By John Shinn
The Norman Transcript
NEW ORLEANS — Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops turned into a punching bag for SEC loyalists starting last summer when he said he was tired of hearing propaganda about the league.
Stoops initially said he didn’t want to go into it again following Thursday night’s 45-31 victory over Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. But he couldn’t resist.
“I won’t have to dodge any punches, I guess you could say that,” he said. “But I would say, as I started off, I have the utmost respect for Alabama. And I think this shows that obviously we can play with anybody. So, enough of that.
“And I just watched them go through their entire conference and play pretty well. And, again, I admire the way they play, I really do, and Coach Saban and the way they do things. I’m not pointing any fingers, but I think sometimes the comparisons aren’t necessarily very true.”
The Sooners will face another SEC opponent — Tennessee — on Sept. 13 at Owen Field.
Short memory: OU cornerback Zach Sanchez was burned several times on missed tackles on Alabama’s initial drives. However, the redshirt freshman cornerback came up with one of the biggest plays of the game.
His interception of McCarron late in the first half set up Sterling Shepard’s 13-yard touchdown run with 65 seconds left before intermission that gave up a two-touchdown lead.
“There’s another redshirt freshman out there competing,” Stoops said. “You have to have a short memory in the secondary if you’re going to play the whole game. And he had his opportunity. He jumped it and had a great return with it.
“So you play out there long enough over an 80-play game, in the secondary, you’re going to have some plays on you. So you just gotta fight back and make yours on some third downs, fourth downs, or come up with a pick here or there and a key deflection, and they did that.”
Special Teams: The Sooners had one defined edge over Alabama heading into the Sugar Bowl: kicker Michael Hunnicutt. It turned out to be a major difference as Hunnicutt connected on a 47-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter. Alabama’s Cade Foster missed a 32-yard attempt as time expired in the first half.
“That was a big difference in the game,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.
Tight end involvement: Tight ends had only been a tiny sliver of OU’s offense this season. However, Brannon Green and Taylor McNamara were both involved in the passing game Thursday. Green had a critical 13-yard first down catch in the third quarter. McNamara had a 4-yard grab — his first of the season — in the first quarter.
“I feel that’s our team this year,” OU quarterback Trevor Knight said. “We had guys step up all year. It’s very easy when you’re not playing, sitting on the sideline, to put your head down. But that shows that our team, quarterback position and every position, that we just stayed the course. We kept battling every day at practice.
“So when it was our time to shine, we could go out and do that.”
Record day: Knight’s four touchdown passes matched the Sugar Bowl record and outside linebacker Eric Striker matched the sack record with three. Also Knight, witch 348 passing yards and Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron (387) became the first opposing quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards in Sugar Bowl history.
Familiar spot: Thursday’s Sugar Bowl marked OU’s seventh appearance in the game. It’s the most of any non-SEC school. Alabama made its record 14th appearance.
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