Sugar Bowl 2014: 10 Things We Learned from Oklahoma vs. Alabama
In perhaps the biggest shock of the bowl season to date, Oklahoma blitzed two-time defending national champion Alabama en route to a 45-31 win in the 2014 Sugar Bowl.
Oklahoma unleashed freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, who threw for a career-high 348 yards and four touchdowns.
Nick Saban’s club had three first-half turnovers that led directly to 21 points for the Sooners and effectively put the Tide in a hole they would be unable to climb out of.
What are the main takeaways for Tide and Sooners fans from the 2014 Sugar Bowl?
10. Tide WR Duo Goes off
One of the bright spots for Alabama was the strong play from receivers Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White, both of whom topped 100 yards receiving against the Sooners.
Cooper hauled in nine passes for 121 yards, and White caught three passes for 139 yards—including a 67-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter.
While the Tide will have to replace McCarron, getting established playmakers like Cooper and White back next season will help to ease the transition for the Tide’s new starting quarterback.
9. Oklahoma's Aggressive Offensive Approach Puts Bama on Its Heels
Trevor Knight entered the game against Alabama having passed for fewer than 800 yards in seven games, with only five touchdown passes to his credit.
That’s a stark contrast to the high-powered offenses piloted by record-setting quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Landry Jones in recent years.
While there was a bit of mystery in figuring out which of the Sooners' three quarterbacks would see the majority of the action against Alabama, Oklahoma co-offensive coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell put together a game plan that called for Knight to be aggressive and decisive passing the ball.
8. Tide Secondary Issues Resurface
Nick Saban is regarded as a mastermind when it comes to molding strong secondary play.
However, watching his unit get carved up against an Oklahoma unit that had only topped 250 yards passing in just one other game this season will leave him flustered entering the offseason.
Alabama has tried many combinations at the corner positions, but none of them seemed to get the consistent results that Tide fans are used to seeing.
For Saban, finding dependable corners who are sound tacklers in space and equally adept at playing the ball in the air will be a top priority in the spring.
7. Knight Is Oklahoma’s QB of the Future
Oklahoma entered the Sugar Bowl with uncertainty surrounding its quarterback position.
Freshman Trevor Knight, who had passed for just 471 yards in seven games this season, threw for 295 yards against a Tide pass defense that came into the game ranked as the nation’s fourth-best pass defense, according to cfbstats.com.
It was a strong performance that helped the Sooners put up 400 yards of total offense and 38 points against the SEC’s best defense.
With Knight having three years remaining in Norman, the Sooners' passing woes are likely a thing of the past.
6. McCarron’s Career-High Effort Marred by Defeat
The biggest storyline entering the Sugar Bowl was that it represented the final game of Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron’s career.
Although McCarron threw for a career-high 385 yards, his two first-half interceptions were immediately cashed into points by Oklahoma’s offense and put the Tide into a two-touchdown halftime hole.
McCarron was constantly harassed by a swarming Sooners pass rush, especially in the second half. Aside from a screen pass that freshman running back Derrick Henry caught and scampered for a 60-yard touchdown, McCarron’s second-half output would have netted just 24 yards through the air.
Overall, it was a sour ending for one of the most decorated signal-callers in Alabama history.
5. The Emergence of Derrick Henry
Ever since Derrick Henry arrived on Alabama’s campus as a 5-star early enrollee in Alabama’s touted 2013 recruiting class, Tide fans have been patiently awaiting for the 6’3”, 238-pounder to bust loose in a major way.
After showing flashes of his immense potential in an otherwise quiet freshman season, his 43-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter provided an emphatic statement about his future in the Tide’s backfield.
Henry finished with eight carries for 100 yards and a touchdown. He also took a short pass from McCarron and took it 60 yards to the house for another score.
It was a performance that is likely a preview of what’s in store for Henry in 2014.
4. Sooners Defensive Line Brings the Heat
The foundation of Alabama’s recent dynasty resides with its ability to dominate opponents in the trenches.
However, Oklahoma found success at the line of scrimmage against the Tide, particularly with its defensive line harassing McCarron to the tune of six sacks.
While Alabama hit several big plays and piled up 518 yards of total offense, the Sooners front four rarely gave McCarron the time to get comfortable and step into his throws.
Linebacker Eric Striker and defensive end Geneo Grissom made a living in the Tide’s backfield and stepped up time and again when the defense needed to make a play.
3. Tide’s Defense Struggles with Another Hurry-Up, No-Huddle Offense
Oklahoma’s offense struggled for a majority of the season, with its running game and stout defense powering it to a 10-2 record entering the tilt with Alabama.
However, the Sooners came out with a plan that was similar to the hurry-up, no-huddle offenses that have caused Saban’s defense problems in the past.
Alabama allowed the Sooners to rack up 429 yards of total offense, and in doing so, it made Knight—a quarterback known more as a running threat—look like the second coming of Johnny Manziel.
Considering the Tide’s struggles against the Sooners and teams such as Texas A&M and Auburn, Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart will have to go back to the drawing board to find a solution before the start of next season.
2. Stoops Makes Statement
His team was faced with a “put up or shut up” opportunity, the foremost symbol of the SEC’s dominance. Even though Oklahoma was a heavy underdog entering the meeting with the two-time defending national champions, the Sooners were the aggressor in this matchup from the opening kickoff.
The big win also helps Stoops get back some of the luster that had been lost in recent years when his team floundered in the postseason.
1. Uncharacteristic Mistakes Doom Tide
Alabama’s Iron Bowl loss to Auburn featured the Tide making some mistakes that are uncharacteristic of a Nick Saban-coached team.
Three first-half turnovers that directly led to 21 points for Oklahoma put the Tide in a 14-point halftime hole that they would be unable to overcome.
AJ McCarron’s two interceptions were simply poor decisions that you wouldn’t expect a fifth-year senior to make, and T.J. Yeldon’s red-zone fumble resulted from inadvertently bumping into his own teammate.
Those type of mistakes will be something that Saban will have to use as a teaching tool for the Tide before next season rolls around.