Oklahoma 40 – Auburn 22
January 1, 1972 ▪ at New Orleans ▪ Attendance 84,031
Oklahoma (10-1) came into their first Sugar Bowl in 21 years ranked third in the nation, but with the most prolific offense college football had ever seen. The Sooners broke the 55-year old school record by scoring 494 points, and led the nation in scoring with 44.9 points per game in '71. They also set NCAA records for total offense (566.5 yards per game), rushing yards (5,196) and rushing yards per game (472.4), as only regular season games counted for official NCAA records. They had 980 yards more than the next best offensive team in the country.
Two players from this unit were consensus All-Americans, center Tom Brahaney and halfback Greg Pruitt, who had finished third in the '71 Heisman trophy voting. Quarterback Jack Mildren was also named an All-American, and joining the three on the All-Big Eight team were tight end Al Chandler and guard Ken Jones. In addition, three defensive players were also named to the all-conference team, linebacker Steve Aycock, defensive back John Shelley, tackle Derland Moore, and end Raymond Hamilton.
Opposing them would be Auburn (9-1). Ranked fifth, the Southeastern Conference runner-up was coming in off a season-ending 31-7 loss to then #3 Alabama in their annual rivalry called the Iron Bowl. The Tigers would be playing in their 11th bowl game, and came in with a 4-5-1 bowl record, but this would be their first Sugar Bowl. In his 21 years at the helm, coach "Shug" Jordan had just one conference title, which came in 1957, when he also guided Auburn to an undefeated 10-0 record and the AP national championship.
A pair of senior consensus All-Americans led a passing attack offense averaging 31.3 points per game. Quarterback Pat Sullivan, two-time SEC Player of the Year and Heisman winner, had thrown for over 2,000 yards and 19 touchdowns in '71, and of his 52 career touchdown passes, 29 landed in the hands of split end Terry Beasley. In fact, they were Auburn's most prolific passing combination, and from '69-'71, the pair connected for more than 2,500 passing yards.
It would be the first meeting ever between the two schools, and it also marked the first time in Oklahoma history that they would play four different teams ranked in the top ten. With Oklahoma favored by ten points, the game started at 11 AM in front of a Sugar Bowl record 84,013 fans.
Oklahoma received the opening kickoff and promptly drove 77 yards in 13 plays, running almost six minutes off the clock. It started with Mildren's 17-yard keeper, and with the Sooners' front knocking the lighter Auburn defenders off the line of scrimmage, the march was capped by fullback Leon Crosswhite's four-yard run. After a missed extra point, the Sooners were up, 6-0.
On Auburn's initial possession, fullback Tommy Lowery fumbled, and Oklahoma's Raymond Hamilton pounced on the loose ball at the Auburn 41-yard line. The Sooners again went to work with their wishbone offense, and the eight-play drive culminated when quarterback Jack Mildren kept the ball for a five-yard touchdown run. Pete Carroll's extra point conversion made the score 13-0.
The Sooner defense held the Auburn offense again and forced a punt. Joe Wylie was back for Oklahoma, grabbed the ball at the 29, did some fancy high-stepping to find a wall of blockers, and then zipped down the sideline 71 yards to pay dirt. Oklahoma's two-point pass failed, and the score stood 19-0 in favor of the Sooners, and the War Eagles had not even run nine offensive plays. The two teams switched sides for the quarter.
The two teams traded possessions, until Auburn's Sullivan dropped back to pass, looking for Beasley. However, Sooner pressure by linemen Albert Qualls and Lucious Selmon wrapped up Sullivan as he tried to throw late, and defensive back Geoffrey Nordgren intercepted the ball at the Auburn 35. The wishbone went to work, and Mildren scored from four yards out to cap another possession. Once again, a two point run failed, but the Sooners owned a 25-0 lead.
