NEW ORLEANS – Four Alabama turnovers led directly to 28 Oklahoma points that proved to be too much to overcome as the third-ranked Crimson Tide (11-2) suffered a 45-31 defeat to 10th-ranked Sooners (11-2) Thursday night before a crowd of 70,473 at Mercedes-Benz Superdome (capacity: 72,003).
The Tide churned out 516 yards of offense, but could not erase a 14-point halftime deficit largely due to the turnovers that the Sooners converted into points, as one turnover resulted in a touchdown and two others were converted into touchdowns on the ensuing play after the miscues. Additionally, Alabama suffered five total turnovers in the game and had two offensive possessions into the Oklahoma red zone end without points, one on a turnover and another on a missed field goal. The Tide failed to capitalize on a dominant third quarter performance before the Sooners clinched the outcome in the final period.
Tide quarterback AJ McCarron set the Alabama single-season passing yards record during the game as he completed 19 of 30 passes for a career-high 387 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, connecting nine times for 121 yards to wide receiver Amari Cooper and three times for 139 yards to DeAndrew White. That marks the fifth time in Alabama history that two receivers eclipsed the century mark in yardage and the first time it happened in a bowl game.
Freshman running back Derrick Henry rushed for 100 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, and had one catch for 61 yards and a score. For the defense, Tide cornerback Eddie Jackson led the team with 10 tackles while safety Landon Collins had nine stops and an interception. Linebacker Trey DePriest had seven tackles, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had six tackles and linebacker C.J. Mosley closed his outstanding collegiate career with six stops.
Despite outgaining the Sooners in total offense, 516 to 429, the Tide lost largely due to failures in the red zone and turnovers. Oklahoma’s fast-paced offense had the Tide defense off balance in the first half and during key points of the game overall. The Sooners managed 348 passing yards against the Tide as Sooners’ quarterback Trevor Knight completed 32 of 44 attempts for four touchdowns with one interception. Knight earned Most Outstanding Player honors for his performance. Wide receiver LaColtan Bester had 105 receiving yards on six catches with one touchdown. Wide receiver Jalen Saunders had five catches for 75 yards and two scores.
Oklahoma won the pregame coin toss and chose to defer to the second half, so Alabama chose to receive the opening kickoff. After the kickoff by OU’s Nick Hodgson sailed through the end zone, Alabama started the game’s first possession at its own 25. On the first play of the game, McCarron screen pass to Cooper who gained 15 yards and a first down at the Alabama 40. With Cooper on the other side of the formation on the next play, McCarron threw another screen to his right and Cooper raced 53 yards to the Sooners seven-yard line. From there, T.J. Yeldon carried for six yards on first down to the OU one, and then took it in for a one-yard touchdown run with 13:11 left in the first quarter. Cade Foster’s conversion kick was true and Alabama had a quick 7-0 lead.
Starting at the Oklahoma 14, the Sooners offense used an up-tempo approach on the series. OU moved 38 yards in eight quick plays before the march ended when Tide safety Landon Collins intercepted a Trevor Knight pass at the Alabama 24 with 10:03 left in the first quarter. But the Tide gave it right back when McCarron’s deep pass intended for Kevin Norwood, who was surrounded by three defenders, was intercepted by OU’s Gabe Lynn at the Oklahoma 49-yard line. Lynn returned it six yards to set up OU at the Tide 45 with 9:54 left in the first period.
The Sooners struck quickly as Knight passed to Lacoltan Bester on a deep post to the sideline. Bester caught the pass at the Tide 26 and raced past two defenders into the end zone for a touchdown. Michael Hunnicutt’s kick tied the game at 7-7 with 9:43 left in the first quarter.
Alabama started the next possession at its 25 after the kickoff sailed through the end zone. On first down, a run by Yeldon gained two yards, then McCarron passed to DeAndrew White on a short hitch pattern and White took the pass for a career-long 63-yard gain to the OU 10-yard line. On first down at the 10, a run by Yeldon gained a yard before McCarron was flushed from the pocket and gained four yards on a scramble to set up third-and-goal at the OU five. McCarron’s pass intended for White in the corner of the end zone was incomplete to set up a 22-yard field goal attempt by Cade Foster. A false-start penalty moved the play back five yards, creating a 27-yard attempt by Foster with 7:07 left in the first period. Foster’s kick was on the mark to give the Tide a 10-7 lead with 7:02 left in the first period.
The Sooner offense mounted another drive on the next series, moving 78 yards in 13 plays on a march that took 5:09 off the game clock. The drive was keyed by a 12-yard run by Knight on a third-and-10 to the Alabama 13 and was capped by an eight-yard touchdown pass from Knight to Jalen Saunders with 1:53 left in the first quarter. Hunnicutt’s kick gave the Sooners a 14-10 lead.
