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January 3, 2014
NEW ORLEANS | Interviews with Alabama players and coaches here this week rarely ended without a question about motivation. How ready would this Alabama team be in a game that didn't involve a title?
There were no inquires into whether Alabama would be stumbling its way into the locker room at the break. There were no questions about how it would contain a freshman quarterback with 90 pass attempts named Trevor Knight.
It didn't take long for the Sooners' offense, and its quarterback, to show how well they prepared.
Oklahoma slapped an unprecedented torching on Alabama's defense in the first half, putting the Crimson Tide in a shocking two-touchdown deficit. The second half gained no ground as OU toppled Alabama 45-31 in the Superdome.
The Sooners scored 31 points before halftime, something no opponent had done to a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team.
It was inconsistency that left OU's quarterback situation in flux entering Thursday as head coach Bob Stoops declined to name a starter between Knight and the more experienced Blake Bell.
The one he picked, Knight, came in with only 90 pass attempts this year in seven games and a 105.6 pass efficiency rating that doesn't rank among the top 100 quarterbacks in the Football Bowl Subdivision.
And he sliced up the Crimson Tide to the tune of 18-of-23 passing for 206 yards and three touchdowns in the first half on the way to a career night.
"We haven't played very well on defense. We haven't had to stop them when we had the opportunity," Saban said at halftime. "We have to tackle better. We have to play better. We have to play our responsibility better."
Oklahoma converted its first five third-down attempts on the way to a 14-10 lead. Its first failed third-down conversion came 18 minutes into the game and led to a 47-yard field goal by Michael Hunnicutt to tie the game at 17.
The Sooners poured it on from there, turning two Alabama turnovers into touchdowns to stretch it to 31-17. The first of those two was a brilliantly thrown pass from Knight to Jalen Saunders for a 43-yard score.
All told, Oklahoma scored 21 points off three Alabama turnovers in the first half.
Just as the score was shocking for an Alabama team that came in as a 17-point favorite, the play of Knight and his receivers was just as big of a surprise.
Oklahoma entered Thursday with a combined pass efficiency rating of 126.0, ranking 77th nationally. It averaged 6.6 yards per attempt, ranking 90th.
Knight ended up with four touchdowns, the most ever by an Oklahoma quarterback in a bowl game.
And no team had scored 31 on Alabama in a half since Ole Miss, led by quarterback Eli Manning, in 2003.
Turns out Alabama's focus wouldn't matter on this night. Oklahoma shocked the college football world with a freshman quarterback.
"We were supposed to lose by 100," OU offensive lineman Gabe Ikard said. "So we figured we would come out and play our best game and see what happens."
Reach D.C. Reeves at 205-722-0196 or firstname.lastname@example.org.