Oklahoma, Knight take down Alabama in Sugar Bowl
NEW ORLEANS — No one saw this coming.
No one outside the Oklahoma huddle, anyway, or maybe a few of the ones who never take their crimson colored glasses off. Past that, this scenario was unprecedented and certainly unexpected.
Yeah, the Sugar Bowl was all of that, too.
Thursday night in New Orleans may have been the finest, single moment from Bob Stoops, but this season was his masterpiece, an 11-2 work of some extreme abstract art, no one really could understand or interpret. And the only thing that makes perfect sense to a 2013 season of unpredictability, scattered and disconnected, was a 45-31 Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama where the Sooners were every bit the same.
The Sugar Bowl was a shock, but the season was a surprise. No one saw this, expected it or could have predicted, not after August started with uncertainty and September began with speculation.
Oklahoma switched quarterbacks and switched offenses, from Trevor Knight to Blake Bell, back to Knight again and then needing Bell to win a last-second game at Oklahoma State. OU won at Notre Dame and fell apart against Texas. Blown away by Baylor only to rally with road wins against Kansas State and then the Cowboys.
All the oddball and all the strange goes to Oklahoma. Because of it, the Sooners shocked Alabama and the result of it means OU has solved its quarterback issues and will start September ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 in the nation.
But that’s for later.
Oklahoma did things this season, Stoops had never done in his career at Oklahoma, fidgeting around with the quarterback spot constantly, even switching the defensive scheme before the year started. They went from a zone-read, back to its standard passing game it has used in the past and then to a hybrid of both.
Then against Alabama, Stoops did things he hadn’t done all year.
Quarterback Trevor Knight, who by all accounts is the running quarterback, came out passing against Alabama. He threw for 348 yards and four touchdowns. He completed 32-of-44 passes. Knight had never completed more than 15 in a game and didn’t complete 50 percent of his passes combined in starts against Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia. This was his, "Star is born" moment.
"We had the plan of putting in a few new wrinkles," Knight said. "We felt like it was working for us. Hats off to our guys for executing that plan. Things were just clicking tonight."
Wrinkles? More like deep crevices, wrapped in enigma, mystery and secret sauce. OU threw to tight end Taylor McNamara for the first time this season. Running back Keith Ford played for the first time in more than a month. Receiver Sterling Shepard lined up in the backfield on a number of plays. Instead of relying on the run, like conventional wisdom says was necessary to beat Alabama, the Sooners went with the pass – 348 yards vs. 81 yards.
"I feel like that’s our team," Knight said. "We’ve had guys step up all year. The quarterback position and every position."
A year ago, Knight was playing the part of Johnny Manziel in Cotton Bowl practices, trying to give the Sooners a feel for the Heisman winner and the Texas A&M offense. Thursday, Knight did Manziel even better, only for real, scrambling, running wide, extending a play where he finally found Shepard for a 9-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter where the Superdome was shaking and Bama had the momentum. It gave OU a 14-point lead and enough space.
All the weird goes to OU. The Sooners gave up a score less than 2 minutes into the game and it looked like furious Alabama anger was about to let loose. OU had 28 yards of total offense in the third quarter. The Sooner picked up a first-and-30 situation in the fourth quarter, scored 31 in the first half on an Alabama team that had given up 52 points total this season in the first half.
A defensive line that was mixed and matched, like the quarterback position all season, was at its best Thursday. Geneo Grissom couldn’t tackle Manziel a season ago in the Cotton Bowl meltdown. Against Alabama, he had two sacks, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown. Seven sacks in all for the Sooner defense.
"I would say, I have the utmost respect for Alabama," Stoops said. "This shows we can play with anybody. Enough of that."
What Thursday showed was a canvas of what Oklahoma did all season. It showed Oklahoma wasn’t too proud to make changes and wasn’t stagnant enough to do what was expected. Outside of Florida State and Auburn, who are playing for the title, no team had more to gain in this bowl season than Oklahoma.
So the Sooners played like they had nothing to lose.
"Everyone has something to prove when they play Alabama," Tide coach Nick Saban said.
Oklahoma proved a lot Thursday. No one saw it coming.
Then again, no one saw anything from 2013 coming.
Follow Andrew Gilman on Twitter: @andrewgilmanOK