Christion Jones returned the ensuing kickoff to the Alabama 20. Henry entered the game for Yeldon and carried for four yards on first down and seven more on the next play to a first down at the Tide 31. McCarron was sacked by defensive end Geneo Grissom for a loss of seven yards to set up a second-and-17 from the Tide 24 as the first period ended. On the first play of the second period, McCarron passed to White in the middle of the field for nine yards to set up third-and-eight at the Tide 33. On third down, McCarron lofted a high deep pass down the middle of the field to White, who caught the aerial at the Sooner 20 and raced to the end zone to complete a 67-yard scoring play. Foster’s conversion kick was good, giving Alabama the lead at 17-14 with 14:03 left in the second period.
The game’s explosive nature continued as OU’s Roy Finch returned the kickoff 30 yards to the Sooner 45 as Foster made a saving tackle along the sideline. A run by Sterling Shepard lost four yards on first down to the OU 41. An illegal formation penalty pushed OU back five more yards, setting up second-and-19. A pass from Knight to running back Brennan Clay gained seven before Knight hit Derrick Woods for 20 yards on third-and-12, reaching the Tide 37. A pass to Jaz Reynolds gained seven, and then two passes by Knight were incomplete. That set up a 47-yard field goal attempt by Hunnicutt that was good. The kick tied the game at 17-17 with 11:45 left in the second quarter.
After a touchback on the kickoff, Alabama started at its 25 and constructed a 67-yard drive in 11 plays that consumed 6:19 of clock but ended in futility and frustration.
The drive started as McCarron passed to senior Kenny Bell for seven yards on first down before Yeldon broke loose for 16 yards at right guard to the Tide 48. A long pass for Cooper on a streak pattern was broken up by OU’s Zack Sanchez at the Sooner eight. Yeldon took a handoff on second down for a gain of five to the OU 47 to set up third-and-five. McCarron connected with Cooper on a quick slant pattern that Cooper turned into a 16-yard gain to the OU 31. On first down, Yeldon carried at left tackle for six yards to the OU 25. On second-and-four, Yeldon gained three at right tackle to set up third-and-one at the Sooner 22. Yeldon carried for a tough two yards on third down to a first down at the Sooner 20. A pass to Cooper yielded seven yards to the OU 13 on first down, and then Yeldon gained two more to set up third-and-one. On the next play, Yeldon gained four yards and a first down at the OU seven-yard line, but he fumbled when hit by OU’s Joe Palange and the OU defensive end Geneo Grissom scooped up the ball and returned it 26 yards to the OU 34 with 5:26 left in the half.
Five rapid-fire plays by the OU offense moved the Sooners to a fourth-and-one at the Alabama 45 where Clay’s two-yard run converted the first down. After a two-yard run by Clay on first down to the Tide 43, the Sooners called timeout. On the next play, Knight launched a perfectly thrown touchdown bomb to Jalen Saunders who had beaten Alabama’s Deion Belue on the play for a 43-yard touchdown pass. Hunnicutt’s kick gave the Sooners a 24-17 lead with 2:59 left in the second quarter.
Alabama began the next possession at its own 17 after the kickoff return. On first down, Henry carried for 11 yards off left guard for a first down at the Tide 28. A pass to Bell at the right sideline gained six yards to the Tide 34. On second-and-four, McCarron was forced to scramble from the pocket on a pass play and he gained four yards on a rush to a first down at the Tide 38. McCarron passed to Cooper at the left sideline for a gain of five to the Tide 43 with 1:45 showing on the clock. An incompletion forced a third-and-five for Alabama with 1:39 remaining, but Oklahoma called its final timeout of the half. McCarron was flushed from the pocket, rolled to his right and fired a pass to Kevin Norwood who made a catch for nine yards and a first down while falling out of bounds. From the OU 48, a first-down pass was incomplete but McCarron’s second-down pass was intercepted by OU cornerback Zack Sanchez who returned the pickoff 41 yards to the Tide 13 with 1:12 left in the second quarter.
On the first play after the turnover, OU receiver Sterling Shepard took a pitchout on a reverse and raced 13 yards for a touchdown. Hunnicutt’s conversion kick was good and the Sooners had a 31-17 lead over the Crimson Tide with 1:05 left in the half.
Christion Jones returned the ensuing kickoff 35 yards to the Tide 45 and the Alabama offense took over there with 56 seconds showing on the clock. The Tide offense drove into the OU red zone again yet saw another drive end in futility. Alabama moved 40 yards in six plays but the drive ended when Foster’s 32-yard field goal attempt was wide right as the first half clock expired.
Oklahoma took possession to start the second half. Knight was sacked for a five-yard loss on first down by Tide defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan, and then two incompletions forced a Sooner punt. That punt was returned by Alabama’s Christion Jones 70 yards for a touchdown but the play was nullified by an illegal block in the back penalty on the Tide.
