TEMPE, Ariz. — It'll be a happier new year in Norman.
Something good happened Friday for Oklahoma football. It had been a while.
The Sooners smiled and celebrated together here on the Sun Devil Stadium turf after a 31-14 Insight Bowl victory against Iowa. The game was played in front of a bowl-record 54,247 fans.
“We worked hard and wanted to come out and get a win,” said OU quarterback Blake Bell, the game's offensive MVP who scored three more rushing touchdowns in the Belldozer package. “And we did.”
A dissatisfying go of it in recent weeks, thanks to two of three losses to end the regular season and a handful of transfers, was stemmed by hoisting a trophy.
The restlessness back home should be somewhat calmed entering 2012 – at least relative to the alternative of another loss.
“This gives us some momentum for the guys coming back next year,” said OU coach Bob Stoops, who defeated his alma mater in the schools' first meeting since 1979, when he was a freshman.
A 35-yard Michael Hunnicutt field goal with 2:28 to play put OU ahead by 10. Bell's 21-yard run on fourth-and-1, with only 45 seconds remaining, was an exclamation on things.
It was the third touchdown of the game for Bell, named the bowl's offensive MVP — something that would have seemed incredibly improbable back in August.
That was sort of the nature of the season, finding the unexpected — positive and negative — during the course of the fall.
A walk-on, Dom Whaley, appeared and emerged at running back, but then was lost for the season. Early momentum came in wins at Florida State and against Texas, but then that was negated by the home toe-stump against Texas Tech.
After Ryan Broyles was lost Nov. 5 to a knee injury, the offense hiccupped and the secondary struggled in losses to Baylor and Oklahoma State.
A long December ended, though, on the uptick.
It's the third consecutive bowl victory for the Sooners, going back to the BCS title game against Florida. OU finishes the season, one with national championship aspirations, 10-3.
With Iowa at full strength, and the Sooners depleted, this might have been a mismatch. But the Hawkeyes were hurt greatly by the recent suspension of leading rusher Marcus Coker.
Without his 1,384 yards, Iowa was left looking for a runner. Freshman Jordan Canzeri rushed 22 times for 68 yards — only 2.6 yards a carry.
“The guys were where they needed to be,” Stoops said.
The Sooners defense, punished for 278 rushing yards and 44 points against Oklahoma State, held Iowa relatively quiet. The Hawkeyes did manage 292 total yards, but they didn't score until there were 14 minutes, 46 seconds left in the game.
And an early interception by cornerback Jamell Fleming, the defensive MVP, set up OU's first score — a Bell 4-yard run.