Cotton Bowl Game Book: Opt-outs, schmopt-outs

Before Florida's coach said all he had left were scout-team players, Oklahoma said it didn't care and put the pedal to the metal in their Cotton Bowl blowout
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ARLINGTON, TX — Florida coach Dan Mullen wanted everyone to know that the team he rolled out in AT&T Stadium on Wednesday night was not representative of the kind of talent Gator Nation is used to seeing.

So much so he even said “a majority” of his players that were apparently sacrificed in a 55-20 Cotton Bowl loss to Oklahoma were actually scout-team players.

And to clarify, he said it three times.

“Guys that have played very played minimal snaps throughout the season, guys that were at best in backup roles, a majority of who were on the scout team for most of the year,” Mullen said, “so they didn't even get to run our defense, got opportunities to go play in a big-time atmosphere in a big game on the defensive side of the ball

“A lot of the guys that were out there playing tonight,” he said again, “were on the scout team most of the year for us.”

And Oklahoma couldn’t have cared less.

Florida missing eight starters in the Cotton Bowl — four on offense, four on defense — mostly because players chose to opt out instead wasn’t something the Sooners anticipated.

And it certainly wasn’t something they felt sorry about as they ran up and down the field on the Gators.

“Yeah, we saw the opt-outs,” said Creed Humphrey. “We didn't really care who was opting out and who was staying for this game. We were ready to roll and go out there and play them anyways, no matter who it was.

“So we were just glad they showed up and gave us a chance to play them.”

Lincoln Riley was asked if he was at all worried his team might overlook the short-handed Gators.

“No,” he said. “There was no overlooking it. It's Florida, a Heisman Trophy finalist, a tremendous coaching staff, and a very talented roster. I was not worried at all about overlooking, and we did not really address that at all. Didn't feel like we needed to, honestly.

“We had a lot of respect for Florida and the team they are. And, listen, everybody has had to go through that this year, whether it's losing players to COVID, dealing with players' decisions on these bowl games. We've all had to deal with it. We've all had to fight our way through.”

OU set program bowl records for most points (55) and most total offense (684). The margin of victory (35) was also an OU bowl record. And the Sooners were on track to break the school record for rushing yards in a bowl game (439) before Tanner Schafer took a knee on the final two plays and the total dipped to 435. And OU’s 10.9 yards per rush (435 yards on 40 carries) set a single-game school record. The previous record of 10.7 yards per rush (768 yards on 72 carries) was set against Kansas State on Oct. 15, 1988.

Having eight starters likely would have stemmed the Sooners making that kind of history. But OU focused on playing against its own standard, whether the opponent was an All-American or a scout teamer.

“We’re not worried about what the other team did,” said quarterback Spencer Rattler. “… We focus on what we have to do as a group. We executed our game plan. We had a great game plan, didn't have anything fancy in, just did what we do and made a lot of big plays doing it.”

Said Riley, “Our recipe has been we just got to worry about ourselves. We got a group of guys that were excited and committed to come in and play this game, and I think it showed. I think we probably played our most complete game of the season.”