Dec 28, 2023; San Antonio, TX, USA; Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Nic Anderson (4) runs from Arizona Wildcats safety DJ Warnell Jr. (14) in the second half at Alamodome. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

Oklahoma’s Season Draws to a Close After Alamo Bowl Loss

The Oklahoma Sooners’ season ended unceremoniously with a 38-24 loss to the Arizona Wildcats in the Alamo Bowl on Thursday night. The game couldn’t have gone much worse for the Sooner offense after they turned it over six times. (Yes, you read that right.) Freshman quarterback Jackson Arnold, who’s been heralded as the future of Oklahoma football, threw three interceptions and lost one fumble in what can only be described as a game to be forgotten.

Junior wide receiver Jalil Farooq lost two other fumbles, one of which turned into an unlikely 87-yard touchdown return. It came with OU holding a 24-13 lead, all the momentum and they were deep in Arizona territory. With the offense just outside the red zone, Farooq caught a pass from Arnold and was hit by a defender, who jarred the ball loose and into the air. The Wildcat’s Gunner Maldonado caught the wayward ball and returned it to put Arizona within three following a two-point conversion. The Sooners’ night went downhill from there and the Wildcats two more touchdowns to bring OU’s season to a close. 

On the bright side, the Sooners’ defense played well, considering the circumstances the offense put them in. They allowed three touchdowns and three field goals but did so having to defend short fields on most occasions. Here are a few key takeaways from the Alamo Bowl and what comes next for Oklahoma.

Evaluating Jackson Arnold

Arnold had a tough night, throwing bad interceptions in the first quarter and fumbling the ball late in the fourth quarter with the Sooners trailing 31-24. Arnold’s inexperience was clear to see: his interceptions were all due to either late throws or poor decisions, he had a tendency to throw the ball late over the middle and he held onto the ball too long at times.

However, it was also clear how much potential he had. Arnold made some throws that were exceptional, especially the 63-yard bomb to Brenen Thompson for a touchdown. He scrambled well and looked very fast when he did take off and despite his turnover issues, it never seemed like he panicked or rushed himself.

Arnold is a young quarterback and he has the potential to be the next in a long line of great quarterbacks in Oklahoma history. The coaching staff will work with Arnold and he’ll adjust to the college game with a full offseason of reps with the number-one team offense. Arnold should be ready to shine at the start of next season. For now, it’s best that he just forget about this game and move on.

Offensive Play Calling

As previously mentioned in the bowl preview, Arizona has a very underrated defense and with a freshman quarterback making his first-ever collegiate start, it wouldn’t have been surprising to see offensive coordinator Seth Littrell dial up a lot of running plays. However, he simply did not use Gavin Sawchuk enough in this game.

Sawchuk finished with 15 carries for 134 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 8.9 yards per carry and even eliminating his carry that went for 62 yards, he averaged 5.2 yards per carry. The Wildcats’ defense could not stop Oklahoma’s run game with him and with Arnold struggling, it would have been nice to see them utilize Sawchuk a lot more.

Six of the Sooners’ first 14 plays were passes with two of them resulting in interceptions and he attempted 45 passes in the game. For reference, the most passes that Dillon Gabriel threw in a game this season was 39. Part of that can be accounted for by the game script: Oklahoma was trailing late, so they needed to throw the ball.

Despite that, it just doesn’t seem right to ask Arnold to throw so much. Sawchuk was having his way with the Wildcat defense. If they had established the run early and kept using it as the game progressed, the Sooners’ offensive line would have completely worn down an already ineffective Arizona run defense. Now, maybe the coaching staff just wanted to see what Arnold could do, but a useful running game is a quarterback’s best friend.

The good news is that Sawchuk looked phenomenal in this game and Oklahoma fans should be excited to see what he can do next season as the unquestioned starter from day one.

Oklahoma’s Defensive Performance

After Arizona jumped out to an early 13-0 lead early in the second quarter, it looked like the Sooners’ defense might phone it in completely. However, they did just the opposite. For much of the night, they held the Wildcats in check. Granted, Noah Fifita did have over 350 passing yards and both Tetairoa McMillan and Jacob Cowing had more than 150 receiving yards. 

However, OU’s offense kept putting Brent Venables’ unit in bad spots all night and the defense performed well, given what they had to work with. The Sooners’ defense also sacked Fifita five times and forced six punts. Arizona’s two leading rushers were also held to only 47 yards combined. 

OU’s secondary was a bit disappointing, though. Cowing and McMillan had 17 receptions combined and it seemed like they were getting open at will, especially McMillan. He probably could have caught the ball every play if Fifita had thrown it to him; he was seemingly wide open all the time.

The Sooners’ secondary had its share of struggles this year, but they’ll need to show real improvement by next season if this defense wants to be able to stop opponents. Hopefully, with the return of Billy Bowman and the growth of young players like Peyton Bowen and Gentry Williams, this secondary can step it up a level next year.

Offseason in Norman

After a long, grueling season, the coaches and players deserve some time off to unwind, heal up and then start preparing for next year. It’s also time to say goodbyes to seniors like Drake Stoops, who will be sorely missed by fans, coaches and teammates alike. Luckily, the college football machine never stops and there is still a lot of recruiting to be done, whether it be high schoolers or players in the portal.

There will be a lot of hype surrounding this program leading up to next season as Arnold fully steps into his new role and the team transitions into the SEC. For now, Oklahoma fans can look forward to cheering on the Washington Huskies as they take on Texas Longhorns in the College Football Playoff.

Main Image: © Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

5 1 vote
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
5 1 vote
Do you agree with this article? Let's see your vote!
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x