NEW ORLEANS, LA – The second-best team in Alabama has nothing on the best team in the Big 12. Again. Three years after knocking off Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, the Sooners returned to the Big Easy and gave similar treatment to the Crimson Tide’s agriculturally-inclined little brothers, stomping Auburn in the 2017 Sugar Bowl by a count of 35-19, in a game that was not as close as that score indicated.
To be sure, this Auburn team, which had four losses, including a blowout in their last game to the aforementioned Crimson Tide, was nowhere nearly as highly regarded as the Alabama team that was a kick-six away from the national championship game. However, they still had that circular SEC logo on their uniforms, and they were still considered by many to be the tougher, faster, more physical side. In the end, however, the Sooners were faster, more physical, tougher, and just plain better than Auburn. As a result, Sooner head coach Bob Stoops’ record against teams from Alabama remains unblemished, and OU is 4-0 vs. the SEC since 2013.
Much like the Oklahoma State game, the Sooners started slowly before wearing Auburn down, particularly on the ground, in the second half. The vaunted Auburn defense ultimately proved no match for the Oklahoma offensive onslaught. Baker Mayfield, in completing the most efficient season a QB has ever had, was 19-28 for 296 yards and two TDs. He was also his usual elusive self, avoiding being sacked all night by scooting out of harm’s way on a number of occasions. Although Mayfield was named the game’s MVP, Joe Mixon could easily have garnered that honor, and absent other circumstances, might well have done so. He had 91 yards rushing on 19 carries to go with 89 yards on five catches and breaking the school single-season total offense record. Dede Westbrook had six catches for 59 yards and a TD, while Mark Andrews came out of hibernation for three catches for 68 yards and a TD.
Samaje Perine had 17 carries for 86 yards, which by itself wasn’t all that impressive. However, he broke Billy Sims’ school career rushing record in the fourth quarter in what would turn out to be his last game as a Sooner. Interestingly enough, of Perine’s record 4,122 career yards rushing, more than 10% of it (427 yards) came in one game – the 2014 Kansas game in which he set the NCAA single-game rushing record.
The game, much like the last Sugar Bowl in which the Sooners played, didn’t start well. Auburn took over on the opening series of the game after a touchback and promptly drove 75 yards in 14 plays for a 7-0 lead, throwing only two passes the whole way. The drive was mostly on the shoulders of Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway, but it was QB Sean White’s third and five keeper from the OU 6 that was the big play. Not because of what he gained – he came up two yards short of a first down, although Auburn would convert the ensuing fourth down for a touchdown – but because of the crushing hit put on him at the end of the run by Jordan Evans. Evans appeared to have gotten the worst of the impact, leaving the game immediately with a stinger, but it turned out that White took the brunt of it. Evans’ hit broke White’s arm, and although he played several more series, he ended up out for the game after that. Auburn’s other quarterbacks would prove somewhat less effective.
The teams would trade a series of punts before the Sooners would embark upon their first scoring drive of the evening. Taking over on their own 10 with 3:03 to play in the first quarter, they quickly moved out to the 40 on the strength of a swing pass from Mayfield to Mixon that went for 28 yards. After that, they started going backwards, as a 19-yard run from Mixon was negated by a horrible chop block flag that pushed the ball back from the Auburn 30 to the Sooner 36. A hold on the next play made it second and 35 from the Sooner 31. A couple of Auburn offside penalties sandwiched around a three-yard gain left OU facing third and 22 from their own 39.
However, just like the last time in this stadium, when Trevor Knight managed to convert a first and 30, the Sooners were up to the task. Mayfield hit a wide-open Mixon on a wheel route for a 32-yard gain and a first down at the Auburn 29. The next play was super weird, as Mayfield took the snap, but literally nobody else on the field moved. Eventually, Mayfield scooted around right end for a seven-yard gain. Two plays later, Mayfield hit Mixon again for 13 yards to the five-yard line. Another OU personal foul left them with first and goal from the 20, but Westbrook carried for seven yards on a reverse, then Mayfield hit Mark Andrews for the 13-yard TD, and the game was tied at 7 with 11:24 to play in the first half. All told, although the drive was officially 90 yards, the Sooners gained 120 yards of offense on the possession.
After an Auburn field goal gave them a 10-7 lead, the Sooners would take the lead back for good. Mixon carries of 20 yards then six yards and a Mayfield to Jeffrey Mead connection for 13 yards gave the Sooners a first down at the Auburn 35. Three plays later, facing a fourth and four from the Auburn 29, Mayfield dropped back, was immediately pressured, and lofted a gorgeous pass to Westbrook for a 26-yard gain to the Auburn three. Mixon took it in on the next play to make it 14-10 Sooners with 3:37 to play in the half. Auburn’s field goal with 41 seconds left made the halftime score 14-13 in favor of Oklahoma.
The onslaught would continue in the second half. OU stretched the lead to 21-13 on the opening possession, sparked by a 13-yard Mayfield to Mead connection, immediately followed by a 33-yard flea-flicker pass to a wide-open Andrews that would have been a touchdown were it not underthrown. Two plays later, Westbrook took it in for the TD from seven yards out to make it 21-13.
After a pair of Auburn three-and-outs sandwiched around a missed Austin Seibert field goal, the Sooners made their next scoring march. This time, it was a 35-yard Mixon run that was the big play, putting OU in business at the Auburn 41. Two plays later, Perine carried for 14 yards, then Mayfield hit Andrews for 22 yards to the Auburn 4. Mixon took it in on a direct snap on the next play, although he was inexplicably called out of bounds, but the call was reversed on replay. OU led 28-13 with 2:28 to play in the third quarter, but it felt more like 48-13.
After another Auburn three-and-out, OU finished up their scoring for the night. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Mayfield hit Geno Lewis for 26 yards, and a late hit moved it another 15 to the Auburn 26. Mayfield carried for 13 yards, then Mixon for two, and Mayfield for another 10 before Perine took it in for the TD from two yards out to make it 35-13 with 12:40 to play in the game.
Auburn would move to the OU 15 before Jordan Thomas’ interception in the end zone ended the scoring threat. On the next Sooner possession, Perine broke the school all-time rushing record with a 15-yard run around left end with 5:03 to play in the game. Auburn would add a TD on the game’s final play to forge the final score of 35-19.
And so, the Sooners finish what looked after three games like it might be a lost season at 11-2, with an undefeated Big 12 title and a Sugar Bowl trophy, and likely a top 5 final ranking. There are those who will be disappointed with this result, since there was no national championship. These people are wrong. There are eight months until the Sooners next take the field against outside competition. This one was a good way to start that long wait.