The 1951 Sugar Bowl was the 17th Sugar Bowl matchup, pitting the Big Seven champion Oklahoma Sooners (ranked #1 in the Associated Press poll) against the Southeastern Conference champion Kentucky Wildcats (ranked #7). Oklahoma's regular season record was 10-0; Kentucky's was 10-1. Oklahoma averaged 34.5 points per game; only one team had scored more than twice in a game against Kentucky that season. Oklahoma entered the January 1, 1951 game with a 31 game winning streak; the Sooners' last loss had come on September 25, 1948. Kentucky was coached by Bear Bryant; Oklahoma was coached by Bud Wilkinson. Notable players for the two teams included Oklahoma's Billy Vessels and Kentucky's Charlie McClendon, Babe Parilli and Wilbur "Shorty" Jamerson. 82,000 fans attended the game.
Kentucky fielded three defensive tackles for much of the game, which caused Oklahoma quarterback Claude Arnold to hurry his handoffs and passes. One Kentucky tackle was Bob Gain, winner of the Outland Trophy that season. The third Wildcat tackle was Walt Yowarsky, who had played less than five minutes on defense during the regular season. Yowarsky recovered a fumble on the Oklahoma 22 yard line, leading to Kentucky's first score: on the next play after Yowarsky's fumble recovery, Kentucky quarterback Babe Parilli threw a touchdown pass to Wilbur Jameson for a 7-0 Kentucky lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter Kentucky drove 81 yards for a touchdown, a run by Wilbur Jamerson, taking a 13-0 lead.
In the third quarter, Oklahoma had the ball, first and goal on the Kentucky 3 yard line. The Wildcat defense held on first and second down; on third down Yowarsky tackled the Oklahoma ball carrier for a five yard loss. On fourth down, Oklahoma was stopped and Kentucky took possession.
In the fourth quarter, Yowarsky recovered a fumbled punt.
With seven minutes left in the game, Oklahoma quarterback Billy Vessels threw a 17 yard touchdown pass to Merrill Green. Kentucky, however, retained possession of the football for the rest of the game, with the exception of one play, for a 13-7 victory. Yowarsky was named the game's Most Valuable Player.
In that year the final Associated Press poll came out before the bowl games, and Oklahoma claimed a national championship. Kentucky, however, also holds an NCAA-recognized national championship for that season, as the Sagarin ratings held Kentucky to be the best team in the country that year.