Tramel: Physical Sooners are just on another level in Cotton Bowl win over Florida Gators
ARLINGTON, Texas — Non-scholarship Todd Hudson took the handoff from down-the-depth-chart quarterback Tanner Schafer and did what every OU tailback did Wednesday night.
Broke tackles and gained extra yards. He reeled off an eight-yard gain, and with less than two minutes left in the Cotton Bowl, the Sooners reached 435 rushing yards. Just four yards shy of what OU rushed for against Auburn in the Sugar Bowl 49 years ago. The 1971 Sooner wishbone.
That’s the territory the Sooners reached in a 55-20 rout of Florida, the threshold of the greatest land run in college football history, and it came at the expense of the proud Southeastern Conference. Talk about Cotton candy.
“What a great night, great night for Oklahoma football,” Lincoln Riley said. “Proud of how physical we played. We feel like we can go in there toe to toe physically with anybody, anytime, anywhere, and that's just our belief in ourself.”
Rhamondre Stevenson rushed for 186 yards on 18 carries. Backup Seth McGowan somehow got just one carry, a pitchout, and he went 73 yards. Marcus Major, who moved up from fourth team only because T.J. Pledger is transferring, gained 110 yards on nine carries and looked like a real prospect.
The sixth-ranked Sooners pushed around the seventh-ranked Gators, and while this Florida defense was short-handed due to COVID and wasn’t any good in the first place, the Gators still proudly wear that SEC mantle.
We were so busy marveling at how the Sooners have enhanced their defensive reputation, we forgot to notice that they’ve become bullies on offense, too.
Though Spencer Rattler was good in the Cotton Bowl, OU doesn’t have to have a Heisman-caliber quarterback to post big numbers.
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Like 55 points, tying the Cotton Bowl record and setting the OU bowl record. Like 684 total yards, setting both the Cotton Bowl and OU bowl record. Like 307 rushing yards in the second half alone. All against a team that took mighty Alabama to the wire in the SEC Championship Game.
“They have a stigma in that conference of having such physical and tough defenses that we were happy to go out there and play a team from that conference and show them what this team is about, for sure,” said OU center Creed Humphrey. “So it was definitely fun to go against them.”
Riley figures this was the best the OU offensive line has blocked all season and the best the tailbacks have run.
Stevenson at times looked like Marcus Dupree against the Gators. Too big to tackle, too fast to catch.
“The SEC, they're big, physical,” Stevenson said. “We knew what we had in front of us. We just went out there and executed, just played physical, played hard, and came out on top.”
Stevenson sat next to Humphrey during the postgame Zoom conference and talked about their connection.
“I make his job easier; he makes my job a whole lot easier,” Stevenson said. “Today, I think they did their job up front and got me to the second level. And when I get to the second level, I've got to make people miss and just run hard. I think we had a great day on the ground.”
After the game, Florida coach Dan Mullen complimented the Sooners, then bemoaned the players he was missing. Some skipped the game to avoid injury, some were out due to COVID protocols. Mullen even said Florida’s last real game was the loss to Alabama, not the Cotton Bowl.
Sour grapes. You can’t talk on Tuesday about how glorious the Cotton Bowl is and how the Gators are excited to play, then talk on Wednesday about the meaningless of the game.
Either side is valid. But pick a side.
The Sooners picked a side. They took it to Florida and showed they can play winning football a lot of different ways.
So in the final minute of the game, Schafer did as he was told. He took the final two snaps of the Cotton Bowl and took a knee. Those plays dropped OU’s rushing total to 435. Four yards behind the ‘71 Sooners’ bowl record.
But that final knee opened the gates to celebrating, and here came the Sooners running onto the field, enjoying a Cotton Bowl rout that showed physical football is played in ports outside the SEC.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. Support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.