped to McCarron's defense after the quarterback pointed the finger at himself, saying it was not a one-man game and everyone could have helped him out more. The Crimson Tide had plenty of blame to go around despite outgaining the Sooners 516-429, getting 387 yards passing from McCarron and a combined 162 yards rushing and receiving from true freshman running back Derrick Henry.
Oklahoma redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, who had completed 47 passes all season, set a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions in 44 attempts for 348 yards and four touchdowns. His scoring strikes included passes of 45 yards to Lacoltan Bester, 43 yards to Jalen Saunders and 9 yards to Sterling Shepard after the Sooners overcame a first-and-30 situation.
Oklahoma (11-2) rolled up 270 yards in the first half, when neither team punted, converting on its first five third-down opportunities.
''We didn't play very well on defense in the first half,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ''We didn't get off the field in third-and-long three or four times, which were critical factors in the game.''
Alabama hung around with a series of big plays and Henry's unexpected brilliance. After carrying only 27 times in the regular season, he moved up to second string with good bowl practices and rushed for 100 yards on eight attempts against Oklahoma. His 43-yard touchdown run in the third quarter cut the Tide's deficit to 31-24, and his 61-yard score after a short reception in the fourth brought Alabama to 38-31.
The Tide got no closer.
Knight's fourth touchdown pass extended the advantage to 38-24 with 10:44 left.
Oklahoma picked up four first downs after Henry's last touchdown, forcing Alabama to use all its timeouts before punting the ball back to the Tide with 56 seconds left.
Needing more than 80 yards for the tying score, McCarron fumbled when he was sacked from behind on the next play.
Alabama's four turnovers, which included T.J. Yeldon's fumble inside the Oklahoma 10 when the score was tied at 17 in the second quarter, proved too much to overcome. The Crimson Tide had committed only 12 turnovers in 12 regular-season games.
''We created a lot of the adversity that we faced ourselves,'' said Saban, who rejected the notion that Alabama had not recovered from its loss to Auburn. ''I thought the players responded in practice pretty well for this game. We put over 500 yards of offense up. Somebody had to be doing something right.''
Unlike against Utah in 2009, Alabama did not fall into an immediate 21-0 hole. The Crimson Tide took its only lead with a four-play, 75-yard drive to start the game, scoring in 109 seconds and getting an interception on Oklahoma's first series.
McCarron gave the ball right back with his first interception, though, and Oklahoma tied the score on Knight's long pass to Bester.
''You've got to give Oklahoma a lot of credit,'' Saban said. ''They were fired up and ready to play, like most teams we play. Everybody's got something to prove when they play against Alabama.''