Alabama talks about winning as a team, which sometimes is true. And when Alabama loses, it makes sure to insist that “We lose as a team,” whether it’s true or not. Against Oklahoma it was true. Offense, defense, special teams, and probably some coaching decisions.
Most notable, Alabama was far too generous as Oklahoma scored four touchdowns after Alabama turnovers as the Sooners won the Sugar Bowl, 45-31, in the Louisiana Superdome Thursday night.
Turnovers/takeaways are considered critical to football success. Oklahoma intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles – one for a touchdown – while Bama had one interception and did not recover a fumble.
Although Alabama Coach Nick Saban has said in the past that sacks are not important, the Tide was able to affect the quarterback at times, but not stop Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight. Bama got one sack. On the other side, the Tide’s A.J. McCarron was sacked seven times for 54 yards in losses, the last one resulted in a fumble and Oklahoma touchdown that put the final nail in the coffin in the fading seconds.
Knight completed 32 of 44 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns and was named the game’s most valuable player.
McCarron had a big statistical game, completing 19 of 30 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns, but no one would suggest it was his best game.
Freshman Derrick Henry was the leading rusher in the game with eight carries for 100 yards. The only other tailback used by Bama was starter T.J. Yeldon, who had 17 carries for 72 yards, but gave up a costly fumble inside the Oklahoma 10-yard line.
Amari Cooper was Bama’s leading receiver with nine catches for 121 yards, while DeAndrew White had three catches for 139 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown.
Oklahoma had only 81 rushing yards on 30 attempts, while Alabama had 35 carries for only 129 yards (because 54 yards in sacks are factored into rushing yards).
Oklahoma had 24 first downs to 20 for Alabama. The Sooners had total offense of 74 plays for 429 yards, while the Tide had 65 plays for 516 yards.
A few years ago, Oklahoma sent its defensive staff to Alabama to get hints on the 3-4 defense that is the Crimson Tide’s base scheme. Today the question is where should Bama’s defensive staff go to learn about defending the hurry up offense.
The big question prior to the Sugar Bowl was whether Alabama would be able to get over its poor play in a regular season ending loss to Auburn. Not only did Bama seem not to be over the poor play, it continued in spades in the first half as the Tide fell behind by 31-17. Alabama threw two pass interceptions that led to next play touchdowns for Oklahoma and had a fumble that cost what appeared to be a sure touchdown drive, and which was returned deep and led to another first half touchdown by the Sooners.
The special teams were not without fault. Bama missed a chip shot field goal at the end of the first half that could have been meaningful and the Tide had penalties that wiped out a long punt return to inside the Oklahoma 10-yard line. The final indignity for Alabama was the Sooners recovering an onside kick in the final seconds of the game.
Alabama certainly appeared ready to play with the first possession. McCarron hit back-to-back passes to Amari Cooper for 15 and 53 yards, setting up a first-and-goal at the Sooners six, and Yeldon took it in on his second carry. The four-play, 75-yard drive took only 1:49. Cade Foster kicked it to 7-0.
Things looked bright when the first Oklahoma drive ended with Landon Collins making a diving interception on a ball off the hands of Jalen Saunders. But the Tide wasn’t as opportunistic as the Sooners with its takeaway. In fact, McCarron gave it right back with an overthrow that was intercepted by Gabe Lynn at the Tide 45.
The Tide ploy was understandable. Many teams go for the home run right after getting a turnover. In fact, Oklahoma did. On first down, Trevor Knight hit Lacolton Bester who took it in for the touchdown. Michael Hunnicutt’s PAT tied the game at 7-7 barely five minutes into the contest.
McCarron had another big pass play, hitting Christion Jones on the left side and Jones taking it to the Oklahoma 10. Three plays, though, followed by a false start penalty and it was still goal-to-go on fourth down. Foster kicked Alabama to a 10-7 lead with a 27-yard field goal.
