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Arizona Claws Back to Beat Oklahoma

Score: Arizona 38, Oklahoma 24

Recap: No. 14 Arizona claws back from 11-point deficit to take down No. 12 Oklahoma 38-24 in 31st Valero Alamo Bowl

Head Coaches: Arizona: Jedd Fisch, Oklahoma: Brent Venables

Highlights: Noah Fifita and No. 14 Arizona came out on top in a battle between true freshman quarterbacks at the 31st Valero Alamo Bowl, defeating No. 12 Oklahoma 38-24. Fifita passed for 354 yards while the Wildcats’ defense collected six turnovers as Arizona won its first bowl game since 2017. Coach Jedd Fisch won his first bowl game in his third season leading the Wildcats. 

Away Team: Arizona Wildcats

Home Team: Oklahoma Sooners

TV Coverage: ESPN (Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic)

Attendance: 55,853
Offensive MVP: Jacob Cowing, Arizona
Defensive MVP: Gunner Maldanado, Arizona

Fred Jacoby Sportsmanship Award: Austin Stogner, Oklahoma 

Prelude

2023 marks the third all-time matchup between the Wildcats and the Sooners, with each team picking up a win. The teams first met on Sept. 17, 1988, when coach Barry Switzer and No. 4 Oklahoma came away with a 28-10 win in Norman, Oklahoma. Arizona and coach Dick Tomey evened the series with a 6-3 victory on Sept. 16, 1989, in Tucson, Arizona.

Both programs are making their second all-time appearances in the Valero Alamo Bowl. The Wildcats made it to San Antonio on Dec. 29, 2010, when they fell to No. 14 Oklahoma State by a 36-10 score. The Sooners took down No. 14 Oregon in front of 59,121 fans on Dec. 29, 2021. Interim head coach Bob Stoops led Oklahoma to a 47-32 win to cap an 11-2 campaign.

Arizona’s regular season went 9-3, with a 7-2 mark in the Pac-12. The team’s top two victories include a 42-18 win at No. 16 Utah and a 27-24 win against No. 11 Oregon State. Offensive lineman Jordan Morgan and linebacker Jacob Manu earned First Team All-Pac-12 honors while wide receiver Tetairoa McMillan and kicker Tyler Loop received Second Team All-Pac-12 accolades. Quarterback Noah Fifita was named the Pac-12 Freshman Offensive Player of the Year.

Oklahoma went 10-2 in the regular season while going 7-2 versus Big 12 opponents. Key victories include a 34-30 decision over 2023 national semifinalist Texas (Oct. 7) and a 69-45 

takedown of 2022 national runner-up TCU (Nov. 26). WR Drake Stoops, defensive back Billy Bowman Jr. and LB Danny Stustman earned First Team All-Big 12, while OL Andrew Raym and defensive lineman Ethan Downs earned Second Team All-Big 12

This is the last game that both Arizona and Oklahoma are representing their respective conferences. Oklahoma will move from the Big 12 to the Southeastern Conference next year. Arizona will move from the Pac-12 to the Big 12 next year. 

FIRST COLLEGE START

This is Oklahoma QB Jackson Arnold’s first collegiate start after QB Dillon Gabriel transferred to Oregon. The true freshman from Denton, Texas made six appearances in the regular season, picking up two passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. 

Arnold finished the night with 361 yards and two touchdowns on  26-of-45 passing. He struggled with ball security, throwing three interceptions and fumbling twice. He was sacked three times.

ARIZONA STRIKES FIRST

The Wildcats turned their opening possession into points as Loop, a Lucas, Texas native, capped an eight-play, 57-yard drive with a 39-yard field goal. McMillan caught three passes for 53 yards to make up the bulk of Arizona’s yardage. 

TURNOVERS TO TOUCHDOWNS

Arizona’s defense followed the field goal by limiting Arnold to two incomplete passes before freshman safety Genesis Smith picked off his pass at the Oklahoma 35-yard line. It was Smith’s first interception of his young career. One play later, Fifita found senior wide receiver Jacob Cowing in the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown and a 10-0 lead.

TWO TOs

Safety Gunner Maldonado tallied the second interception of the night for Arizona when he made an acrobatic catch at the Wildcats’ 34 with two minutes and 29 seconds left in the first quarter. It was his second pick of the season.

LOOP TIMES TWO

Loop bolstered Arizona’s lead to 13-0 with a 38-yard field goal. His two field goals of the first half improved him to 15-of-16 on field goals shorter than 40 yards this season.

