Sooners end 5-game BCS bowl skid at Fiesta Bowl
Sunday, January 2, 2011
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Watching film of their two previous, disastrous trips to the Fiesta Bowl back at the team hotel, Oklahoma’s players didn’t cringe, didn’t get that here-we-go-again feeling.
The Sooners got mad and took it out on Connecticut, finally ending that BCS losing streak.
Landry Jones and Ryan Broyles had record-setting games, Oklahoma’s defense scored two touchdowns while holding UConn’s offense without one, and the ninth-ranked Sooners ended their five-game BCS bowl losing streak with a 48-20 victory over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night.
“Coming out here and winning a bowl game, especially a BCS bowl with our past and losing so many of them, to win one for the program, for Coach (Bob) Stoops and all those guys, it’s just a great feeling right now,” Jones said. “It motivated us. We came into the same situation a couple of times and came out with some losses, and to win a game after those, it’s just a great feeling.”
Oklahoma (12-2) carried plenty of BCS baggage after losing three straight title games and two Fiesta Bowls.
The Sooners avoided the setback six pack behind Jones, Broyles and a dominating defense.
Showing he’s emerged from the shadow of Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, Jones threw for a school bowl-record 429 yards — breaking his own record of 418 in last season’s Sun Bowl — and three touchdowns on 34-of-49 passing.
Broyles, OU’s All-America receiver, set a team record with 170 yards receiving, matched another with 13 catches and had the put-it-out of reach touchdown, a tip-toeing 5-yarder midway through the fourth quarter.
Jamell Fleming and Tony Jefferson each returned interceptions for scores and the defense made UConn scrap for everything it got, giving the Sooners their first Fiesta Bowl victory since beating Wyoming in 1976.
“We have been through a whole lot — I feel like we deserve this,” Broyles said. “This was so important to get the monkey of our back.”
Connecticut (8-5), despite the final score, didn’t embarrass itself in the program’s first BCS bowl.
The hopeful Huskies steadied themselves after an initial barrage from Oklahoma and avoided a complete New Year’s Day desert disaster behind hard-nosed running by Jordan Todman and a handful of big plays.
Todman, who declared for the NFL draft after the game, had 121 yards on 32 carries and Robbie Frey returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, helping UConn provide at least a glimmer of hope that it’s not just a basketball school anymore.
“We didn’t win the game, but there’s nothing negative that comes from this,” UConn coach Randy Edsall said. “To be here and to compete the way these kids competed, that says it all.”
Oklahoma had been down this road before.
The Sooners played in the 2007 and 2008 Fiesta Bowls, so they know the town, the stadium, the routine.
They also know disappointment.
In both games, Oklahoma came into the desert favorites and left embarrassed; first to trick-playing, BCS-busting Boise State, then in lopsided fashion to West Virginia.
To shake up their mojo, the Sooners switched hotels, practice sites, everything possible to keep from getting that here-we-go-again Fiesta feeling.
Oklahoma followed a businesslike week with a similar approach in the game, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and withstanding a few mid-game mistakes to pull away for its first BCS bowl win in eight years.
“I’m not going to sit here and act like we weren’t ready in some of these other games, but we were more healthy in this one and the guys really worked hard,” Stoops said. “This was a good win.”
This was all new to the Huskies.
An FBS program for just nine years, UConn was in its fourth straight bowl, getting the Bowl Championship Series nod after winning the final five games and earning the tiebreaker as co-Big East champions.
But everything about this trip was bigger, from the airport greeting to the shine of the national spotlight.
More than that, though, the Huskies had to worry about Oklahoma’s speed-you-up offense.
Edsall said OU has so many talented players, it was like the little boy trying to put his fingers in all the holes in the dike. The Sooners also play fast, snapping off more plays than any team in the country while averaging over 478 yards and 36 points per game.
UConn tried a variety of speed-up tactics in practice to simulate Oklahoma’s pace, but the real test was going to come in the first few series, when the Sooners pressed the gas and the Huskies tried to keep up.
With former quarterback Josh Heupel calling plays for the first time, Oklahoma hit UConn with a Manny Pacquiao-esque round of punches in its opening drive for an 8-yard touchdown from Jones to James Hanna.
Next drive: boom, boom, boom, DeMarco Murray scores on a he’s-bottled-up, no-he-isn’t 3-yard TD run.
“The tempo — we just couldn’t make some plays,” Edsall said.
Then, finally, UConn got something right. Jones, after completing his first 12 passes, led a receiver too much and cornerback Dwayne Gratz picked it off, racing in 46 yards for a touchdown.
The Huskies had life.
UConn’s offense got a spark after that behind Zach Frazer and the defense held Oklahoma to a pair of field goals by Jimmy Stevens, leaving the Huskies at a manageable 20-10 halftime deficit.
“There were times we were down and a lot of people would want to give up or just lay back and put their head down,” Todman said. “We kept up our heads up and played every play like it was our last.”
The Sooners looked ready to run away with it to start the third, getting a 59-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Cameron Kenney (seven catches, 154 yards) and Fleming’s 55-yard interception return 1:11 later after a pass deflected off receiver Michael Smith’s hands.
Trailing 34-10, the Huskies still wouldn’t go away.
Frey returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, Dave Teggart hit his second field goal from 38 yards and Lawrence Wilson stripped Broyles when he appeared to be headed for a punt return touchdown.
UConn got another big play when Jerome Junior broke up a pass on a fake field goal early in the fourth quarter, but that was it.
Broyles hauled in his sideline touchdown pass midway through the quarter and Jefferson turned a bobbled pass into a 22-yard touchdown, giving the Sooners their long-awaited win.
“It’s redemption,” Broyles said.
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