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Oklahoma football: A closer look at five unheralded plays from the Sooners' Sugar Bowl victory

Before the Sugar Bowl gets too distant, let's celebrate five under-the-radar plays that didn't make the highlight shows but warmed the hearts of OU fans and put the Sooners in position to keep Alabama at bay.
by Berry Tramel Published: January 4, 2014

The Sugar Bowl has taken its place in line among the greatest of OU victories.

In the same way that old codgers talk about 1977 Ohio State or Sooner Magic Nebraska games or the Penn State and Michigan Orange Bowls, the young among us 30 years from now will talk about the Sooner conquest of Alabama.

And they'll remember most of the big plays. Trevor Knight's deep balls to Jalen Saunders and Lacoltan Bester. Knight's rollout on the river touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard. Eric Striker's sacks and Geneo Grissom's fumble returns. Zack Sanchez's interception that seemed to pull back the curtain on Bama quarterback AJ McCarron.

But a game this good, a game with this much energy, a game that seems to mean so much to Sooner football, deserves to be preserved as much as possible.

So before the Sugar Bowl gets too distant, let's celebrate five under-the-radar plays that didn't make the highlight shows but warmed the hearts of OU fans and put the Sooners in position to keep Alabama at bay.

1. Jalen Saunders' catch

Not every great catch requires acrobatics or superhero feats. Sometimes sticky hands and great concentration produce something extraordinary.

OU trailed 10-7 late in the first quarter but had gone 70 yards in 12 plays, to the Alabama 8-yard line.

On 3rd-and-5, Saunders went in motion, from right to left, from wide to tight, setting up in the slot. Star safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix moved over to cover Saunders.

When the ball was snapped, Bester, outside of Saunders, dashed toward the middle. Saunders did the reverse, cutting for the sideline.

Knight threw a bullet, and it's a good thing. Clinton-Dix was on Saunders like a backpack. Knight had a tiny window through which to throw.

With an NFL-caliber safety all over him, Saunders got his hands up just in time, slightly juggled the ball upon initial impact then stretched it at the pylon as Clinton-Dix wrestled him to the ground. Touchdown.

A quarterback who was throwing fearlessly and receivers who dared to answer Alabama's elite talent with equal athletic ability? This was going to be a ballgame.

2. Zack Sanchez's knockdown

The redshirt freshman cornerback did not have a strong start. Bama receiver Amari Cooper broke Sanchez's tackle attempt on the game's first play, leading to a 15-yard gain. Then Bama's DeAndre White outmaneuvered Sanchez for a sideline catch and broke away for a 63-yard gain that set up a field goal.

Alabama's game plan was clear. Stay away from Aaron Colvin's side; pick on the rookie cornerback.

With the score tied 17-17 early second quarter, McCarron went after Sanchez again. Alabama caught OU in man-to-man coverage, and Cooper went deep. He got behind Sanchez, and safety Quentin Hayes was slow to help out.

The pass was on target, and Cooper opened his palms for what seemed destined to be a 52-yard touchdown.

At the last instant, Sanchez leapt and tipped away the ball with his fingertips. Crisis averted. More importantly, the play seemed to fortify Sanchez. Soon enough, he was a different player.

3. Bob Stoops' second thought

The OU game plan was aggression. Offense, defense, attitude.

Stoops momentarily forgot late in the second quarter. Then he remembered.

OU faced 4th-and-1 from the Bama 45-yard line, with the score tied 17-17. Stoops sent out the punting unit. But then Stoops let the clock wind down and called timeout.

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by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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