OKLAHOMA ON THE BOARD

With 9 minutes and 42 seconds left in the second quarter, Oklahoma put points on the board as running back Gavin Sawchuk ran for an 18-yard touchdown. The Sooners trailed 13-7. 

NOW YOU HAVE IT, NOW YOU DON’T

The game’s turnovers continued with Oklahoma DB Kani Walker’s interception of Fifita with nine minutes left in the second quarter. However, the Sooners didn’t get to reap its rewards for long, as Arizona DB Martell Irby forced Oklahoma WR Jalil Farooq to fumble one play later on a 26-yard reception. Maldonado was quick to recover the ball at the Wildcats’ 8-yard line, marking the game’s fourth total turnover.

FRESHMAN MAKING HIS MARK

Oklahoma grabbed its first lead with 2:53 remaining before halftime when redshirt freshman WR Nic Anderson made an acrobatic catch in the back corner of the end zone for his tenth touchdown reception this season. Anderson is making history for the most touchdown receptions by a freshman in program history. The Katy, Texas product finished with a team-high seven catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.

TIGHT AT HALFTIME

The game reached halftime with the Sooners holding a slim lead at 14-13. Oklahoma scored 14 unanswered points to grab the edge. The first half saw four total turnovers while each team recorded at least 250 yards of offense. The Sooners outgained the Wildcats in rushing yards 137-25 while Arizona tallied 226 passing yards to Oklahoma’s 130.

Sawchuk picked up 92 yards and a touchdown on eight carries for the Sooners while the Wildcats’ McMillan caught six passes for 116 yards. Cowing added four receptions for 78 yards.

STARTING THINGS WITH A BANG

Oklahoma began the second half with a 63-yard touchdown strike from Arnold to WR Brenen Thompson 31 seconds into the half. It was the 11th pass play of 50 yards or more for Oklahoma this season, tied for first in FBS. It was just the sixth catch and second touchdown of the season for the Texas transfer.

CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR

After a pass interference penalty by Arizona S DJ Warnell Jr., the Wildcats’ defense stopped the Sooners on third down at the 4-yard line. Oklahoma K Zach Schmit notched a 22-yard field goal, extending the Crimson and Cream’s lead by 11 at 24-13 with 6:59 remaining in the third quarter. 

SAWCHUK OVER THE CENTURY MARK

Sawchuk’s 15-yard gain in the third quarter put him over 100 yards on the night. This was the Colorado native’s fifth game in a row with over 100 yards on the ground. Sawchuk finished the game with 15 carries for 134 yards and a touchdown, averaging 8.9 yards per rush.

GUNNER GOES ALL THE WAY

Maldanado was in the right place at the right time as he recovered Farooq’s fumble and took it 87 yards to the house. Arizona got within three points when Fifita passed to WR Montana Lemonious-Craig to complete the two-point conversion at the end of the third quarter. 

THIRD PICK OF THE NIGHT

The Wildcats continued their momentum on the following play as Arnold threw his third interception, this one being caught by Irby. The UCLA transfer returned the pick 11 yards, and an Oklahoma facemask penalty allowed Arizona to set up shop at the Sooners’ 11-yard line. A sack forced the Wildcats to settle for a 37-yard, game-tying field goal from Loop.

WILDCATS LEAD THE WAY

Fifita’s 57-yard touchdown pass to Cowing put Arizona on top 31-24 and created history in the process. Cowing’s catch gave him 152 receiving yards, marking the second time in Alamo Bowl history that a team has had two players record over 100 receiving yards (Kansas State, 2015) and the first time in bowl history that a team has had two players asZqrecord over 150 receiving yards.

KEEP THE TURNOVERS COMING

Arizona tied the Alamo Bowl record for turnovers forced in a game with six (Purdue, 1998). DL Isaiah Ward forced a strip sack of Arnold before DL Jacob Kongaika pounced on the loose ball and returned it four yards to the Oklahoma 19. Two plays later, RB DJ Williams ran the ball 19 yards up the middle for the game’s final touchdown.

SIX WIN STREAK CONTINUES FOR THE WILDCATS

No. 14 Arizona finishes the 2023 campaign and their final season in the Pac-12 with a 10-3 record and a seven-game winning streak. This is the second consecutive Valero Alamo Bowl that the victorious team won its seventh game in a row at the bowl game. In 2022, No. 12 Washington beat No. 20 Texas 27-20. The Huskies are an undefeated 13-0 this season, ranked No. 2 and have secured a spot in the College Football Playoff. The Pac-12 champs have won their last 20 games.

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