Landry Jones threw for a school bowl-record 429 yards and three touchdowns, and No. 9 Oklahoma ended a five-game BCS bowl losing streak with a 48-20 win over Connecticut in the Fiesta Bowl on Saturday night.
Oklahoma (12-2) carried plenty of BCS baggage after losing three straight title games and two Fiesta Bowls. The Sooners avoided the setback six pack behind Jones and Ryan Broyles, who had team records of 13 catches and 170 yards to go with the sealing touchdown.
"Coming out here and winning a bowl game, especially a BCS bowl with our past and losing so many of them, to win one for the program, for coach (Bob) Stoops and all those guys, it's just a great feeling right now," Jones said. "It motivated us. We came into the same situation a couple of times and came out with some losses, and to win a game after those, it's just a great feeling."
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Connecticut (8-5) at least kept close for a while in its first BCS bowl.
The hopeful Huskies steadied themselves after an initial barrage from Oklahoma and avoided a complete New Year's Day desert disaster with hard-nosed running by Jordan Todman and a handful of big plays.
Todman had 121 yards on 32 carries and Robbie Frey returned a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, helping UConn provide at least a glimmer of hope that it's not just a basketball school anymore.
"Our kids did a great job and now know what to strive for so they can do it each and every year," UConn coach Randy Edsall said
Oklahoma had been down this road before.
The Sooners played in the 2007 and 2008 Fiesta Bowls, so they know the town, the stadium, the routine.
They also know disappointment.
In both games, Oklahoma came into the desert favorites and left embarrassed; first to trick-playing, BCS-busting Boise State, then in lopsided fashion to West Virginia.
To shake up their mojo, the Sooners switched hotels, practice sites, everything possible to keep from getting that here-we-go-again Fiesta feeling.
Oklahoma followed a businesslike week with a similar approach in the game, jumping out to a 14-0 lead and getting a pair of interception returns for touchdowns to pull away for its first BCS bowl win in eight years.
"I don't have all that like everyone else is talking about it," Stoops said about feeling redemption for ending the BCS losing streak. "But in the end, it's a good win and these guys did a great job."
This was all new to the Huskies.
An FBS program for just nine years, UConn was in its fourth straight bowl, getting the Bowl Championship Series nod after winning the final five games and earning the tiebreaker as co-Big East champions.
But everything about this trip was bigger, from the airport greeting to the shine of the national spotlight.
More than that, though, the Huskies had to worry about Oklahoma's speed-you-up offense.
UConn coach Randy Edsall said OU has so many talented players, it was like the little boy trying to put his fingers in all the holes in the dike. The Sooners also play fast, snapping off more plays than any team in the country while averaging over 478 yards and 36 points per game.
UConn tried a variety of speed-up tactics in practice to simulate Oklahoma's pace, but the real test was going to come in the first few series, when the Sooners pressed the gas and the Huskies tried to keep up.
With former quarterback Josh Heupel calling plays for the first time, Oklahoma hit UConn with a Manny Pacquiao-esque round of punches in its opening drive for an 8-yard touchdown from Jones to James Hanna.
Next drive: boom, boom, boom, DeMarco Murray scores on a he's-bottled-up, no-he-isn't 3-yard TD run.
Then, finally, UConn got something right. Jones, after completing his first 12 passes, led a receiver too much and cornerback Dwayne Gratz picked it off, racing in 46 yards for a touchdown.
The Huskies had life.
UConn's offense got a spark after that behind Zach Frazer and the defense held Oklahoma to a pair of field goals by Jimmy Stevens, leaving the Huskies at a manageable 20-10 halftime deficit.
The Sooners looked ready to run away with it to start the third, getting a 59-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Cameron Kenney and a 55-yard interception return for a score by Jamell Fleming 1:11 later after a pass deflected off receiver Michael Smith's hands.
Trailing 34-10, the Huskies still wouldn't go away.
Frey returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, Dave Teggart hit his second field goal from 38 yards and Lawrence Wilson stripped Broyles when he appeared to be headed for a punt return touchdown.
UConn got another big play when Jerome Junior broke up a pass on a fake field goal early in the fourth quarter, but that was it.
Broyles pulled down an impressive, toe-dragging 5-yard touchdown midway through the final quarter and Tony Jefferson had a 22-yard interception return for a score to put away the impressive, long-awaited victory and send UConn home disappointed, but satisfied.
"We didn't win the game, but there's nothing negative that comes from this," Edsall said. "To be here and to compete the way these kids competed, that says it all."