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January 3, 2014

Defense comes up big in OU's victory

NEW ORLEANS | Eric Striker and Geneo Grissom put the perfect capper on Oklahoma's 45-31 upset win over Alabama in Thursday night's Sugar Bowl.

On Alabama's first play of a last-gasp drive, the two players who had been wreaking so much havoc for the Sooners all night came through once again.

Striker got pressure on Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron, forcing a fumble, and Grissom picked it up and rolled across the goal line to put the game out of reach for good.

A season ago, Grissom spent much of the night chasing after Texas A&M's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel as the Aggies routed the Sooners in the Cotton Bowl.

Against Alabama, Grissom sacked Heisman Trophy runner-up McCarron twice.

The Crimson Tide had allowed just 10 sacks on the season going into the Sugar Bowl, and the Sooners got to McCarron seven times.

"How many sacks you all say we had?" Striker asked, before getting the answer. "Good grief. That helped a lot."

Striker, who spent last season as a backup linebacker who didn't see much action, had three of the sacks.

"Geneo and Strike was killing them up there, getting pressure," Sooners safety Gabe Lynn said.

The game said plenty for the Sooners present, as defensive coordinator Mike Stoops dialed up a new package of blitzes that had Alabama on its heels early, though there were a few defensive busts over the first two quarters especially.

But it also says plenty about the Sooners' defensive future.

Among the defensive starters against Alabama, only Lynn and cornerback Aaron Colvin are seniors.

"We're young and we're back," Sooners freshman cornerback Zack Sanchez said. "This is huge going into next year."

Sanchez looked like a freshman early, getting beat on a couple deep balls before settling in and making several big plays, including a second-quarter interception that set up a score to put the Sooners up 31-17 at halftime.

"It was tough at the beginning, I ain't going to lie," Sanchez said. "I think it was some pregame jitters for me. But I settled down, the guys got on top of me and I never lost confidence in myself.

"It's kind of overwhelming. That's not an excuse, though. I've got to make those plays. But to be able to bounce back and make those plays, it really helped my team."

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