NEW ORLEANS — As the confetti rained down, the Oklahoma Sooners bounced and roiled, chanting, waving, a football mosh pit of joy and attitude and toughness and bravado.
That narrative that Oklahoma can’t match the physical pounding of a quality SEC team because, well, the Sooners play in the Big 12 Conference — it floated harmlessly to the Superdome turf, trampled underfoot of a crimson and cream stampede.
“Maybe,” OU coach Bob Stoops suggested, “just bury that narrative.”
Indeed, Stoops has taken ownership of the mighty Southeastern Conference, having won four in a row now after the Sooners’ 35-19 beatdown of the 14th-ranked Auburn Tigers in the Sugar Bowl on Monday night.
Could OU match Auburn’s physicality? That was the question beforehand. Auburn did rank sixth in the nation in rushing yards this season, and fifth in fewest points allowed. Most of the narrative was shaped by college football’s talking heads, but occasionally a phrase trickled out from the Auburn camp.
The Sooners heard every word.
“Oh yeah. Big time,” said linebacker Caleb Kelly, who led Oklahoma with 12 tackles. “We definitely took offense to that. That’s saying that we’re basically weaker than them.”
“It’s just almost like a shot at your manhood,” said senior linebacker Jordan Evans, who changed the game with a first-quarter hit on Auburn quarterback Sean White that left White with a broken arm and further limited Auburn’s one-dimensional offense.
“We may play in the Big 12 and people may have their opinion,” said sophomore offensive tackle Orlando Brown, who anchored a line that produced 228 rushing yards, 296 passing yards and yielded zero sacks. “But this is the University of Oklahoma offensive line, and we play ‘Big Boy Football.’ We want to let that be known.”
It’s known now. The Sooners are Sugar Bowl champs and have beaten Alabama and Auburn here since 2013, as well as two important regular-season victories over Tennessee. Stoops is now 7-4 against SEC teams, and the beatings seem to be growing more pronounced.
“We just weren’t taking it any more,” said senior safety Ahmad Thomas. “We’ve played SEC teams four years in a row. They still told us that we can’t match their physicality. So we all were offended. And if you weren’t offended, I really don’t know why you wouldn’t be. So we really had to go out there and make a statement.”
No. 7-ranked Oklahoma (11-2) won its 10th consecutive game after a 1-2 start. Auburn (8-5) was a 2 ½-point underdog but after White left never had a chance.
“They really invested in it, and it showed tonight,” Stoops said. “Really proud of the way they played in all parts of the game. I thought we were tough, physical. Both sides of the ball executed well.”
OU might have brutalized the Tigers whether White was in the game or not. He was headed to the end zone on a keeper at the end of Auburn’s opening drive, but Evans came out of nowhere and slammed him short of the goal line. Evans temporarily lost feeling in his left shoulder, while White hopped up and handed off for a touchdown and a 7-0 Auburn lead, then stayed in the game for three more series with the broken arm.
That’s supreme toughness by White, but the violent collision delivered by Evans sent an early message that the Sooners once again would be the more physical team in the Big Easy.
“I hope I didn’t send a message breaking his arm. I didn’t even know it was like that,” Evans said. “So hopefully I’ll offer some prayers up for his recovery. But I think we had other hits before that that may have set the tempo. I don’t know. But I thought we just played physical all around.”
The Sooners punted on their first two possession, but tied it when Baker Mayfield threw to Mark Andrews early in the second quarter. An Auburn field goal put the Tigers back on top 10-7, but OU responded again with a quick touchdown drive finished off by Joe Mixon.
After an Auburn field goal late in the first half made it 14-13, the Sooners scored to start the third quarter — a 7-yard pass from Mayfield to Dede Westbrook — to go up 21-13, though by that time it felt like a lot more. The Tigers’ offense was going nowhere, and Mayfield’s elusiveness in the passing game, combined with the offensive line clearing space for Mixon and Samaje Perine, had created the feeling of a blowout.
“Yeah,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, “the second half, they definitely took it to us. There’s no doubt about that.”
“Our backs pound people,” Mayfield said, “and so it wears on people.”
Mixon and Perine added touchdowns in the third and fourth quarter, and before Auburn scored on the last play of the game, it was 35-13, a thorough blowout.
It was OU’s fourth consecutive win over a ranked team (that’s a first in school history) and the fourth time in a row the Sooner defense limited the opponent to a completion percentage below 50 percent. The Tigers came in averaging 278 rushing yards, but finished with just 185.
And offensively, coordinator Lincoln Riley’s game plan was different enough — no two-back sets, less motion out of the backfield, and more motion across the formation from the wide receivers — that Auburn never adjusted.
The night ended with some Sooner history. Mixon set the school record for all-purpose yards in a season (2,331), breaking DeMarco Murray’s mark of 2,171.
Mayfield set the NCAA record for single-season passer efficiency (196.4), breaking Russell Wilson’s NCAA mark of 191.8 and Sam Bradford’s school record of 180.8.
And Perine concluded his third collegiate season by breaking Billy Sims’ career rushing record of 4,118. Perine’s new mark stands at 4,122.
“The record means a lot,” Mayfield said. “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 — I went and hugged him.”
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” Perine said. “And I don’t know exactly when it’s going to hit me. I’m just excited that we got the win and we got it in the fashion that we did. And I’m just ready to celebrate with my team.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.