By Michael Kinney
NEW ORLEANS – For close to a decade the SEC has seemingly ruled college football. With Alabama leading the charge, the conference has perched itself on top of the mountain and dared any team to knock them off.
And for the most part, no one has accepted the challenge. That is except Oklahoma. Whether it’s on the field or in the media, the Sooners have refused to concede any ground on the topic.
The seventh-ranked Sooners added more ammunition to their fight Monday night after rolling over Auburn 35-19 in the Sugar Bowl. The Tigers became just the latest SEC pelt Oklahoma has pinned to its wall as they end the season with a 10-game win streak.
“Football is football at the end of the day,” OU’s Jordan Evans said. “I don’t think anybody cares what conference you’re in. As long as you guys line up and play the way you’re supposed to play, the better team is always going to win. Tonight, I feel like it was us, and that’s why we came out on top.”
In his time at Oklahoma (11-2), Evans has beaten Alabama, Tennessee (twice) and now Auburn (8-5). Two of those victories came in the Sugar Bowl.
“ Maybe just bury that narrative,” OU coach Bob Stoops said about SEC dominance.
However, when the game began, that narrative looked like it might play itself out.
Auburn set the tone from the opening possession. They rammed the ball down the Sooners throat and they could do nothing about it.
The Tigers drove the ball 75 yards in 14 plays. It took them almost six minutes to reach the endzone and a take a 7-0 lead.
“Didn’t come easy to them, but they scored,” Stoops said.
It took until the second quarter for Oklahoma to finally offer a response. After quarterback Baker Mayfield was almost sacked in the endzone, the Sooners scored on a 14 play, 90 yard drive.
The drive include big runs by Joe Mixon and a reverse throw back pass on a crucial third down. They also had to overcome several penalties.
That was not the case on the Sooners next possession. The OU offense was now in rhythm and they carved up the Auburn defense.
On one play, Mayfield was under pressure, rolled to his right and tossed a pass to Westbrook over the outstretched hands of a defender. The very next play, Mixon took the hand-off, danced in the hole before plunging his way into the endzone to give OU a 14-10 advantage.
It took the Sooners just over two minutes to score on the opening possession of the second half. After Mayfield connected with Mark Andrews on a flea flicker, he tossed a short TD pass to Westbrook.
Another Mixon touchdown gave Oklahoma a 28-13 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
“We ran a lot of motions. Normally throughout the year we had a bunch of two-back motions, where we motion one of the guys out of the backfield,” Mayfield said. “And we saw some stuff on film that we liked where other teams, throughout the year, had some success rushing receivers. And try to create some confusion, and that’s what it does. And that’s part of our offense. We had a lot of motions, a lot of shifts, stuff like that. And for that reason, we just translated it to the receivers this time.”
After the Tigers bulldozed the Sooners on the opening drive of the game, it was Oklahoma defense who took over the contest. Auburn’s vaunted run game was shut down.
“I feel like we showed a lot,” said Evans, after his final game with OU. “Hopefully people won’t look at one game and judge us. But what more can you ask for when you get criticize all year for your defense and you come out and put on a performance. I’m just happy that’s how it ended for me.”
Mayfield was named the games MVP after throwing for 296 yards and two touchdowns. But the best player on the field was Mixon. He accounted for 177 total yards and two scores.
Yet, it was Samaje Perine who left the game as Oklahoma’s all time leading rusher with 4,122 yards in just three years.
“I had no idea [that this would happen]. I came in with an open mind and things fell into place, and here we are,” Perine said. “It’s a great accomplishment. Right now I’m just happy we got the win, and I’m going to celebrate with my team.”
Mayfield seemed to be more happy for Perine than he was for himself.
“So the record means a lot,” Mayfield. “So when you drive down the field and kind of doing the math in my head. And he finally made that last long run, and it was just enough. And I went and hugged him. It meant a lot. Like Coach Stoops said when he talked about division of running backs that come through OU, he will never talk about it, but it’s pretty special. And just to be out there on the field with him, it’s pretty special to me.”
Story first appeared in The Yukon Review