New Orleans — Trevor Knight threw across his body while falling out of bounds and found an open receiver in the end zone for the eventual game-winning touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
It was that kind of night for Oklahoma’s freshman quarterback.
Knight had his way with Alabama’s vaunted defense, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns as No. 11 Oklahoma upset the heavily-favored and third-ranked Crimson Tide, 45-31, in a wildly entertaining Sugar Bowl.
Oklahoma (11-2) needed something special going up against the powerful Tide, and head coach Bob Stoops tabbed the dual-threat Knight as its spark.
“Knight, of course, was exceptional,” Stoops said. “I think he showed the whole country what we’ve been watching for two years in our practices and our scrimmages.”
Knight did not need his legs, though, doing most of the damage with his arm as he found Jalen Saunders for two touchdowns, Lacoltan Bester for 105 yards and a score and Sterling Shepard for the aforementioned pivotal TD.
The surprising win was the Sooners’ second straight in a BCS game after a five-game losing streak in the coveted bowls.
Alabama senior AJ McCarron went out on a losing note despite throwing for 387 yards and two scores. The Maxwell Award winner uncharacteristically threw two interceptions in the first half and was stripped-sacked on the Tide’s final possession.
“You can put it (loss) all on me,” McCarron said. “I had two turnovers, (they) ended up scoring 14 points and we lost by 14.”
McCarron guided the Tide (11-2) to back-to-back national championships and a shot at a third this season that abruptly ended in an epic Iron Bowl loss to eventual SEC-champion Auburn in their final regular season game.
Derrick Henry accounted for a 161 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns for the Tide, who were making their fifth BCS appearance in the last six seasons.
Despite amassing 362 yards in the first half, the Tide trailed, 31-17, at the break because Oklahoma turned three Alabama turnovers into 21 points.
The track meet slowed down after the intermission, and the only score in the third quarter came 6:11 in when Henry ripped off a 43-yard touchdown run.
A battle for field position went Oklahoma’s way when Knight went 6-for-6 for 92 yards through the air early in the fourth quarter. Knight moved the chains with a beautiful over-the-shoulder toss to Bester on 3rd-and-15, then connected with Shepard for a 9-yard score while falling out of bounds with 10:44 remaining to give the Sooners some breathing room.
Henry cut the Tide’s deficit to 38-31 when he took a short pass 61 yards for a score with 6:22 on the clock.
Oklahoma, though, chewed up 5 1/2 minutes with timely passing and hard running from Brennan Clay, and Alabama took over at its own 18-yard line with 56 seconds remaining.
A storybook comeback for McCarron did not come to fruition, as he was hit from behind by Eric Striker and fumbled. Geneo Grissom scooped up the loose ball and went in for the punctuating score to clinch the upset.
The fumble recovery for a touchdown was a similar finish to Oklahoma’s win over Oklahoma State in its final regular season game, which kept the Sooners’ Bedlam rival from winning the Big 12 and vaulted them into an at-large BCS bid.
There were no punts in a breathless first half.
It took Alabama all of 1:49 to get on the board, as T.J. Yeldon took it in from a yard out following a 53-yard reception from Amari Cooper.
The Tide quickly got the ball back when Landon Collins made an acrobatic diving interception to end Oklahoma’s first possession, but McCarron overthrew his intended receiver on the next play and was picked off by Gabe Lynn.
Oklahoma didn’t waste any time cashing in on McCarron’s sixth interception of the season, as Bester caught a pass along the sideline, turned it upfield and outran two defenders to the end zone for a 45-yard score.
DeAndrew White’s 63-yard pickup set up Cade Foster’s 27-yard field goal, and Oklahoma capped the seesaw opening frame with a 13-play, 78-yard drive that ended with Saunders’ 8-yard touchdown catch.
The second play of the second quarter saw White get behind the defense and haul in McCarron’s perfect heave in stride en route to a 67-yard TD.
Michael Hunnicutt tied the game at 17-17 with a 47-yard field goal a little later, and Oklahoma scored touchdowns off two Alabama turnovers to close out the half in style.
After Yeldon lost a fumble inside the Oklahoma 10-yard line, the Sooners retook the lead when Knight and Saunders again hooked up for a TD with 2:59 remaining.
The long play came right after Oklahoma gained just enough on a 4th-and-1 try near midfield.
McCarron missed his mark on the ensuing drive, and Zack Sanchez stepped in front of the intended receiver and took the interception 43 yards down to the 13-yard line. Shepard scored on an end around on the next snap, and the Sooners went into the break with a 31-17 cushion after Foster missed a 32-yard field goal on the half’s final play.
Alabama also had a punt return for a touchdown called back due to a penalty early in the third quarter.
Knight entered the game with 471 yards and five touchdowns through the air … Alabama allowed 102 total points over its first 11 games and 79 over its final two … Oklahoma recorded seven sacks … Alabama had allowed just 20 points off turnovers coming in … Oklahoma has won 11 games 10 times under Stoops … No college football game has ever featured two teams with more combined bowl victories. Oklahoma picked up its 28th bowl win, while Alabama sits at a record 34.