Alabama’s defense was rudely introduced to the Oklahoma version of the no huddle tempo offense as the Sooners went on a 13-play, five-minute, 78-yard touchdown drive to take the lead at 14-10. The Sooners had only two third down plays in the drive, Knight scrambling for 10 and a first down to the Alabama 13 on a third-and-10 and Knight hitting Bester from the eight on third-and-five.
Derrick Henry, who was Bama’s second tailback in the game, got the next Tide drive started with a couple of runs for a first down, but McCarron was sacked as the first quarter ended, leaving the Tide facing second and 17. But McCarron hit DeAndrew White for nine yards and then found DeAndrew White behind the secondary. White pulled the ball in at the 30 and took it in to complete the 67-yard touchdown and give Bama the 17-14 lead.
Oklahoma settled for a game-tying field goal on its next possession.
Bama followed with a very nice drive...for as long as it lasted. Yeldon followed a nice Jalston Fowler block for a 16-yard gain and McCarron had a 16-yard pass to Cooper. The Tide moved to a third-and-one at the Oklahoma 11 and Yeldon easily had the first down on his next run. What he didn’t have was the ball when he finally went down.
The ball squirted loose and was picked up by Geneo Grissom, who was finally run down by O.J. Howard to save a touchdown. Temporarily. Starting at its own 34, the Sooners moved to the Tide 43 and then Knight found Saunders on a touchdown pass. With 2:59 to play in the half, the Tide was down by 24-17.
It would get worse.
First, McCarron had a pass picked off by Zack Sanchez and returned to the Tide 13. On first down the Sooners had their second one-play touchdown after intercepting McCarron. Wide receiver Sterling Shepherd went untouched around right end on a jet sweep. It was 31-17.
Alabama had a chance to score on the final play of the half, but Foster’s 32-yard field goal attempt was wide right.
Neither team punted in the first half. Both punted on first possessions in the second half with Alabama self-destructing on both its punt return – Christion Jones’s long return to inside the Oklahoma 10 was wiped out by penalties and the Tide’s second-and-two situation was sabatoged by a false start.
But while Alabama forced a second punt on the Sooners’s second possession, Alabama’s offense went to work. A poor punt helped the Tide start on the Tide’s 40. McCarron hit a short pass, Yeldon had a short run, and then Henry went off right guard, veered to the right, and went 48 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter to pull the Tide to within a touchdown at Oklahoma 31, Alabama 24.
Alabama also forced Oklahoma punts on the Sooners’s third and fourth possessions and had the ball in good field position, but failed to capitalize on either opportunity as the fourth quarter got underway. Sacks on McCarron were big factors in the failures.
On a discouraging night, it may be the most discouraging time for Alabama came early in the fourth quarter. Oklahoma mistakes, including an offensive pass interference call, put the Sooners in a fist-and-30 situation at the OU 42. Two plays got back half of it. On third-and-15, Knight hit Bester for a first down at the Alabama 9. Two plays later Knight was pressured, but managed to get off a pass and find Sterling Shepherd in the end zone for a 38-24 lead.
Although the fight seemed to be gone from Bama – the next possession was a sack and a throw-away under pressure around a short gain – the Tide did fight back.
With 6:22 to play, the Tide pulled to within a touchdown when Henry took a swing pass, broke tackles at the line and downfield, and went 61 yards for a touchdown to cut the Oklahoma lead to 38-31.
Oklahoma got a holding penalty on the ensuing kickoff return and had to start at its 12 yard line. Knight delivered a 10-yard pass on third-and-nine. And from there the Sooners marched against the Alabama defense, mixing runs and passes, moving the ball and forcing Bama to use its final timeouts. The Tide didn’t get the drive stopped until Oklahoma had moved to the Alabama 46 and used up all but 56 seconds of playing time.
On first down, without a blitz, the Oklahoma rush got to McCarron and forced a fumble. Grissom picked up his second fumble of the night at the eight and took it in for a clinching score.
Eddie Jackson, who had seemingly fallen out of favor after some early season success, was back as a starter at cornerback and led Bama with 10 tackles. Safety Landon Collins had nine tackles and an interception.