Alabama started the possession at its 29. Yeldon gained eight yards on first down to the Tide 37 before a false start penalty created a second-and-seven at the Tide 32. On second down, Yeldon carried for four at left guard. On third-and-three at the Tide 36, McCarron’s pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage to set up an Alabama punt with 12:07 left in the third quarter. Cody Mandell’s 40-yard punt was fair caught by OU’s Jalen Saunders at the Sooner 24 with 11:58 left in the third quarter.
Two Sooner running plays gained eight yards before an incomplete pass on third-and-two was incomplete, setting up another punt from the OU 32. Jed Barnett’s 37-yard punt was fielded by Jones at the Alabama 31 and his nine-yard return set up the Tide offense at the UA 40 with 10:09 left in the third period. Alabama moved 60 yards in four plays to a touchdown. McCarron passed to Cooper for seven yards, Henry ran for five more, two plays later Henry raced 43 yards for a touchdown with 8:49 left in the third quarter. Foster’s kick was good and Alabama narrowed the Oklahoma lead to 31-24.
The Sooners’ ensuing possession ended in another punt after four plays with Barnett’s punt sailing 56 yards to the end zone. Alabama took over at its 20 with 6:54 left in the third quarter. After an incompletion on first down, McCarron broke the UA single-season passing yards mark on second down with a 12-yard pass to Cooper to the Tide 32. Henry then gained 19 yards on a run up the middle, then 11 more on another run at right guard to the OU 38. McCarron scrambled for three yards on first down, and then a pass for Cooper was stopped for no gain. McCarron’s third down pass out of bounds was incomplete and he was penalized 15 yards for intentional grounding. That forced a Mandell punt from the Sooner 49. Mandell’s 48-yard punt was downed by White at the OU one-yard line with 3:19 left in the third period.
The OU possession was stopped at the Sooners 20 where Barnett’s 36-yard punt rolled out of bounds at the Tide 46 with 1:26 left in the third quarter. That possession went nowhere. A run by Henry failed to gain and McCarron was sacked for a loss of one yard as the third quarter ended. On third down, McCarron was sacked for a loss of nine yards at the Tide 36. Mandell’s punt was fumbled out of bounds and the Sooners took over at their 24.
Oklahoma moved eight adventurous plays in 76 yards to a touchdown, converting a first-and-30 situation along the way. A 34-yard pass from Knight to Bester converted a third-and-15 into a first down at the Tide nine-yard line. Two plays later, a scrambling Knight completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard. Hunnicutt’s kick was good and the Sooners had a 38-24 lead with 10:44 left in the fourth quarter.
After an exchange of punts, the Tide gained possession at its own 26 with 8:00 on the clock and facing a 14-point deficit. Alabama began by pounding with the running game. Yeldon started the drive with four successive rushes that gained 13 yards to the Tide 39. On second-and-eight, Henry took Yeldon’s place and took a pass from McCarron and raced 61 yards for a touchdown. Foster’s kick was good and the Tide had narrowed the Oklahoma lead to seven again, this time at 38-31 with 6:22 on the clock.
Oklahoma managed to piece together a drive that consumed much of the clock while forcing the Tide to burn all of three of its timeouts. The Sooners converted a third-and-nine from their 13-yard line to the OU 23 on a screen pass, got a 15-yard pass play to their 38, had a 12-yard run by Clay to the 50, then converted a third-and-eight with just over three minutes left on a pass interference call to reach the Alabama 38. After two rushes lost two yards, OU faced third-and-12 with 1:50 on the clock when the Sooners called timeout. On third down, Clay took a handoff and was dropped for a loss of one yard by Ha Ha Clinton-Dix as the clocked ticked under 1:30. Oklahoma let the clock run down before setting up to punt, taking a delay of game penalty with 1:02 on the clock.
On the punt from the Tide 46, Barnett’s 28-yard punt was fair caught by Christion Jones at the Tide 18 with 56 seconds on the clock.
On the next play, McCarron faded back to pass but was sacked from behind at the Tide eight-yard line by OU linebacker Eric Striker, whose hit on McCarron forced a fumble that was picked up by Sooners defensive end Geneo Grissom who returned it eight yards for the clinching touchdown with 47 seconds left to play. Hunnicutt’s conversion kick was good and the Sooners had a 45-31 lead.
Passing – AJ McCarron, 19-for-30, 387 yards, 2 TD
Rushing – Derrick Henry, 8 car, 100 yards
Receiving – DeAndrew White, 3 rec, 139 yards
Passing – Trevor Knight, 11-for-20, 115 yards
Rushing – Brennan Clay, 17 carries, 43 yards
Receiving – Lacoltan Bester, 6 rec, 105 yards