Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops would not reveal publicly whether he would start junior Blake Bell or redshirt freshman Trevor Knight against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.
Clearly, he made the right choice by going with Knight.
After completing 52.2 percent of his passes in the regular season and never connecting on more than 14 in a game, Knight lit up Alabama’s secondary Thursday night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, completing a Sugar Bowl-record 32 passes for 348 yards and four touchdowns in the Sooners’ 45-31 upset.
By halftime, he was 18-for-23 for 206 yards and three touchdowns, including a perfect deep strike to Jalen Saunders for a 43-yard score that put Oklahoma ahead 24-17 with 2:59 left.
It was a remarkable turnaround for Knight, who completed 3 of 7 passes for 28 yards in the regular-season finale against Oklahoma State before getting hurt. Bell replaced him in the second half and led the Sooners to a come-from-behind 33-24 victory that earned them their Sugar Bowl bid.
Stoops explained his rationale for not naming a starter a day before the game.
“I think it’s fair to say through the season when you watch these two quarterbacks, we kind of go to some plays a little bit more with one guy than we do another, so why give someone the advantage of practicing those plays more than another set of plays?” he said. “It hopefully has made them have to work a bigger package on what we like to do with each guy.”
Before Knight torched Alabama, the Tide had allowed 200 passing yards in a game only once after September, giving up 241 to LSU’s Zach Mettenberger.
Alabama coach Nick Saban answered plenty of pregame questions about his team’s slow start in the 2009 Sugar Bowl against Utah, the last time the Crimson Tide lost a chance to play for the BCS championship at the end of the season.
After falling to Florida in the 2008 SEC Championship Game, the previously unbeaten Tide fell behind Utah 21-0 in the first quarter before losing 31-17.
This time, previously unbeaten Alabama lost to Auburn on a last-play field-goal return in the Iron Bowl, costing the Tide a shot at an unprecedented third straight BCS title.
There was no 21-0 deficit against Oklahoma. T.J. Yeldon finished a four-play drive with a touchdown run at the 13:11 mark of the first quarter.
Alabama’s defense missed the memo about starting fast.
By the end of the first quarter, Oklahoma had 14 points, 10 first downs and 161 yards while converting all four of its third downs.
For the year, only two teams gained 300 yards on the Tide: Tennessee with 322 in a 45-10 Bama win in October and Auburn with 393 yards.
The halftime score of 31-17 mirrored the final of the Utah game.
The announced attendance was 70,473, the second-highest total in the past five years but also the fifth-lowest Sugar Bowl crowd of the BCS era, which began in the 1998 season and ended with this game.
Last year, the Florida-Louisville matchup attracted 54,178, the Sugar Bowl’s lowest total since 1939. This year’s figure also beat Michigan-Virginia Tech in 2012 (64,512) and Florida-Cincinnati in 2010 (65,207).
Ohio State-Arkansas in 2011 had 73,879.
Bryan Batt, son of Sugar Bowl president and former New Orleans city councilman Jay Batt, sang the national anthem. ... Alabama’s three first-half turnovers were more than it committed in any full game except for Mississippi State, when it had four. The Tide ranked fifth nationally in fewest turnovers with 12. Oklahoma was tied for 69th in turnovers forced with 20. ... For the first time in the 80-year history of the Sugar Bowl, both quarterbacks threw for more than 300 yards. Alabama’s A.J. McCarron had 387 yards. ... Alabama kicker Cade Foster missed a 32-yard field-goal attempt on the last play of the first half, his fourth miss in five attempts after making 11 of his first 12.