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Sugar Bowl Grades: Sweet, Sweet Victory

Spoiler alert: the Sooners graded out pretty well

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Auburn v Oklahoma Photo by Jackson Laizure

Most experts and fans predicted a very close Sugar Bowl. Earlier in the week, I wrote a piece about how, at full strength, Auburn’s offense could give Oklahoma fits. Well, they weren’t healthy for long, and OU won in New Orleans in dominant fashion.

It was a fantastic performance on both sides of the ball for Oklahoma—perhaps their most complete game of the season. Not quite ready to let go of OU’s victory? Neither are we.

Here are our highly arbitrary grades for the Sooners’ performance in NOLA:

Baker Mayfield: A+

As if there were any other grade to give him. Pro Football Focus graded him out as the best player in the Sugar Bowl. As PFF points out, when Baker was under pressure—and the Tigers did a pretty good job of getting after him at times—his quarterback rating was 156.3, just two points shy of perfection. Mayfield ended the game with 296 yards on 19 of 28 passing, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. It was a Drew Brees-like performance in Brees’s own backyard, and one sure to add to the legend of Baker Mayfield. He won the Most Outstanding Player award, and there was no player more deserving than him.

Running backs: A

Amid heavy boos and chants of ‘he hits women’ from Auburn fans, Joe Mixon torched the Tigers. He tallied 180 yards from scrimmage, 91 of them on the ground. The Auburn defense had only allowed three 200-yard rushing games all season prior, but Mixon was a huge part of OU’s 228 yards on the ground. He also scored two touchdowns on the game.

Despite the ample reason for distraction, Mixon showed up to New Orleans determined to work. Against top-level SEC talent, Mixon proved once again that he’s elite.

It’s been a big week for Samaje Perine. Deciding to leave for the NFL draft is a huge life milestone, but an arguably bigger one is breaking OU’s rushing record, and Perine did just that.

It was a typical Perine performance: he struggled to run at first, but he wore down the Auburn defense with his incessant motor. Perine tallied 86 yards on 15 carries in his final game for the Sooners.

(I cried a little bit writing that last line.)

Receivers: B+

If you’re a fan of Mark Andrews, then congrats: the Sugar Bowl was a quintessential Andrews game, tallying one touchdown and 68 yards on just three catches. Andrews has been forced to play out wide this season due to the nature of Big 12 defenses, but against Auburn’s more traditional D, he was able to play inside a bit.

DeDe Westbrook was relatively underwhelming, but it’s tough to knock six catches for 59 yards, especially when a touchdown is involved.

Arguably Oklahoma’s best receiver, though, was Joe Mixon. He pulled down five catches for 89 yards, and he was the key to stretching out the Auburn defense.

The receiving corps performed somewhat underwhelmingly on an individual basis, but that was a function of Mayfield spreading the ball around, as well as the Sooners leading for the vast majority of the game.

Offensive line: B+

It’s often hard to quantify offensive line play, but bear with me here:

  • Oklahoma had 524 yards of total offense, the second most the Tigers have allowed all season
  • 228 of those yards were rushing yards
  • Oklahoma converted 5-10 third down opportunities

The defensive line of Auburn is arguably the toughest and meanest the Sooners had faced all season (although Houston and Ohio State have great arguments), and Orlando Brown and crew stepped up. Brown and guard Ben Flowers were OU’s third- and fourth-highest rated players according to PFF.

Defense: A+

I know, not fair. Defense always get lumped together, while the offensive guys get all the credit.

Except this time, I mean it as a compliment of the highest order. Oklahoma’s defensive unit actually played like a unit, which is more than could have been said about it early on in the season. They showed wonderful chemistry, and Mike Stoops’s game plan deserves credit.

Yeah, yeah—the Tigers were missing Sean White for the better part of the game, and that hindered Auburn’s offense. Backup John Franklin III simply can’t throw the ball very well. The dude can run, though, and Mike Stoops made excellent adjustments to make sure that Auburn’s one-dimensionality wouldn’t go unchecked.

Seriously, this team gave up 854 yards to Texas Tech earlier this season. On Monday night, though, the Sooners’ defense was the one that most resembled an SEC defense.

The Tigers came into the game averaging 278 rushing yards per game—OU held them to 185. Despite having to game plan on the fly around two other (admittedly inferior quarterbacks) in John Franklin and Jeremy Johnson, they allowed just two field goals before giving up a garbage time touchdown.

And there were playmakers on all levels of the defense. Jordan Thomas had a spectacular interception in the end zone. Obo Okoronkwo wreaked havoc on Auburn’s O-line. Jordan Evans had nine tackles, six of them solo.

It can’t be overstated just how well OU’s defense played. It was an absolutely brutal season for Big 12 defenses, but Oklahoma and other Big 12 teams’ bowl results should give hope to jaded fans of the conference.