In Auburn's next series, they tried an end-around and Beasley attempted to pass, but was confronted by sub end Mike Strunk. Beasley hastily launched a pass, and it was intercepted by linebacker Mark Driscoll at the Auburn 41 with only 2:13 left in the half. Going for the jugular, Oklahoma was on the move. Seven plays later, Mildren had a hat trick when he went across from the seven with just 47 seconds left in the half. Another conversion failed, but the lead was now 31-0 as the two teams retreated to the locker rooms.
Oklahoma had stunned Auburn in the first half. In eight possessions, the Sooners scored five touchdowns, a Sugar Bowl record, and three were the direct result of Auburn turnovers. Mildren had directed the vaunted wishbone attack brilliantly, and had already rushed for 104 yards. Meanwhile, the quick Oklahoma defense had stifled the Auburn offense, and had limited Sullivan to just six completions in 16 pass attempts.
The Sooners extended their lead to 34-0 with 8:57 left in the third quarter when Carroll booted a 53-yard field goal. The kick broke distance records for both the Big Eight conference and the Sugar Bowl, erasing Rich Hinton's 52-yarder for Ole Miss in 1970.
Barely a minute later, Auburn finally put some points on the board when Harry Unger dove over right guard from the one-yard line with 7:54 left. It capped a drive that went 80 yards in just five plays, and featured two passes from Sullivan to Beasley of 42 and 35 yards. However, Oklahoma headed into the final period with a comfortable 34-7 lead.
Early in the fourth, the Sooners put the game away with a 69-yard, ten-play drive. After Mildren kept for 20 yards down to the Auburn two, Pruitt's scamper around the left side capped the march. Yet another failed conversion, this one a kick attempt, made the rout 40-7 with 9:25 left in the game.
Well in front, coach Chuck Fairbanks inserted the subs. Until this point, Oklahoma had played error-free football. But backup quarterback James Stokely's pitch to Wylie was bobbled, and Auburn tackle Tommy Yearout grabbed it in the air and returned it 33 yards to the Sooner 33. It took only three plays, but with 3:44 left, Sullivan connected with Sandy Cannon for an 11-yard touchdown pass, cutting the deficit to 25 points.
On the Sooners' following possession, Stokely again fumbled, and Auburn recovered this time at the Oklahoma 20. A few plays later, Unger dove over from the one-yard line, and holder Dave Beck ran across for the two-point conversion.
It was not nearly enough, as the final score showed Oklahoma 40 and Auburn 22, in a game that was not nearly as close as the score could indicate. It started as an avalanche, and ended as a giveaway, but every Sooner player was a standout in the runaway victory. Afterwards, Jordan stated before the TV cameras that Oklahoma was the best team his squad had played, a group that obviously included undefeated and #2 Alabama, who was playing top-ranked Nebraska for the national title in the Orange Bowl later.
The Sooners' 439 yards on the ground surpassed the old Sugar Bowl mark of 373, which was set by Georgia Tech back in 1944. The Auburn defense, geared to stop the wishbone pitch-outs to Pruitt, had no answer to Mildren's running plays. In proving that the record-setting wishbone was superior to the Auburn passing attack, Mildren out-played his Heisman counterpart. The Oklahoma quarterback was named the most outstanding player, rushing for 149 yards on 30 carries with three touchdowns.
Said Fairbanks afterwards, "Probably the best player in college football. He (Mildren) is best at doing what we ask him to do."
Mildren set an NCAA quarterback record for rushing with 1,140 yards. He also scored 17 touchdowns, and set the school record for passing efficiency with a 209.9 rating. Mildren finished his stellar Oklahoma career with a 24-9-1 record as a starting quarterback, one victory shy of Jim Harris' school record. He had rushed for 2,025 yards and scored 32 touchdowns, and he also threw for 3,092 yards and 24 more scores. Mildren had also compiled a school record 5,117 yards in total offense.
Pruitt finished third in the nation with 1,665 yards, but averaged an NCAA record 9.4 yards per carry and scored 16 touchdowns.
On the other side, Sullivan never could get the passing game established. He finished with 20 completions in 44 attempts, good for 250 yards and a touchdown. Most of it came in the second half when the game was out of reach.
Source: Jeff Linkowski