Redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight played the game of his career and the Sooners defense made key plays in key moments as Oklahoma knocked off Alabama 45-31 in the Allstate Sugar Bowl on Jan. 2. Here's a closer look, after a re-watch of the game, at five key plays that helped OU pull off the upset.
Safety Gabe Lynn’s interception in the first quarter
The Sooners brought four pass rushers against Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron, who made a horrible decision, throwing into triple coverage despite not being pressured. The Crimson Tide had single coverage on every other receiver, making McCarron’s decision even worse. He essentially threw the ball as if he didn't see that Lynn was sitting in center field to attack any deep throw.
Lynn, reading McCarron’s eyes, made the easy interception. It was a key play for the Sooners as it came right after Knight threw an interception on OU’s first possession, and it prevented the Crimson Tide from jumping out to a two-touchdown lead.
Knight’s 45-yard touchdown to Lacoltan Bester in the first quarter
An exceptional play by everyone involved. Terrific protection from the offensive line, a great read and throw from Knight and superb athleticism from Bester to turn a 20-yard pass into a 45-yard touchdown.
It started with a play-action pass off a zone-read fake. OU only had two receivers running routes, with Sterling Shepard providing a safety net option after the fake. Without a perfect throw from Knight, this would not have been a touchdown. It was accurate with zip, allowing Bester to gather it in and turn upfield. Bester’s stutter step provided just enough room to dive in for the score. The most underrated aspect of the touchdown was the confidence from Heupel to call a pass on the first offensive play after Knight’s interception.
The fact coach Bob Stoops sought out Knight to congratulate him after the play speaks volumes about the importance of the touchdown. It was at that point the Sooners realized Knight had brought his “A” game and they would be able to take advantage of the Crimson Tide’s focus on OU’s ground attack.
Knight’s 43-yard beauty to Jalen Saunders in the second quarter
Alabama defensive back Deion Belue gave Saunders’ a 10-yard cushion before the snap, and still was beaten deep. This is where having NFL-caliber players on your roster pays off.
Play action helped get Saunders one-on-one against Belue, who bit on Saunders' double move. Knight delivered a perfect throw over the outside shoulder, where only Saunders could make a play on it. The senior receiver made a superb, over-the-shoulder catch while keeping one foot in bounds for the touchdown. Saunders' combination of quickness and acceleration was simply too much for Belue on the play.
Cornerback Zack Sanchez's interception
Defensive coordinator Mike Stoops deserves the credit for this one. Dime back Kass Everett and Lynn both blitzed on the play, but neither player appeared to be blitzing until six seconds remained on the play clock, and McCarron didn’t have time to change the play. OU rushed seven defenders, leaving its secondary in one-on-one situations.
Everett, who was five yards behind the line of scrimmage when the ball was snapped, was in McCarron’s face when the Bama quarterback threw the ball. Sanchez, knowing the blitz was on, jumped the hot route for the interception in front of Amari Cooper, who stopped his route for some reason. Alabama actually picked up the blitz well, but OU just brought too many defenders to block. Sanchez made a great play and Cooper didn’t.
Geneo Grissom’s touchdown to seal the game
Cyrus Kouandjio is probably still waking up in the middle of the night from nightmares of trying to block Sooners linebacker Eric Striker. The sophomore blew past the All-SEC left tackle to force a fumble by McCarron that was scooped up by Grissom and returned eight yards for a touchdown.
The play is notable because it was a mirror representation of the key to OU’s win. The Sooners were able to get pressure on McCarron while rushing four defenders. Striker got to McCarron less than three seconds after the snap and defensive end Charles Tapper, after a stunt, drove his man back into McCarron’s face, preventing him from stepping up into the pocket to avoid Striker. Both players won their individual battles and the result was the game-sealing touchdown.