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STEPHEN’S REPORT: Focusing on the Performance of the Players (SUGAR BOWL EDITION)

Receivers [A] – For two receivers that have battled injuries, Amari Cooper and DeAndrew White really put on a show against Oklahoma’s secondary. Cooper struggled with a toe injury for much of this season, but he came to life against Auburn and Oklahoma. In the matchup against the Sooners’ secondary, Cooper totaled nine receptions for 121 yards. For the first time in a while, he looked healthy and looked crisp on his routes for the most part.

For White, the ACL injury he suffered in the 2012 season became a distant memory when he stepped on the field against Oklahoma. White was a big play waiting to happen for Alabama against the Sooners. Like Cooper, White was able to create a lot of separation against Oklahoma’s secondary and make huge receptions downfield. White had three receptions for 139 yards (46.3 yards per catch) including a 67-yard touchdown reception from AJ McCarron.

If having two receivers burn you wasn’t enough for Oklahoma, how about having Derrick Henry crash the party.  Though he only had one reception, it was for a 61-yard touchdown that cut the Sooners lead to 38-31 in the fourth quarter.

Running Game [B] – After the performance Derrick Henry put on against Oklahoma’s defense, Kenyan Drake will have to step up his game in spring ball and summer camp if he even wants to think about being the No. 2 running back. People say that the true stars shine on the biggest stage. For Henry, his star shined the brightest in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Henry went beast mode against the Sooners’ front line and refused to be brought down by just one man. His numbers on the night were incredible. Henry totaled eight carries for 100 yards (12.5 yards per carry) and a touchdown.

Once again, ball security caught up with TJ Yeldon. Though he put in a decent performance on the ground with 17 carries for 72 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and a touchdown, he fumbled the ball early in the game inside the redzone. You can’t expect to win football games when you are constantly turning the ball over in critical moments. Alabama was moving the ball with ease and could have scored on that possession hadn’t Yeldon fumbled the football.

Offensive Line [D] – For an offensive line that gave up only 11 sacks this season, Alabama’s front line got completely manhandled by Oklahoma’s defense. Give the Sooners a ton of credit for watching tape and studying the Tide’s offensive line. Oklahoma was able to get pressure on McCarron with just four players and sacked him seven times.

Despite the line helping the Crimson Tide total 516 yards of offense (387 passing & 129 rushing), the guys upfront didn’t protect McCarron well and they didn’t know how to handle the athleticism of Oklahoma’s defensive line.

Defense [C] – For a defense that surrendered just 11.3 points per game on the season entering the contest, Oklahoma had a field day passing the ball against the Tide’s secondary. Outside of Texas A&M and Auburn (42 points & 34 points), Alabama’s defense rarely gives up points. Against the Tide’s defense, Trevor Knight put a clinic through the air.

Knight went 32-44 (72.7 percent of passes completed) passing for 348 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. In order to defeat Alabama, Knight had to play flawless. In the 80th edition of the All State Sugar Bowl, he did just that. Knight was very effective and efficient passing the ball. He was poised and composed in the pocket. He extended plays against the Crimson Tide’s defense and he made the perfect throws when he needed to.

Give Oklahoma offensive coordinator/quarterback coach, Josh Heupel a lot of credit. He formulated the perfect game plan to help Knight get in a rhythm.  Alabama gave up 429 yards of offense to the Sooners. Despite Landon Collins getting his second interception of his collegiate career, Alabama’s secondary got picked apart by Knight.

The one thing you have to give the Tide’s defense credit for was the way they responded early in the second half. They were able to get pressure and get in the face of Knight. Alabama forced some three-and-outs early in the third quarter, the offense just couldn’t capitalize.

AJ McCarron [C]- For a young man who embodies everything that Alabama football stands for, it hurts to see his career end with a loss in the Sugar Bowl. Throughout the game, McCarron seemed to press the ball more into coverage than usual. However, this loss is not completely on him. The offense line did a terrible job in pass protecting. Before this game, McCarron was only sacked 11 times and there was a stretch in the regular season in which his jersey never saw the ground. Against Oklahoma, McCarron’s jersey tasted the dirt seven times.

He had pressure in his face all game long and was forced out of the pocket a lot. Give Oklahoma credit for dialing up the pressure on McCarron and making it uncomfortable for him to get the ball to his playmakers. In some parts of the game, McCarron looked composed and dialed in while in other parts he looked confused, flustered and frustrated.
As far as statistics go, McCarron was 19-30 (63.3 percent of passes completed) passing for 387 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

To simply put it, Oklahoma came in as the underdog (14 point underdog) and no one gave them an opportunity. Give Bob Stoops and his staff credit for coaching these players up and getting them prepared to play a football game for 60 minutes. In order to beat Alabama you have to play a perfect game. The Sooners demonstrated a perfect game in this matchup against the Crimson Tide.

Outside of offense and defense, Oklahoma had more first downs than Alabama (24-20).  The Sooners converted seven third downs and a fourth down against Alabama’s defense. The main thing though is the Sooners won the turnover battle (Alabama 5—Oklahoma 1). Penalties (Oklahoma 11—Alabama 6) hurt both teams, but it didn’t keeping Oklahoma from getting the win.

For Stoops, the question of could he win the big game has been answered with a resounding “Yes.” Oklahoma came, saw and conquered the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 80th edition of the All State Sugar Bowl.

For Nick Saban, the flowers that he so desperately didn’t want to smell from the 2009 Sugar Bowl haunt him again. Alabama wasn’t focused for much of the game and it was probably due to a hangover from the Auburn game, the long lay-off after that and the fact that the Tide is used to playing for national titles and not Sugar Bowls.

Whatever the case might have been, it’s the Oklahoma Sooners that will celebrate on Burbon Street and the Alabama Crimson Tide that will go back to the drawing and plan out a scheme for next season.

The Oklahoma Sooners are the victors of the 2014 BCS All State Sugar Bowl 45-31.

Stephen Smith is a 2015 graduate of the University of Alabama. He is a senior writer and reporter for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. He has covered Alabama football for 15 years and his knowledge and coverage of the Crimson Tide's program have made him among the most respected journalist in his field. Smith has been featured on ESPN and several other marquee outlets as an analyst.

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