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Auburn no match for Sooners

Jack Mildren scores one of his three touchdowns in the 1972 Sugar Bowl.
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OKLAHOMA CITY – The only time Oklahoma and Auburn have met on the gridiron was 45 years ago in the 1972 Sugar Bowl.

The 1971 Sooners had the best rushing offense in NCAA history, and that team still holds many NCAA records. The Tigers had the best player—quarterback Pat Sullivan, who was the Heisman Trophy winner.

OU had rolled to a 9-0 record but suffered a heartbreaking 35-31 loss to 10-0 Nebraska in Norman on Thanksgiving Day. The Cornhuskers were ranked No. 1, and Oklahoma was No. 2. The contest was billed as the “Game of the Century.” Nebraska went on the win the national championship with a huge win over Alabama in the Orange Bowl.

The Sooners easily dispatched Oklahoma State the week after the Nebraska loss and were picked to meet Auburn in the 38th Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day in New Orleans. Like OU, the Tigers won their first nine games of ’71 and rose to fifth in the rankings. They lost to No. 3 Alabama two days after Oklahoma lost to Nebraska.

The Sugar Bowl back then was played at Tulane Stadium until 1975 when the Superdome took over hosting the game. A record crowd of 84,031 turned out for the 1972 Sugar Bowl matchup.

Oklahoma’s Wishbone attack amassed 439 rushing yards en route to a 40-22 victory. The offense made all of the headlines during the ’71 season, but OU’s defense made its biggest impression in the Sugar Bowl. The defense gave Sullivan fits as he completed 20 of 44 passes for 250 yards with one interception. Noseguard Lucious Selmon and defensive end Albert Qualls were in his face all day long.

“I’ve tried to tell everybody all season that we’re a good defensive football team,” said Larry Lacewell, Oklahoma defensive coordinator.

“The big deal was that in the first half the defensive team played so super,” said head coach Chuck Fairbanks. “The offense was able to take advantage of the scoring opportunities. That’s the story of the ball game.”

Oklahoma quarterback Jack Mildren was the Sooners’ shining star on offense with 149 rushing yards and three touchdowns. He was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

Oklahoma fullback Leon Crosswhite’s four-yard TD run capped a 78-yard drive to put the Sooners up first, 6-0, midway through the first quarter. John Carroll missed the extra point.

Defensive tackle Ray Hamilton later recovered an Auburn fumble at the Tigers’ 41. Mildren capped an eight-play drive with a five-yard run to put the Sooners up 13-0. Carroll’s kick was true this time. Joe Wylie made it 19-0 when he returned a punt 71 yards late in the first period. The Sooners failed to convert the two-point conversion.

Two OU interceptions made things worse for the Tigers in the second quarter. Geoffrey Nordgren picked off Sullivan’s pass at the AU 35. Qualls and Selmon forced the Tiger quarterback to hurry his throw. Seven plays later, Mildren crossed the goal line from four yards out to give his Sooners a 25-0 advantage. Again the two-point conversion was unsuccessful.

Mark Driscoll intercepted an Auburn halfback pass moments later and returned it 19 yards to the AU 41. Mildren scored on a seven-yard run with less than a minute until halftime. The Sooners again failed on the two-point try, but Oklahoma held a comfortable 31-0 halftime lead.

Carroll’s 53-yard field goal midway through the third quarter broke several records and gave OU a 34-0 lead. He surpassed the Sugar Bowl mark by one yard, and he also set the school and Big Eight Conference records for distance.

Auburn finally got on board with a touchdown midway through the third quarter. Oklahoma halfback Greg Pruitt capped a 69-yard march with a 2-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter to put OU up 40-7. Auburn scored 15 points against the Sooner reserves.

“I thought, without question that this was the best football team we played this year,” said Auburn coach Shug Jordan.

When the final polls were released Nebraska sat atop followed by Oklahoma at No. 2 and Colorado (10-2, losing to OU and Nebraska) at No. 3. The feat of three teams from the same conference rated 1, 2 and 3 was a first, and it hasn’t happened since.

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About the Author

Ray Dozier

Ray Dozier is the author of Legends of Oklahoma Sooners Football and two editions of The...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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