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January 3, 2014

Alabama falls to Oklahoma in Sugar Bowl

NEW ORLEANS | Instead of repairing the flaws that ended the regular season at Auburn, the University of Alabama relived some of them and saw a few more exposed in the Sugar Bowl.

No. 11 Oklahoma used a strong offensive performance Thursday night and capitalized on five Alabama turnovers - three in the first half - to take a 45-31 win, dropping the Crimson Tide to 11-2 on the season and leaving Nick Saban and his staff with some serious work to do in the offseason.

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight, who was a mystery starter, came on to throw for four touchdowns - an Oklahoma bowl record - and lead an offensive effort that befuddled Alabama for most of the night.

"We faced adversity all year, but Coach (Josh) Heupel told us we both had to be ready," Knight said. "It was just finding that confidence and having faith in my lord, Jesus Christ.

"We've been battling the underdog thing all year long, and it was good to come out and show that Oklahoma is back."

"The result we got tonight wasn't what we wanted, but we learned some lessons from it," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "As a team, we didn't play well enough to win and Oklahoma outplayed us."

The game started as if Alabama, a 17-point favorite, would have an easy time of things. The Crimson Tide took just four plays to score a touchdown on its opening possession, with T.J. Yeldon capping the drive on a 1-yard run.

But after the teams traded interceptions, OU came back to tie the game on a 45-yard pass from Knight to Lacoltan Bester. Alabama took the lead twice more, the last time on a 67-yard pass from AJ McCarron to DeAndrew White that put the Crimson Tide up 17-14. But Yeldon lost a red-zone fumble and McCarron threw an interception late in the half, and Oklahoma capitalized on the turnovers as part of a 17-0 run that led to a 31-17 halftime lead.

Derrick Henry, Alabama's freshman backup tailback, powered the UA offense in the second half, scoring on a 43-yard run and a 61-yard pass reception. But while UA's defense held OU to just one second-half touchdown, it came at a critical time in the fourth quarter. UA had Oklahoma pinned on a first-and-30 but could not force a punt, and the drive ended with a touchdown pass from Knight to Sterling Shephard.

Henry's second score gave Alabama a last chance with 6:22 to play, but UA could not force a punt until only 56 seconds remained. OU then sealed the game by forcing a McCarron fumble and turning it into a Geneo Grissom touchdown recovery.

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